Remembering Barbara Seaman

By Rachel Walden — February 27, 2008

We at OBOS are saddened to report that Barbara Seaman, co-founder of the National Women’s Health Network, noted feminist, women’s health activist, and author, died this morning. Seaman’s life and work leave much to be celebrated, as she was a tireless advocate for informed consent and exposing information on hormonal medications, including publication of the breakthrough 1969 book “The Doctors’ Case against the Pill,” which led to Congressional hearings on oral contraception and ultimately to the first safety warning on the drug.

Born in 1935 and an Oberlin College graduate and Sloan-Rockefeller Science Writing Fellowship winner at the Columbia University School of Journalism, Seaman authored and contributed to numerous additional works on women’s health topics during her career, including “The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth,” “For Women Only!: Your Guide to Health Empowerment,” and “Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones.” Seaman also edited a collection of essays by major figures from feminism and women’s health, “Body Politic: Dispatches from the Women’s Health Revolution.”

Gloria Steinem has high praise for Seaman, stating, “There is no single person on earth who has done more to advance women’s health, to make an intimate difference in millions of women’s lives, and to inform consumers so they can transform healthcare.”

OBOS’s own Judy Norsigian has also recognized Seaman’s impressive contributions: “Barbara has been a steady beacon and truth-teller in the women’s health movement for almost half a century. I consider myself so lucky to be among the hundreds of students and activists she has supported and guided over the years. She has helped Our Bodies Ourselves at so many critical junctures with both practical and philosophical issues, including her successful efforts to find a publisher — Seven Stories Press — for the 2000 edition of ‘Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas.’ ”

Profiles and Remembrances:

7 responses to “Remembering Barbara Seaman”

  1. all of us old lady feminists owe younger ones thanks for remembering Barbara Seaman on blogs. when i first saw she was gone at Women’s Voices for Change, i was shocked.

    though she’d not looked well the last time i’d seen her a few years ago, Barbara still had great spirit and energy, not too different from our undergraduate days at oberlin.

    thinking i’d wait till a new york times obit before posting myself, it’s another shock that one has not appeared; now THAT’S sexism in the media.

    barbara’s writing made great difference in the everyday lives of women. again, thanks for honoring her.

  2. I always thought of myself as damaged goods until I met Barbara Seaman in 1999. After my mother died in 1998 I was determined to find out why my father committed suicide in 1948 and why it was such a secret that I kept for 51 years and why as a child I had been institutionalized with Guy Mansfied, Jacqueline Susann’s son. My first step in rediscovering my past was trying to contact the author of Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann and finding out information about Guy Mansfield and about the mental institution we were both in. After a call to the National Women’s Health Movement in DC, leaving information about myself, Barbara called me back minutes later and so she came into my life in January 29, 1999.

    Barbara was the first stranger I ever revealed my past to. I was so nervous and at first hesitant about how much I wanted to tell her. She was so compassionate and such a good listener that talking to her became natural. She encouraged me to rediscover my past and encouraged me to revisit the institution I was in as a child, offering to go with me, which I finally did. She was the first person to tell me that if I could find the courage to write a book about my life, I would be helping so many people. She pursued by calling me every couple of weeks to give me encouragment. Thanks to Barbara’s persistence my self-published book, Trying to Remember Forced to Forget (My Father’s Suicide) was published in 2001. Barbara made me realize that I was not responsible for my father’s suicide (I found him hanging from a rope over the toilet when I was 4 year old) and that it was nothing to be ashamed of and by telling my story I would be helping others.

    Barbara gave me my self-esteem and convinced me to be the researcher/art editor for her section of the 1999 book, For Women Only! In March 1999 I had dinner with Barbara in a NYC restaurant. When I told her I had a TIA she asked if I was on estrogen. When I told her I was taking Prempro she urged me to stop it immediately. In her 2003 book, The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed On Women Barbara had me tell my story about my bout with HRT and the aftermath. As a feminist her mind was always working in areas to help others and thus one of the following emails I received from Barbara.

    From Barbara
    JUDY I HAVE STILL ANOTHER IDEA IF IT INTERESTS YOU. In 1999 when you did such fine work on FWO you must have had a pretty good sense of what it was about, and perhaps what items you liked less and what you liked more. Would you care to write an essay on what has changed and what might be coming up on the horizons,- including possible changes (or desired changes) of women’s relations with doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Well, seven years have passed. Women’s perceptions of their bodies and their health care have been changing. Do you still watch the View? It’s evident that you keep a closer eye on the popular woman culture than I do and that you might be able to draft a nice little essay on looking back, looking forward, why its time to add a sampling of new writings. (It seems to me that the scientific findings were almost entirely negative. What we believed in before was wrong. My agent says “ the only persons I trust now are those who I used to consider paranoid.” (I think she’s including me but she didn’t say.) However, I don’t know how much the average American woman has come to understand how unreliable some of the so called “ethical” drugs companies are.} But some things are really wonderful advances and we don’t even make a fuss about it. Example, finding the breast cancer genes in the early 90s/ What that means now is there is no reason for the woman who doesn’t have this gene and doesn’t have a lot of close relatives with female cancers to let her healthy ovaries be taken out when she has a uterine hysterectomy. (Did you find my piece in O Magazine pg 216? You also have younger daughters than mine and besides, my daughters were raised in a firmly feminist environment. Well whatever else pops into your head. What’s getting better? What’s getting worse (and I think depression and other psychiatric maladies could be evaluated) How is activism changing? Is it on the decline, the rise, staging about the same level? Are the issues women stand up for different than they were in the 90s and earlier. You are so smart Judy and you often see “writing on the wall.” Also you are familiar with women in different parts of the country whereas I am pretty much out of touch. By the way I think my friend and colleague Susan Wood inspired a lot of women to stand up for themselves when she quit her job as head of the Women’s Office at FDA. Now there is a whole new bill in congress to upgrade that position to real power.
    Love and xx

    Love and kisses to you too Barbara for all you have done for me.

    Judy Raphael Kletter

  3. In remembrance of Barbara Seaman: We remember you with our many heartfelt thanks for all the dedicated work you’ve done to better women’s lives. You are one of the great mothers of the Second Wave, and a sister of ours in these struggles that continue in this world so reluctant to afford women the health and happiness we should all have as our human right.

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