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Bodies of Knowledge

Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave

Bodies of Knowledge

Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, women argued that unless they gained access to information about their own bodies, there would be no equality. In Bodies of Knowledge, Wendy Kline considers the ways in which ordinary women worked to position the female body at the center of women’s liberation.

As Kline shows, the struggle to attain this knowledge unified women but also divided them—according to race, class, sexuality, or level of professionalization. Each of the five chapters of Bodies of Knowledge examines a distinct moment or setting of the women’s movement in order to give life to the ideas, expectations, and pitfalls encountered by the advocates of women’s health: the making of Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973); the conflicts surrounding the training and practice of women’s pelvic exams; the emergence of abortion as a feminist issue; the battles over contraceptive regulation at the 1983 Depo-Provera FDA hearings; and the rise of the profession of midwifery. Including an epilogue that considers the experiences of the daughters of 1970s feminists, Bodies of Knowledge is an important contribution to the study of the bodies—that marked the lives—of feminism’s second wave.

216 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Gender and Sexuality

History: American History

Women's Studies


Bodies of Knowledge is one of the most compelling accounts of the history of women’s health and feminist activism that I’ve read to date. Kline presents us with five lively and impressively articulate case studies, each of which chronicles through a specific issue or problem feminists’ attempts to own and redefine the management of women’s bodies in health and sickness. These chapters, written in wonderfully lucid prose, underscore thoughtful overarching themes. Kline’s sharply cogent synthesis offers fresh narrative, engaging stories, and well-researched analysis, while also bringing new material to light.”

Regina Morantz-Sanchez, University of Michigan

“As a historian of this period and someone who was a health activist in the 1970s and the consumer representative on the FDA’s OB/GYN Devices Advisory Panel in the ’90s, I learned a great deal from Bodies of Knowledge. Wendy Kline tracks the tension between relying on the experience of the body (a hallmark of second-wave feminism) and the efforts to ‘speak truth to power’ in order to transform American medicine and the care women received within it. Throughout the book, she makes excellent use of the letters sent to various organizations in order to uncover what women actually thought of these efforts. Bodies of Knowledge is a much-needed addition to scholarship on the women’s health movement, feminist historiography, and the history of medicine, and it will appeal widely to students and teachers in these fields, as well as activists still engaged with trying to transform the health care system.”

Susan M. Reverby, Wellesley College

Bodies of Knowledge is an impressive and important account of the history of the movement for female reproductive health. Wendy Kline ‘gets’ what we were doing and what needed to be said. With evocative writing, the book brings back a flood of memories and does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of what we did, which helps to make it all worthwhile.”

Fran Ventre

Table of Contents



Introduction: Body Knowledge

1   Transforming Knowledge: The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves

2   Reexamining the Pelvic: The Pelvic Instruction Controversy of the 1970s

3   Learning from the Uterus Out: Abortion and Women’s Health Activism in Chicago

4   Bodies of Evidence: Depo-Provera and the Public Board of Inquiry

5   Choices in Childbirth: A Modern Midwife’s Tale

Epilogue: Daughters of Feminism


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