Happy August! Welcome to this month’s resource roundup of podcasts, articles, books, and other new releases curated especially for H-SAWH. Have a suggestion for next month? Email me at email@example.com.
- The origins of contemporary feminism are explored in Lisa Levenstein’s new release, They Didn’t See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties. Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water said of the book: “A sweeping and beautifully written account of a feminist movement that too many of us assumed had faded away” (Basic Books).
- Matthew Wills discusses how residential segregation looked in the South (JSTOR Daily).
- Sarah Handley-Cousins and Marissa Rhodes explore the complicated history of Southern cuisine staples and how many of them originated in the horrors of slavery (Dig History).
- Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. remembers the life of civil rights icon John Lewis (New York Times).
- The story of Savannah’s black, enslaved butchers is told by journalist Nneka M. Okona (Southern Foodways Alliance).
- Executive Director of the Mobile Medical Museum, Daryn Glassbrook, examines the history of the Children’s Nutrition Clinic during the Great Depression (Nursing Clio).
- Podcast host Laura Boarsma and historian Marjorie Spruill tell us about the 1977 Houston Women’s Conference and its connections to today’s politics (She’s History).
- The History Chicks discuss the life, interests, and accomplishments of Southern first lady, Lady Bird Johnson.
- Hannah Dudley-Shotwell delve into the history of the feminist self-help movement in her new book, Revolutionizing Women’s Healthcare: The Feminist Self-Help Movement in America (Rutgers University Press). Dr. Dudley-Shotwell answered a few questions for us this month:
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I have been an Honors Faculty Scholar for the Cormier Honors College at Longwood University since 2018. Before landing this dream job, I earned an M.A. (2012) and a Ph.D (2016) in U.S. History from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. My B.A. (History and English, 2008) is from the College of William and Mary.
I live in Farmville, Virginia (yes, that’s a real place, not the game!) with my husband, Carter, and my three-year-old, Caro. This summer, in between playing in the sandbox and building indoor furniture-fort-library-nests with my three-year-old, I’ve been researching and writing about feminism, transphobia, and queer healthcare. I’ve also been hard at work planning some fun courses for the fall, including one called “Reproductive Justice” and another called “Queer Virginia.”
- Can you give us a brief summary of Revolutionizing Women’s Healthcare?
Revolutionizing Women’s Healthcare is the story of a feminist experiment: the self-help movement. This movement arose out of women’s frustration, anger, and fear for their health. Tired of visiting doctors who saw them as silly little girls, suffering shame when they asked for birth control, seeking abortions in back alleys, and holding little control over their own reproductive lives, women took action. Feminists created “self-help groups” where they examined each other’s bodies and read medical literature. They fwounded and ran clinics, wrote books, made movies, undertook nationwide tours, and raided and picketed offending medical institutions. Some performed their own abortions. Others swore off pharmaceuticals during menopause. Lesbian women found “at home” ways to get pregnant. Black women used self-help to talk about how systemic racism affected their health.
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
- How did you come to write a book about this movement? What sparked your interest in this subject?
When I was in undergrad at W&M, I was in a play called Jane: Abortion and the Underground, which is based in part on oral histories. It’s the story of how a group of laywomen in Chicago performed thousands (literally, thousands!) of abortions from 1969 until abortion was legalized in 1973. At the time, I was just a theater kid looking for a feminist-y production to be in. I had never heard of Jane, and it really stuck with me.
Fast-forward to grad school, when Dr. Tom Jackson assigned a research paper on the 20th century topic of our choice. I discovered that the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (which happened to just be an hour away from Greensboro, at Duke) had lots of these oral histories from Jane! (A sociologist named Pauline Bart had interviewed them.) Noting my interest in reproductive rights, Dr. Jackson suggested I speak with his colleague, Dr. Lisa Levenstein in hopes that she would work with me as a second-year-Masters student and potentially as a doctoral student.
Dr. Levenstein read my work. She pronounced it “a good start,” but encouraged me to go back to Sallie Bingham and see what else I could find. Wow, was she right! I got completely lost in their fantastic reproductive rights, feminist, and zine collections. With the help of archivist Kelly Wooten, I spent weeks in the archives, looking at various sources on these topics. In the archives, I learned about a concept called “menstrual extraction,” which is a self-help method of removing the contents of one’s uterus in order to either provide relief from menstrual cramps or perform an abortion. (Lots more on this in chapters 1 and 6 of my book!) I soon discovered that menstrual extraction was just one piece of a wider gynecological self-help movement. This research formed the basis of my doctoral dissertation. Before I even had a Ph.D in hand though, I was interested in turning it into a book. Before I graduated, I sent proposals out to publishers and soon discovered that Rutgers was a good fit.
- A lot of fascinating research went into this book—can you discuss one (or a few) of the most interesting/strange primary sources you came upon in the archives?
Periodicals: I found so many fabulous newspaper and magazine sources. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in particular, a lot of feminists feared that Roe was going to be overturned. One group of self-help activists decided to spread the word about menstrual extraction in response. In researching this activism, I found dozens of local newspapers that picked up stories about women doing what they called “DIY Abortions.” I found this so fascinating, because this was exactly what the self-help activists wanted. They were very clear that they were using these local papers to “Let the Supreme Course know that there are a certain number of women in society who have access to the technique of early abortion, and who are going to teach other women that technique.” (Quote is from Ch. 6 of my book, originally from Karen Tumulty, “Alternative to Clinics: Feminists Teaching Home Procedure,” Los Angeles Times, August 14, 1989.)
Oral histories: I also really enjoyed doing oral histories with self-help activists. This is one of the best parts of doing recent history; the participants are often around and eager to tell their stories. (Of course, it’s also a little terrifying to know that they may read and respond to your work!) It has been an incredible honor to talk to women’s health pioneers like Carol Downer, Francie Hornstein, Loretta Ross, Byllye Avery, and Charon Asetoyer.
Zines: This is actually something that didn’t make it into the book in an extended form (only the epilogue), because it was a bit beyond the scope of the timeframe. If you ever have a chance to explore zines of any kind, take it! Lots of archives have begun collecting these fascinating sources.
- If you had one piece of advice for H-SAWH scholars just beginning their careers, what would it be?
I have two! Find a professor who challenges you, and work with that person. A “yes person” is not going to help you grow as a scholar. You want someone who returns your work to you covered in scribbles, notes, corrections, and ideas.
Go to conferences (once you can again!). Whether you are presenting or not, take time to introduce yourself to scholars in your area of interest while you are there, and follow up with an email (and maybe a Twitter-follow) if you can. (You don’t have to say anything brilliant. Just tell them you enjoyed their paper. They worked hard, and were probably a little nervous to present, and they will love hearing that you were listening.) Networking is invaluable.