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The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: Founders' Corrections

The following is a list of corrections the founders of the BWHBC wish to make in response to Kathy Davis's book, The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels Across Borders.

A note from the founders of the BWHBC:

Kathy Davis’s excellent and prize-winning book, The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels Across Borders, contains the main historical record of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective written to date. Perhaps inevitably with a project of such scope, the book contains some errors related to key aspects of the group’s history.

We wanted to use the website to share our corrections and suggested changes. To do so, we've created a priority list of the changes (posted below) that the Founders of the BWHBC feel are the most significant to understanding what our group has done and cared about over the past four decades. You can also find the secondary list of corrections that are, although important to us, less critical. Thank you for your consideration!

In the following list, corrections or changes from the founders are in red. Suggested deletions are shown by crossing out the words.


  • Page 23, 18 lines from bottom

Primarily Acknowledging that they were white, middle-class, college-educated women, they hoped assumed  that other women would share their experiences and interests, a hope about which the group would develop new and more informed perspectives stance that would come back to haunt them as differences among women became an issue of concern both within the women’s movement and among feminist scholars.

The preface to the 1973 Simon and Schuster edition includes the following (pages 1 - 2):

You may want to know who we are. We are white, our ages range from 24 to 40, most of us are from middle-class backgrounds and have had at least some college education, and some of us have professional degrees. We are white, middle class women, and as such can describe only what life has been for us.  But we do realize that poor women and non-white women have suffered far more from the kinds of misinformation and mistreatment that we are describing in this book.  In some ways, learning about our womanhood from the inside out has allowed us to cross over the socially created barriers of race, color, income and class, and to feel a sense of identity with all women in the experience of being female.

It’s very true that differences among women became a key issue of feminist concern in the 1970s. Women of color health activists pointed out to us quite early on that our big focus on abortion rights, for example, needed to be balanced by a concern about sterilization abuse and about racial and class inequities in prenatal care.  But we never “assumed that other women would share their experiences and interests.” As is evident in the 1973 preface quoted above, the group was quite up front about the limits of our being white and middle-class, even though we might express these limits quite differently after the benefit of three decades of learning.

  • Page 64, 5 lines from bottom

Text which we suggest be amended and moved:
A group of Latinas – Amigas Latinas en Accion Pro-Salud (ALAS) worked together with and under the auspices of the BWHBC with one of its members, Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera later being included in the founder group of the BWHBC.

The current placement of this introduction of ALAS leads to confusion as to whether it was ALAS that did the initial translation, which it did not. We suggest moving a corrected and expanded version of this sentence to page 66, line 4, as follows.

  • Page 66, line 4

In the early 80s a group of Latinas -- Elizabeth MacMahon Herrera, Maria Lourdes Mattei and Loly Carrillo -- formed ALAS: Amigas Latinas en Accion Pro-Salud (Latina Friends in Action for Health). Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera joined the staff of the BWHBC in 1982 and served as liaison to the group. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, ALAS was dedicated to innovative community outreach and health care work for the Latino community of Boston and in later years, New Mexico.

  • Page 66, first 5 lines

The first Spanish OBOS appeared in 1977, but the poor quality of the translation was a bone of contention for many years. There was already an enormous demand for the book in Latin America, where any translation of OBOS – even a bad one – was treated as better than nothing. However, by the early eighties members of ALAS were protesting that a bad translation was “insulting to Latina American women.”

Suggested Substitution:
Following OBOS' publication by Simon & Schuster, two Latinas – Leonor Taboada (an Argentinean relocated to Spain) and Raquel Scherr-Salgado (a Mexican-American) -- approached the BWHBC with a proposal to translate the book into Spanish. Their translation was self-published twice by the BWHBC (1977 and 1979) with funding from Simon & Schuster, OBOS royalties, and the Helena Rubinstein and ARCO Foundations. About 50,000 copies of the book were distributed in the United States and Latin America, where the book became quite popular despite its lack of cultural adaptation (although a few new photographs and personal experiences from Latinas were included). Hundreds of letters and requests for copies were sent to the BWHBC from outside the United States during the following decade or so.

In the early 80s a group of Latinas -- Elizabeth MacMahon Herrera, Maria Lourdes Mattei and Loly Carrillo  - formed ALAS- Amigas Latinas en Accion Pro-Salud (Latina Friends in Action for health). Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera joined the staff of the BWHBC in 1982 and served as liaison to the group. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, ALAS was dedicated to innovative community outreach and health care work for the Latino community of Boston and in later years, New Mexico.  ALAS was critical of the 1977 NCNV, and viewed it as a bad translation that was “insulting to Latina American women.”

We believe the problem with the 1977 Nuestros Cuerpos was less the quality of the translation than the fact that it was a direct translation and thus less useful than an adaptation could have been. We have letters and materials from Spanish language experts from Latin America that documented the good quality of the translation itself. Translators Leonore Taboada and Raquel Scherr-Salgado worked hard and generously on the translation, and we believe it is inaccurate to state, as the current text does, that the quality of their work was the main problem. We understand that creating a direct translation (which was what Simon & Schuster had agreed to include some money for in the contract) was insufficient for the wide and diverse Latina world, but it seemed the best we could do at the time, for the following reasons: The $3000 we’d won in our contract with Simon & Schuster was barely enough even to pay the translators; we lacked the resources to set in motion a full adaptation; there was such demand already in the U.S. for a Spanish language version that sooner seemed better. The 1977/1979 translation was used in health centers, clinics, and bookstores in Spanish-speaking communities for many years. We were unable to prevent it "escaping" beyond US borders, and we did respond to many requests from Latin America when they came in. The later translation/adaptation, created with input from several women’s health groups throughout Latin America, was clearly a great improvement on a word-for-word translation.

  • Page 66, second paragraph

Suggested change:
By neglecting the important work of During the 1980s members of the BWHBC met several times with U.S. Latinas and women from Latin America about the idea of developing a culturally sensitive text that would reflect the experiences of Latinas in both the United States and Latin America. , OBOS ran The BWHBC did not want to run the risk of arrogantly imposing its own brand of feminism on women in the South…

Additional information
During the lengthy project in which Latinas in the US and Latin America created the Latin American adaptation of OBOS (Severn Stories Press, 2000), the BWHBC raised significant grant income to cover the costs of the Boston-based coordinators.

  • Page 87, 22 lines from bottom

In 1995 the staff announced that it was bringing in a union. After During a tumultuous period in the organization of negotiations, a major financial crisis necessitated “voluntary” layoffs. The staff lost all confidence in the organization and resigned en masse in 1997. The BWHBC paid significant severance packages to the several staff members who left. After the layoffs, the board chair negotiated the union contract over a period of several weeks with the non-founder staff members remaining, and agreement was reached on a contract.

  • Page 87, 17 lines from bottom

Several staff members also filed a complaint of discrimination against the BWHBC -- a complaint that nearly five years later at the time of this writing, is still pending. the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination dismissed as without merit in April 2003.

  • Page 92, lines 3 through 15 from the top

By the eighties, an organization had grown up around the book, While the Collective had for some time operated legally as a non-profit organization, but informally and without a central office, by the eighties the continued demand surrounding the book required systematized operations and a more structured organization. and in 1983 two staff members, Sally Whelan and Pamela Morgan Pamela Morgan and Sally Whelan began working in who had been working since 1979 and 1980 as librarian and coordinator and documentalist, respectively, and were officially invited in 1983 to become members of the BWHBC board. Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera, who had initiated a co-founder of Amigas Latinas en Accion por Salud,  worked within the BWHBC as a liaison with the Latina community starting in 1982, and began serving on the board a few years later. was the first woman of color to become an official founder of the BWHBC 1996. Pamela, Elizabeth and Sally, along with Judy Norsigian, Esther Rome, and Norma Swenson, were instrumental in building the organization itself and all that entailed -- an administrative infrastructure, office, staff, an information center open to the public, and the programs that grew up around the book, including the sister organization ALAS. These accomplishments allowed an informal group with its ground-breaking book to become an organization that carried the work forward for three more decades. While the term founder suggests an original group, it was not, in fact, part of the vocabulary of the BWHBC until a retreat in 1996. The establishment of an official Founders group took place in 1996, as the BWHBC continued its evolution into a more formal organization with a community board of directors. At a 1996 retreat, in recognition that the BWHBC had both author founders and institution-building founders, and marking Pamela, Sally and Elizabeth’s many years of dedicated work on staff and on the board, the eleven founder/authors of OBOS recognized the three women as Founders of the BWHBC. Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera, co-founder of ALAS, was thus the first and only woman of color to become an official Founder of the BWHBC.



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