New Directions in Reproductive Rights Research | Newberry

New Directions in Reproductive Rights Research

Friday, March 20, 2015

3-5 pm


Panelists: Lauren MacIvor Thompson, Georgia State University; Sarah Rodriguez, Northwestern University
Center for American History and Culture Programs
Gender and Sexuality Seminar

“Science and Sex Relations: Mary Ware Dennett and Evolving Arguments for Birth Control Reform.”
Lauren MacIvor Thompson, Georgia State University

Bostonian birth control reformer, sex education advocate, and suffragist Mary Coffin Ware Dennett (1872-1947) is an important transitional figure in the historical relationship between law, medical science, and Progressive Era feminism. My paper focuses on Dennett’s birth control work as part of the evolution of scientific and spiritual discourse in the argument for women’s rights. As Dennett herself put it, “We are living in a new age, when science and art and religion are being coordinated as never before, and sex is part of that evolution.” This paper will explore these influences, which were evident in Dennett’s own personal life, and situate her more broadly in the varied dialogues of Progressive Era feminism.

“Challenging the Necessity of the Episiotomy: Feminist Concerns and Nursing Discourse in the 1970s”
Sarah Rodriguez, Northwestern University

“Episiotomies,” wrote the editors of the 1976 Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS), are “done routinely in the United States” although “there is often no need for them.” While noting the procedure was sometimes indicated, the real reason, OBOS asserted, that male doctors performed episiotomies was out of concern “that the woman’s looser vagina will interfere with the man’s sexual pleasure during intercourse.”[1] This critique was part of a larger critique on over-medicalization occurring in the 1970s within the women’s health movement. What I will explore is whether this critique, especially the contention that the procedure was largely done for the (presumed) male spouse’s benefit, influenced the discourse in obstetric nursing texts – texts largely written by and for a profession dominated by women.

[1] Boston Woman’s Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book By and For Women 2nd ed., (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976): 286-287.

Respondent: Judith Houck, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.