Our Bodies, Ourselves, the revolutionary feminist health book first published in the 1970s, will cease publishing, NPR reports.
The group that published Our Bodies, Ourselves announced last week that after 48 years, they would stop updating and publishing their “signature book.” In a statement on the organization’s website, chair Bonnie Shepherd wrote that “after several years of struggling financially” they no longer had the “resources and infrastructure” to maintain programs with paid staff. As a result, neither the print edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves nor the group’s website will be updated. Instead, the “website will also celebrate the history of the organization, document the work we have done for the past 48 years, and chronicle our ongoing advocacy efforts and impact,” Shepherd wrote.
The end of publication marks the end of an era. When the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective first published Our Bodies, Ourselves, it was a rare resource on everything from birth control to abortion, pregnancy to post-partum depression, and sexuality. The now-iconic book began as a booklet, written by members of the collective in 1970, typed and printed on stapled newspaper.
Originally called Women and Their Bodies, the initial version is a radical document—not simply because it provided a frank and friendly perspective on taboo topics but because the work was framed by the collective’s anti-capitalist and intersectional perspective. (The group has a copy of the original 192-page text online and it’s well worth a look). The approach to women’s healthcare in Women and Their Bodies reflects too the goals of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. NPR notes that prior to publication, the collective gave presentations on “topics considered taboo at the time, like masturbation, postpartum struggles, and birth control — which was then illegal for unmarried women in Massachusetts.” Publication of Women and Their Bodies turned those quasi-illegal consciousness-raising sessions from small and private to public and accessible, fundamentally changing how women could access information about their bodies.
The 75 cent booklet, renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1971, was such a success that publishing house Simon and Schuster took interest and published the first commercial edition in 1973. Since it’s initial publication nearly five decades ago, Our Bodies, Ourselves has translated into 31 languages and updated every four to six years. The 2011 edition marks the last update.
In some respect, Our Bodies, Ourselves was a victim of its own success. Once a rarity and, for some, the only available source on gender, health, and sexuality, the information it so defiantly shared is now widely available. Still, even decades later, some of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective’s criticisms remain trenchant, including their critique of sexism in medicine and the “capitalist forms of medicine” that led to “prohibitive cost” and “inferior treatment” of the poor and people of color.