A New Year Review of Women's Health Heroes

By Christine Cupaiuolo — January 1, 2009

Among the many luminaries who died in 2008 are women who made significant contributions in the areas of women’s health and hospice care. Please add names and links we might have missed in the comments.

Pamela Morgan | b. 1949

In November, Our Bodies Ourselves lost one its founders, Pamela Morgan. A writer, editor and administrative manager of the organization in its early days, Morgan was “one of these extraordinarily multitalented individuals, and as a dancer, everything she did was with élan and flair,” said Judy Norsigian, executive director of OBOS.

Remembrances by other OBOS co-founders who had the privilege of working closely with Pamela can be read here.

Barbara Seaman | b. 1935

Barbara Seaman, a self-described muckraker, co-founded the National Women’s Health Network in 1975. A tireless advocate, she is credited with helping to create the concept of patients’ rights, particularly “informed consent,” and is well-known for her writings on women’s health. Her first book, “The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill” (1969), led to congressional hearings on the safety of oral contraceptives. “The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women” (2003) was an expose of hormone replacement therapy.

Edwina Froelich | b. 1915

In the 1950s, Edwina Froelich was part of a group of suburban Chicago moms who met at each other’s homes to help new mothers with breastfeeding. The seven women, all Catholic housewives, founded the La Leche League.

“In those days you didn’t mention ‘breast’ in print,” Froehlich once said. “We knew that if we were ever going to get anything in the paper we would have to find a name that wouldn’t actually tell people what our organization was about.”

When we first wrote about her death in June, it sparked a discussion about La Leche and feminism. In an essay about Froelich published in The New York Times Magazine last week, Emily Bazelon addresses the history of the organization and its attitude toward working mothers.

Florence Wald | b. 1917

Here’s a hero we haven’t yet mentioned. In the 1960s, after attending a lecture by a British physician about opening the world’s first hospice, Florence Wald resigned her position as dean of the Yale School of Nursing to focus on developing a hospice care center in the United States.

“In those days, terminally ill patients went through hell, and the family was never involved,” she said. “No one accepted that life cannot go on ad infinitum.”

In 1974, Connecticut Hospice, the nation’s first home-care program for the terminally ill, opened its doors. A 44-patient hospice opened six years later. From The New York Times:

“This hospice became a model for hospice care in the United States and abroad,” the publication Yale Nursing Matters said this week, adding that Mrs. Wald’s role “in reshaping nursing education to focus on patients and their families has changed the perception of care for the dying in this country.”

There are now more than 3,000 hospice programs in the United States, serving about 900,000 patients a year.

In recent years, Mrs. Wald had concentrated on extending the hospice care model to dying prison inmates.

“People on the outside don’t understand this world at all,” Mrs. Wald told The New York Times in 1998. “Most people in prison have had a rough time in life and haven’t had any kind of education in how to take care of their health.”

Rosetta Reitz | b. 1924

Rosetta Reitz is best known for her support of women involved in early jazz and blues — stars who were overlooked in the shadow of male performers. With $10,000 borrowed from friends, Reitz created Rosetta Records, releasing 17 albums of lost music. But as The New York Times notes, music history was just one of Reitz’s accomplishments:

Ms. Reitz was at different times a stockbroker, a bookstore proprietor and the owner of a greeting card business. She was a food columnist for The Village Voice, a professor, a classified-advertising manager and author of a book on mushrooms. She was a founding member of Older Women’s Liberation. She reared three daughters as a single parent.

Ms. Reitz also wrote “Menopause: A Positive Approach” (1977), considered one of the first books to look at menopause from the viewpoint of women and not doctors. She listened to her recordings of women while she wrote the book, many of them celebrating the strength of women rather than treating them as victims.

“I was so alone and needed to be nurtured, and I found I was getting it from them,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992.

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