In May of 1969, as the women’s movement was gaining momentum and influence in the Boston area and elsewhere around the country, 12 women ranging in age from 23 to 39 met during a women’s liberation conference at Emmanuel College. In a workshop on “Women and Their Bodies,” they shared information and personal stories and discussed their experiences with doctors.
The discussions were so provocative and fulfilling that they formed the Doctor’s Group, the forerunner to the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (which later changed to Our Bodies Ourselves), to research and discuss what they were learning about themselves, their bodies, and their health.
They decided to put their knowledge into an accessible format that could be shared and would serve as a model for women who want to learn about themselves, communicate their findings with doctors, and challenge the medical establishment to change and improve the care that women receive. In 1970, they published a 193-page course booklet on stapled newsprint entitled “Women and Their Bodies,” which is available in full [PDF]. It was revolutionary for its frank talk about sexuality and abortion, which was then illegal. The cost: 75 cents.
They changed the title to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 1971 to emphasize women taking full ownership of their bodies. Republished by New England Free Press, the book put women’s health in a radically new political and social context and quickly became an underground success, selling 250,000 copies, mainly by word-of-mouth.
In 1972, the group formally incorporated as The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.
The following year, in 1973, Simon & Schuster published the first commercial, expanded edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The preface is available online, as is a New York Times review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. (We blogged about the review on its 40th anniversary.)
The award-winning book has been updated and reissued approximately every four to six years since then, most recently in 2011.
Publishers and women’s groups in other countries started translating and adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and developing books inspired by it, as far back as 1974.
In 2001, OBOS formed the Our Bodies Ourselves Global Initiative to provide support to and work more closely with women’s groups adapting the book for their own cultures and communities. As of 2014, it has been reproduced in 29 languages, reaching millions of women around the world.
To learn more, view some of the most in-depth and comprehensive texts that have been published about the making of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and its impact around the world.