The OBOS Founders’ Chronicle: 2017

The founders of Our Bodies Ourselves Our Bodies Ourselves founders, 2016. Back row, from left to right: Wendy Sanford, Paula Doress-Worters, Norma Swenson, Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera. Third row: Pam Berger, Joan Ditzion, Nancy Miriam Hawley. Second row: Judy Norsigian, Ruth Davidson Bell Alexander, Sally Whelan. First row: Jane Pincus, Vilunya Diskin.

By OBOS Founders — July 18, 2018

Begun during the early days of the second wave of the U.S. women’s movement, Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS) (formerly known as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) is one of the few longstanding feminist health organizations still active in the world.

We are the original co-authors of the global best-selling book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and the founding members of OBOS. Today we remain engaged and deeply committed to helping sustain the reach and powers of an intergenerational, intersectional, global women’s movement. 

We put together the following chronicle in spring of 2018, to let our supporters know what we’ve been up to in 2017. Enjoy!

Ruth Bell Alexander, Pamela Berger, Vilunya Diskin, Joan Ditzion, Paula Doress-Worters, Nancy Miriam Hawley, Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera, Judy Norsigian, Jane Pincus, Wendy Sanford, Norma Meras Swenson, and Sally Whelan

OBOS Founder Volunteer Activities in 2017
  • Leonor Taboada, a journalist from Spain, longtime OBOS friend, and one of the first people to translate “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (“Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestros Vidas,” 1977) joined OBOS for the Boston Women’s March. Mallorquin feminists commissioned her to describe her experiences. Leonor visited with founders in Newton and in Maine, marched with us, interviewed tirelessly and was interviewed herself, reporting back to Mallorca. We felt we were all making history. You can read her article, in Spanish, here.
January 2017, Boston: Some founders at the historic global Women’s March
  • Founders helped Norma celebrate her 85th birthday. 
  • Judy, Norma, and OBOS staff member Melanie Floyd attended the 2017 Men for Choice event in Boston, where Congressman Joseph Kennedy III and State Senator Dan Wolf received NARAL’s annual Pro-Choice Massachusetts award.
  • The University of Massachusetts women’s studies department invited Paula and Norma to speak with students signed up for an activists’ seminar, part of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month celebrations and observances on campus.
  • Judy spoke at Lasell College on “Securing Women’s Health and Well-being in a Politically Volatile Climate.”
  • Judy led a talk-back after a screening of the documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry,” sponsored by Women’s Equality Cape Ann (WECANN) in Gloucester, MA.
  • Nicole Bizos, a writer and practitioner, longtime friend of OBOS, and one of the first translators of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” into French (“Notre Corps, Nous Mêmes,” Albin Michel, 1977), visited with Wendy, Judy, Norma, and Pamela. Nicole reported that in France today, younger feminists and some of the original translators are considering collaborating on a new edition of the original French translation.
  • Jane and Norma, along with other OBOS board members and staff, attended the annual CLPP conference, “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” at Hampshire College.
  • On the eve of her 80th birthday, Jane talked about the history of OBOS and answered questions from a large gathering of women and their daughters at the Northfield, VT library. She was terribly moved when, after the talk, many in the audience approached a table covered with successive editions of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and each put a hand on the particular book she said had affected or changed her life.
  • Senior Planet interviewed Joan. The article was circulated widely in senior newsletters.
“Joan Ditzion on Aging with Purpose, Passion and Power” (From Senior Planet 08/15/2017)
  • OBOS board member Marlene Fried and Norma joined abortion rights activist Susan Yanow on a panel at MIT as part of MIT’s Day of Action, a campus-wide series of workshops and presentations led by MIT’s Women’s Studies faculty.
  • Joan and Paula participated in a second session at the University of Massachusetts, where they met with women’s studies students to discuss intergenerational feminist cooperation and activism.
  • Joan, Miriam, and Norma, along with OBOS executive director Julie Childers, were guest speakers on a panel, “Our Bodies Ourselves: Then and Now,” at the Beverly, MA senior center. They recalled the years of resistance and protest during the rise of feminism’s second wave and the early work of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, linking that work to the activism of today.
Beverly MA Senior Center: Julie, Norma, Joan, Miriam, with OBOS banner
  • Judy was a guest speaker for the Harvard Humanist Hub, where she spoke about the importance of fighting voter disenfranchisement in the United States.
  • Judy helped to organize and coordinate an OBOS house party in New York City with Gloria Steinem.
  • In Vermont, Jane hosted Codou Bop, OBOS’s Francophone African translator/adapter of “Notre Corps, Nous-Mêmes,” who was visiting from Senegal for a four-day sojourn. Earlier, Codou visited in Boston with Judy, Norma, and OBOS staff Sally Whelan and Julie Childers, reporting informally on recent African events.
  • In Italy for her daughter Sarah’s wedding, Norma spoke informally to more than 100 enthusiastic feminists and their friends and partners about OBOS and feminism today, at the distinguished Fondo Verri theatre in the city of Lecce. An almost 3-hour video of her session with the crowd, in English with Italian translation, is now available — if interested, you can request the link from Norma: nms1932 [AT]
  • After a screening of “Absolutely Safe,a film examining the safety of breast implants, Judy spoke at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.
  • A Retro Report video on the New York Times website featured founder and former executive director Judy recapping what times were like when the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” first became a New York Times best-seller. The video includes clips from Mary Dore’s inspiring and widely traveled documentary film, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry,” which features a discussion with OBOS founders.
  • In one of the most exciting moments of the year, OBOS founders, all together at the Brooklyn Museum, received a heartwarming standing ovation as Gloria Steinem handed the eleven women a Sackler “First” Award.
Far right, Ruth, about to receive the Sackler “First” Award from Gloria Steinem


Elizabeth (at back) and friends, with a copy of “Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuesrtas Vidas,” the Spanish-language adaptation of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” at the Sackler awards night.

The days following the award night launched the Brooklyn “Yes!” Conference at the Museum. One of Friday’s sessions, introduced by OBOS’s executive director Julie Childers, featured clips from Pamela’s award-winning “Sorceress” and Jane’s film “Abortion,” a 1971 collaboration with co-filmmaker Mary Summers and two others. OBOS consultant and staff member Ayesha Chatterjee introduced and showed clips from the Indian film “Can We See the Baby Bump, Please?”

On Saturday, Mary Summers introduced and showed the whole of the film “Abortion,” and Norma introduced Jane: An Abortion Service,” the documentary film about ordinary Chicago women who safely performed more than 11,000 abortions in the years before it was legal.

Mary Summers leading discussion on abortion films

At Saturday’s Session 2, Elizabeth introduced and showed the documentary “La Operación,” linking Puerto Rico’s past sterilization abuses with today’s humanitarian crisis still present on the island. After the film, Elizabeth and Norma led a vigorous discussion, “…making visible today what we thought only happened in the past,” in the words of one audience participant. The session included an appeal for solidarity and support with the women of Taller Salud, OBOS’s sister organization in Puerto Rico, and the families they support.

Elizabeth introducing documentary, La Operación, with Norma

Joan was the primary coordinator of OBOS’s liaison with the conference organizers.

  • Judy, in Santa Fe, NM, spoke at a women’s wellness retreat. “From Drug and Device Safety to Global Commercial Surrogacy: How Women’s Health Activists Continue to advance the Health and Human Rights of Women Everywhere” was the title of her talk.
  • Judy had a video call with a study group (five girls in Chelmsford, MA, and a parent) who were reading the book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present,” by Gail Collins. They had watched the documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” in preparation for  the session.
  • Saúl Espino Armendáriz, a Mexican historian, interviewed Judy and Norma while studying the OBOS archives at Schlesinger Library. He learned about OBOS’s early work with Betsie Hollants, a Belgian feminist activist and founder of CIDHAL, Mexico’s first Documentation Center on Women, for a book he is writing on Betsie. OBOS worked often with CIDHAL.
  • Joan spoke about the history of OBOS in a Women, Culture and Society class at Lesley University.
  • Judy and Norma met with Brazilian doctoral student and author, Bia Fioretti, from the University of Sâo Paulo in Brazil. They learned about Bia’s recent video, “Born in Brazil,” a follow-up to Norma’s previous showing at Harvard of the earlier film with this title. They also learned about her video, “Being Born in Prison,” and saw the beginning panels of her extraordinary new platform for girls and young women on the subject of knowing your body. In addition, Bia is a researcher on obstetric violence.
  • Joan attended the December 6 opening of the 2017 Mass. Conference on Women and heard keynote speaker Gloria Steinem pay tribute to the long history and legacy of the Our Bodies Ourselves organization.

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