Three generations of activist Seaman family mark 10th anniversary of Women's Strike for Equality
August 26, 1980
When women and men paraded down New York's Fifth Avenue on August 26, 1980, to mark the tenth anniversary of Women's Strike for Equality and the sixtieth anniversary of women's right to vote, three generations of Seaman family women were among them. Sylvia Seaman, her daughter-in-law Barbara Seaman, and Barbara's daughter Elana Seaman represented three generations of feminist activism.
Sylvia Seaman, born in 1900, first marched for suffrage in 1915. When the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, in 1920, she joined the celebrations. While at Cornell University, she was once arrested for wearing pants in public. It was also at Cornell that she began writing, publishing several novels co-authored with her roommate, Frances Schwartz, under the pseudonym Francis Sylvin. In 1965, following her own radical mastectomy, she wrote Always a Woman: What Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer. It was the first book on the subject written by someone outside the medical community. In 1979, she published How to Be a Jewish Grandmother, a humorous collection of anecdotes and advice. She remained active in the feminist movement, as one of the leaders of the 1970 march commemorating the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage, and giving public addresses before such groups as the National Organization for Women. Sylvia Seaman died of breast cancer in 1995.
Barbara Seaman is best known as the author of The Doctor's Case Against the Pill and as a founder of the National Women's Health Network. Educated at Oberlin College and trained as a journalist, she began reporting on women's health in 1960. Contributing articles to the New York Times, Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, and such mainstream publications as Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal, she revealed that women lacked the necessary information to make decisions about their own health. Her first book, The Doctor's Case Against the Pill, published in 1969, revealed the health risks of the birth control pill; it sparked Senate hearings and ultimately led to the placement of warnings on oral contraceptives. The Pill was the first prescription drug to carry a warning. When the book was reissued in a 25th-anniversary edition, Science magazine credited it with creating a "blossoming in women's health research." In addition to writing four additional books on women's health, other books, and myriad articles and book chapters, Seaman was deeply involved with the National Women's Health Network (NWHN), which she helped found in 1975. NWHN works to educate women about their health, the health care system, and health policy, and to change American health policy and the health care system to make them more accessible and responsive to women. Barbara Seaman died of lung cancer on February 27, 2008.
Elana Seaman, just 20 years old in 1980, was already active in the women's movement by the time she marched with her mother and grandmother in the Women's Strike for Equality. A junior at Bard College, she had volunteered at the Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women in San Francisco, and hoped to find a job in a women's health center after her graduation. While her grandmother told the New York Times that women were still "left high and dry in 1980" on issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment, Elana Seaman was more hopeful, noting that "there's always been progress and retrogression" in the several American women's movements. The Seaman women marching together in New York represented those changes and the long history of women's activism in America.
To learn more about Sylvia Seaman, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: This Week in History for August 26, 1970, "Women Strike for Equality."
Sources:New York Times, August 25, 1980, January 11, 1995, June 25, 2000, March 1, 2008; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1223–1224; www.nwhn.org/about/index.cfm?content_id=75§ion=About; www.nwhn.org/about/; www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=1566; jwa.org/feminism/index.html?id=JWA062; jwa.org/discover/weremember/seaman/.