Women’s Health & Mental Health: Collections

Women’s health and well-being is a diverse and complicated topic with a long, often problematic history that’s closely tied to the continued development of, and education surrounding, women’s rights from the early 1900s to the present day. From sexual and reproductive health, including menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and hormones to domestic violence and mental health (and mental illness) to sex education (sex ed) and health education, the history of women as patients has been plagued with issues of discrimination. The fight for a fair approach to women’s health care, mental and sexual well-being, and education goes hand in hand with feminism and the battle for women’s rights. When exploring this topic, it’s essential that researchers view the material through an interdisciplinary lens, acknowledging the role of gender, race, and class in relation to women as patients, women’s health, and mental health. The primary sources available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive form an essential education resource for researchers looking to examine or teach sex and gender in relation to health, from public health practice, policy, and psychiatric approaches to sex and sex education and personal experiences and activism.

Perhaps one of the most prominent issues relating to women’s health that can be explored through the archive is sexual and reproductive rights. The struggle over safe sex and sexual and reproductive rights has been central to women’s liberation movements, and attempts to regulate reproductive freedom are prevalent throughout history on a global scale. The fight for reproductive freedom largely began with Margaret Sanger in the early 1900s who, starting with a clinic in New York, fought to educate women on sex and contraception and was a major advocate for women’s right to birth control, sexual and reproductive rights, and the sex education that came with them. This fight has formed a central pillar of women’s activism, continuing in the campaigning that dominated the 1960s and 1970s with the primary goal of improving care and education for all women, through to the antiabortion violence that targeted many women and practitioners in the 1980s and 1990s during the struggle to attain safe, legal abortion.  By examining the collections available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive series, researchers can begin to build a thorough understanding of the connections between contraception and abortion and sex education and women’s rights.

These collections also provide the ideal formula to go beyond the fight for sexual and reproductive rights. Researchers can access primary sources that discuss all aspects of women’s health care and education. Mental health, from general mental well-being to mental illness, is covered, with pamphlets, newsletters, and reports covering various aspects of women’s psychology and psychiatric care, including mental illnesses such as depression. Scholars can also find primary sources on concepts relating to family life. These cover sex, family planning, and motherhood, including childbirth, infants, infant care, and breastfeeding, as well as information on relationships, including divorce and affairs. Violence and discrimination against women has been recognized as a major problem worldwide, and the materials in these collections also allow for exploration of this topic, covering not only violence against women in the form of domestic violence and rape but also the effect of pornography and the way in which racism intersects with women’s health. Numerous periodicals in the archive discuss sex, sexuality, and sex education, alongside women’s medicine, while coverage of such diverse topics as eugenics, nutrition and dieting, hygiene, menstruation, menopause and hormones, and LGBTQ rights are also represented.

By using the main content in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive, researchers and scholars have the perfect formula to examine and teach about the history of issues relating to female patients, including menstruation, contraception, pregnancy and maternity, abortion, menopause and hormones; sex and sex education, alongside other forms of health education; harassment and other forms of gendered violence; and mental health and mental illness, psychiatric support, and mental health services. These primary sources illustrate global historical perspectives on the intersection of health, education, and the fight for women’s rights.

  • Grassroots Feminist Organizations, Part 1: Boston Area Second Wave Organizations, 1968‒1998

    The archives of eight Boston-area second-wave organizations are represented, with materials spanning a period from 1968 to 1998. Figuring prominently are the documents from the Women’s Educational Center; the Women School; the Abortion Action Coalition; and the Boston chapter of Women Against Violence Against Women, which combatted offensive representations of women in media. Materials include meeting minutes, records of personnel and finances, correspondence, newsletters, files regarding affiliated organizations and opposition groups, and course descriptions. The collection demonstrates the wide range of symptoms and issues Boston feminists tackled in practice, such as domestic violence, racism, pornography, rape, and LGBTQ rights. The Female Liberation, Boston Women’s Union, and Boston Area Feminist Coalition records highlight theoretical underpinnings of the feminist movement, especially socialist feminism.

     Both Boston and San Francisco were hubs of the second-wave feminism movement. This collection is essential for researchers examining second-wave feminism and other social movements in the United States during the period from 1968 to 1998.

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  • Grassroots Feminist Organizations, Part 2: San Francisco Women’s Building/Women’s Centers, 1972‒1998

    The materials from San Francisco detail the work of the first female-owned-and-run women’s center in the United States from 1972 to 1998. Many of the files document the founding, planning, and daily administration of the center in practice, including the building itself and its place in the surrounding community. The Women’s Building/Women’s Center housed or sponsored more than 100 projects and women’s groups. Documents highlight its extensive involvement with organizations that supported and acted as an advocate for women from different countries, cultures, religions, races, and life circumstances. Other projects involved gay and lesbian rights; health care; legislation; and even issues not explicitly connected with women’s rights, such as Central American intervention, AIDS (HIV), and affirmative action. The collection also details the many film, theater, poetry, music, and visual arts events hosted and sponsored by the organization. Materials include meeting minutes, financial records, correspondence, newsletters, records of center-related groups, and flyers about events and projects.

    Boston and San Francisco were hubs of the second-wave feminism movement. This collection is essential for researchers examining second-wave feminism and other social movements in the United States, including LGBTQ rights and the AIDS crisis, during the period from 1972 to 1998.

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  • Herstory Collection

    The Herstory Collection comprises full texts of journals, newspapers, and newsletters tracing the evolution of women’s rights movements in the United States and abroad from 1956 to 1974. Compiled by the Women’s History Library from materials donated by the organizations that published them, the collection includes documents from the National Organization for Women (NOW), Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Women Strike for Peace (WSP), and many other groups.

    Among the longest-running periodicals in the collection is an almost-complete run of The Ladder, the journal of the Daughters of Bilitis, which was the first organization in the United States specifically dedicated to lesbian civil and political rights. Also featured are the newsletters of many local and regional chapters of the National Organization for Women, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Portland, Oregon, and many larger and smaller cities in between. Several newsletters are devoted to efforts to legalize abortion. Among these are the newsletters of the Women’s Ad-Hoc Abortion Coalition, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, and the Indiana Abortion Coalition. These texts date from 1969 to 1971, and provide unique insight into the activism leading to the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v. Wade.

    Researchers interested in the evolution of women’s rights in the late twentieth century will find this collection indispensable for its primary source materials on a wide range of topics, from equal pay and reproductive rights to the role of women in the peace movement.

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  • Malthusian, 1879‒1921

    Two turn-of-the-century periodicals are the focus of this collection: The Malthusian and the Eugenics Review. The Malthusian was published by the Malthusian League, the world’s first group to promote and teach family planning, as they believed overpopulation was the biggest cause of poverty. The league battled public disapproval but succeeded in affecting both public policy and the thinking of Sigmund Freud and Margaret Sanger, among others. The collection consists of the first issue of The Malthusian in 1879 through its last issues under that name in 1921. Articles focus on poverty, overpopulation, demographics, laws, race, and birth control. The Eugenics Review was a quarterly publication of the Eugenics Education Society. The goals of the periodical were to acquaint members with each other, spread information and teach about eugenics, and place eugenics on a scientific foundation. Topics included abortion, contraception, morality, divorce, crime, poverty, legislation, and many other concepts relating to families. This collection contains all issues of the Eugenics Review, from its beginning in 1909 through 1921.

     The Malthusian and the Eugenics Review will interest researchers studying the theoretical underpinnings of early groups promoting family planning and the day-to-day activities of such groups at the end of the 19th century into the early 20th century.

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  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records, 1918‒1974

    This collection includes documents from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), dating from its founding in the early part of the twentieth century as a resource to teach women about sex, sexual health, and contraception and follows its subsequent campaigning and support for women’s rights to 1974. Today, it is the nation’s largest provider of sexual and reproductive health-care services and sex education (sex ed). Featured are meetings, articles, speeches, and other media reflecting the early history of the sex education and birth control movement in the United States, including files of several Planned Parenthood forerunners as well as legal materials documenting the organization’s efforts to educate the public and legalize contraception from 1931 to 1941. Meeting minutes, conference notes, and administrative files from 1943 to 1947 shed light on how the PPFA reorganized and adjusted its mission to meet the changing needs and symptoms of Americans following the Second World War. Also included are the PPFA’s correspondence, mailings, and subject files, which offer insight into the people behind the policies and how programs were established, as well as interaction with other agencies.

    The records in this collection provide the perfect formula for those looking to research and teach the history of Planned Parenthood and the key role it played in the development of reproductive rights and sex education. It gives a unique insight into the founding of PPFA and how it competed and cooperated with other family-planning organizations, government agencies, corporate enterprises, and individuals throughout the twentieth century.

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  • Women and Health/Mental Health

    The Women and Health/Mental Health collection from the Women’s History Library features pamphlets, speeches, newsletters, reports, memos, conference papers, mainstream and alternative newspaper stories, and academic journal articles relating to women’s health and mental health/mental illness, psychiatric care, and the symptoms and issues associated with them. Alongside the materials on mental health and mental illness, a subset of the collection comprises special issues of mass periodicals that focus on topics relevant to women’s health and women as patients, especially sex, sexual health, and sex education (sex ed), including People (women’s medicine, sterilization, sex education), Harper’s Bazaar (sexuality), and Psychology Today (sexuality and sex education). Together, these sources provide a comprehensive account of the liberation movement era’s perspectives on women’s health and illnesses, from reproduction and wellness to mental illness. The largest focus relates to abortion and contraception, including the legal, financial, medical, and political aspects of the topics. Other topics include psychiatric care, nutrition and dieting, sleep and insomnia, hygiene, depression, puberty, menstruation, childbirth, infants and infant care, breastfeeding, menopause, menopausal women and hormones, aging, death, gender identity, sex and sexuality, affairs, and pornography. Some of the collection’s resources are specific to women from other parts of the world, including statistical and health information concerning sterilization, family planning, and health care.

    This collection on health and mental well-being offers an excellent formula that provides a unique insight into the evolution of thought and public discourse regarding women’s bodies and women as patients, covering mental health/mental illness, sex, sexual health, and sex education (sex ed) during a pivotal moment of social change in America.

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