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Let Us Remember Barbara Seaman, Crusading Pioneer of the Women's Health Movement

Ruth Rosen

Let us pause, for a moment, to remember that one of the great activists of the 20th century died on February 27th, of lung cancer, leaving behind a legacy of critical challenges to the medical and pharmaceutical industry. Though many people may not know her work--because she was blacklisted from so many newspapers and magazines for her crusading muckraking, all of us owe a great to her relentless pursuit of the truth.

I have argued elsewhere that the women's health movement was arguably the greatest accomplishment of the modern women's movement. If I am right, then Barbara Seaman was also one of the most important activists and journalists of that transformative collective resistance to the over-medicalization of women's lives.

Fiercely skeptical, Barbara Seaman early warned women about the dangers of the birth control pill in her controversial book "The Doctor's Case Against the Pill" in 1969. As a result of her work and the hearing that followed in the wake of its publication, strengthened warnings appeared on birth control packages.

She never stopped.

In 1975, she helped found the National Women's Health Network, which has constantly acted as a watchdog and addressed dangers to women's lives from new medical and pharmaceutical practices and proposals.

Long before others recognized the danger of most middle-aged women taking hormones to ease menopause. Seaman published in 1977 Women and The Crisis in Sex Hormones and The Greatest Experiment ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth (2003).

The list goes on. Seaman was a tireless advocate and muckraker who, like all truth tellers before her, relentless pursued the truth behind the spurious claims of those who stood to profit from selling women youth beauty and health.

Perhaps most importantly, Barbara Seaman, like the entire women's health movement, taught women to trust their own intuition, to listen to their own bodies and never to trust doctors or commercial companies more than themselves.

I am only one person who owes my life to Barbara Seasman's work, because I trusted my own intuition rather than the cavalier indifference of physicians. No one will ever know how many others are alive because this remarkable women worked to make the world safe for women.

Ruth Rosen is a journalist and historian. She is a senior fellow at the Longview Institute in Berkeley and a professor emerita of history at the University of California, Davis. She is currently a visiting professor of public policy and history at U.C. Berkeley.

Copyright 2008 TPM Media LLC.

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