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Women's History Month

Book recommendations from UMSL Reference Librarians to celebrate and reflect on Women's History Month, March 2022.

Women's History Month Recommended Reading


2022's Women's History Month theme is Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope. 

UMSL Reference Librarians have collected a list of books which remember and celebrate women's roles in health and healing today and throughout history. 
 

We invite you to explore the list below by using the left and right arrows to scroll through the book gallery. 

Clicking the book title will take you to the catalog record, where you can view the book online or find its location at Thomas Jefferson Library.


 

A History of Women in Medicine

A History of Women in Medicine reveals the untold story of forgotten female physicians, their lives, practices, and subsequent denomination as witches. Originally held in high esteem in their communities, these women used herbs and ancient psychological processes to relieve the suffering of their patients, often traveling long distances, moving from village to village. Their medical and spiritual knowledge blended the boundaries between physician and priest. These ancient healers were the antithesis of the witch figure of today; instead they were knowledgeable therapists commanding respect, gratitude, and high social status. In this pioneering work, Sinéad Spearing draws on current archeological evidence, literature, folklore, case studies, and original religious documentation to bring to life these forgotten healers. By doing so she also exposes the Church's efforts to demonize them in the eyes of the world, leading female healers to be labeled witches and persecuted in the ensuing hysteria known today as the European witch craze.

Invisible Women

Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives. Celebrated feminist advocate Caroline Criado Perez investigates shocking root cause of gender inequality and research in Invisible Women, diving into women's lives at home, the workplace, the public square, the doctor's office, and more. Built on hundreds of studies in the US, the UK, and around the world, this is a groundbreaking, unforgettable exposé that will change the way you look at the world.

Marie Equi

Born of Italian-Irish parents in 1872, Marie Equi endured childhood labor in a gritty Massachusetts textile mill before fleeing to an Oregon homestead with her first longtime woman companion, who described her as impulsive, earnest, and kind-hearted. These traits, along with courage, stubborn resolve, and a passion for justice, propelled Equi through an unparalleled life journey.   Equi self-studied her way into a San Francisco medical school and then obtained her license in Portland to become one of the first practicing woman physicians in the Pacific Northwest. From Pendleton, Portland, Seattle and beyond to Boston and San Francisco, she leveraged her professional status to fight for woman suffrage, labor rights, and reproductive freedom. This much anticipated biography will engage anyone interested in Pacific Northwest history, women’s studies, the history of lesbian and gay rights, and the personal demands of political activism.

Diagnosis Female

All too often, when doctors can't figure out what is going on, women receive a diagnosis from the "all in her head" column -- this pattern is even worse for women of color, who may face significant challenges in medical settings. Throughout this work, Emily Dwass profiles women whose stories illustrate how medical practitioners often dismiss their claims or disregard their symptoms. Because women were excluded from important medical research for centuries, doctors don't always recognize that male symptoms and female symptoms can vary from issue to issue. Even today, most diagnostic tests and treatment plans are based on studies done on men. Examining the bias inherent in the system, Dwass offers measures women can take to protect their health and receive better care. She offers advice, too, for the medical community in addressing the problem, so that outcomes can improve all around.

Reproductive Justice

Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger put the lives and lived experience of women of color at the center of this book and use a human rights analysis to show how the discussion around reproductive justice differs significantly from the pro-choice/anti-abortion debates that have long dominated the headlines and mainstream political conflict. Arguing that reproductive justice is a political movement of reproductive rights and social justice, the authors illuminate, for example, the complex web of structural obstacles a low-income, physically disabled woman living in West Texas faces as she contemplates her sexual and reproductive intentions. In a period in which women's reproductive lives are imperiled, Reproductive Justice provides an essential guide to understanding and mobilizing around women's human rights in the twenty-first century.

A Doctor for Rural America

Dr. Frances Sage Bradley (1862-1949) was a mediating force between the urban world of her own education and experience, and that of rural Americans. As a widow with four young children, Bradley trained as a doctor and became one of the first women to graduate from Cornell University Medical School. During the height of the Progressive Era, she left her private practice to do significant field work for the newly-created Children's Bureau, working mainly in the Appalachian South. In this timely biography, Barbara Barksdale Clowse details the story of this physician, reformer, and writer, and her efforts to extend access to healthcare to rural communities. Clowse describes Bradley's important innovations in the field of public health, including physical exams or "conferences" for children and infants which simultaneously educated parents and local medical practitioners, and her advocacy for improved nutrition and modern medicine in rural areas. Finally, Clowse illustrates how Bradley's work regarding maternal mortality and morbidity in America was instrumental in demonstrating the need for what became the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, also known as the Maternity and Infancy Protection Act.

Critical to Care

Who counts as a health care worker? The question of where we draw the line between health care workers and non-health care workers is not merely a matter of academic nicety or a debate without consequences for care. It is a central issue for policy development because the definition often results in a division among workers in ways that undermine care. Critical to Care uses a wide range of evidence to reveal the contributions that those who provide personal care, who cook, clean, keep records, and do laundry make to health services. As a result of current reforms, these workers are increasingly treated as peripheral even though the research on what determines health demonstrates that their work is essential. The authors stress the invisibility and undervaluing of 'women's work' as well as the importance of context in understanding how this work is defined and treated. Through a gendered analysis, Critical to Care establishes a basis for discussing research, policy, and other actions in relation to the work of thousands of marginalized women and men every day.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb's effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.  Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Henrietta's family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family--past and present--is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Medical Bondage

The accomplishments of pioneering doctors such as John Peter Mettauer, James Marion Sims, and Nathan Bozeman are well documented. It is also no secret that these nineteenth-century gynecologists performed experimental caesarean sections, ovariotomies, and obstetric fistulae repairs primarily on poor and powerless women. Medical Bondage breaks new ground by exploring how and why physicians denied these women their full humanity yet valued them as "medical superbodies" highly suited for medical experimentation. Cooper Owens examines a wide range of scientific literature and less formal communications in which gynecologists created and disseminated medical fictions about their patients, such as their belief that black enslaved women could withstand pain better than white "ladies." Even as they were advancing medicine, these doctors were legitimizing, for decades to come, groundless theories related to whiteness and blackness, men and women, and the inferiority of other races or nationalities.

Hot and Bothered

How did menopause change from being a natural (and often welcome) end to a woman's childbearing years to a deficiency disease in need of medical and pharmacological intervention? By examining the history of menopause over the course of the twentieth century, Houck shows how the experience and representation of menopause has been profoundly influenced by biomedical developments and by changing roles for women and the changing definition of womanhood.

Witches, Midwives, and Nurses

Witches, Midwives, and Nurses examines how women-led healing was delegitimized to make way for patriarchy, capitalism, and the emerging medical industry.  As we watch another agonizing attempt to shift the future of healthcare in the United States, we are reminded of the longevity of this crisis, and how firmly entrenched we are in a system that doesn't work. First published by the Feminist Press in 1973, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses is an essential book about the corruption of the medical establishment and its historic roots in witch hunters. In this new and updated edition, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English delve into the current fascination with and controversies about witches, exposing our fears and fantasies. They build on their classic exposé on the demonization of women healers and the political and economic monopolization of medicine. This quick history brings us up-to-date, exploring today's changing attitudes toward childbirth, alternative medicine, and modern-day witches.

The Woman Who Knew Too Much

The Woman Who Knew Too Much illuminates the life and achievements of the remarkable woman scientist who revolutionized the concept of radiation risk. For more than 40 years, Alice Stewart (1906-2002) warned that low-dose radiation was more dangerous than anyone acknowledged. In the 1950s she discovered that fetal x-rays double a child's risk of developing cancer. Two decades later, in her 70s, she again astounded the scientific world by showing that the U.S. nuclear weapons industry was about 20 times more dangerous than safety regulations admitted. This finding put her at the center of an international controversy over radiation risk. In 1990, the New York Times called Stewart "perhaps the Energy Department's most influential and feared scientific critic."    Author Gayle Greene traces Stewart's life and career as she came up against ever more powerful authorities, first the British medical profession, then the U.S. nuclear industry, and finally the regulatory agencies that set radiation safety standards throughout the world. Stewart endured the fate of other women scientists in having her findings dismissed and funding cut, but today is recognized as a pioneering figure in epidemiological research on the dangers of nuclear radiation.

Nursing Civil Rights

In Nursing Civil Rights, Charissa J. Threat investigates the parallel battles against occupational segregation by African American women and white men in the U.S. Army. As Threat reveals, both groups viewed their circumstances with the Army Nurse Corps as a civil rights matter. Each conducted separate integration campaigns to end the discrimination they suffered. Yet their stories defy the narrative that civil rights struggles inevitably arced toward social justice. Threat tells how progressive elements in the campaigns did indeed break down barriers in both military and civilian nursing. At the same time, she follows conservative threads to portray how some of the women who succeeded as agents of change became defenders of exclusionary practices when men sought military nursing careers. The ironic result was a struggle that simultaneously confronted and reaffirmed the social hierarchies that nurtured discrimination.

The Changing Face of Medicine

The number of women practicing medicine in the United States has grown steadily since the late 1960s, with women now roughly at parity with men among entering medical students. Why did so many women enter American medicine? How are women faring, professionally and personally, once they become physicians? Are women transforming the way medicine is practiced? To answer these questions, The Changing Face of Medicine draws on a wide array of sources, including interviews with women physicians and surveys of medical students and practitioners. The analysis is set in the twin contexts of a rapidly evolving medical system and profound shifts in gender roles in American society. Throughout the book, Ann K. Boulis and Jerry A. Jacobs critically examine common assumptions about women in medicine. For example, they find that women's entry into medicine has less to do with the decline in status of the profession and more to do with changes in women's roles in contemporary society. Women physicians' families are becoming more and more like those of other working women. Still, disparities in terms of specialty, practice ownership, academic rank, and leadership roles endure, and barriers to opportunity persist.

Undivided Rights

Undivided Rights captures the evolving and largely unknown activist history of women of color organizing for reproductive justice--on their own behalf. Using historical research, original organizational case studies, and personal interviews, the authors illuminate how women of color have led the fight to control their own bodies and reproductive destinies. Projected against the backdrop of the mainstream pro-choice movement and radical right agendas, these dynamic case studies feature the groundbreaking work being done by health and reproductive rights organizations led by women-of-color. The book details how and why these women have defined and implemented expansive reproductive health agendas that reject legalistic remedies and seek instead to address the wider needs of their communities. It stresses the urgency for innovative strategies that push beyond the traditional base and goals of the mainstream pro-choice movement--strategies that are broadly inclusive while being specific, strategies that speak to all women by speaking to each woman. While the authors raise tough questions about inclusion, identity politics, and the future of women’s organizing, they also offer a way out of the limiting focus on "choice."

Medical Sexism

Doctors routinely deny patients access to hormonal birth control prescription refills, and this issue has broad interest for feminism, biomedical ethics, and applied ethics in general. Medical Sexism argues that such practices violate a variety of legal and moral standards, including medical malpractice, informed consent, and human rights. Jill B. Delston makes the case that medical sexism serves as a major underlying cause of these systemic and persistent violations. Delston also considers other common abuses in the medical field, such as policy on abortion access and treatment in childbirth. Delston argues that sexism is a better explanation for the widespread abuse of patient autonomy in reproductive health and health care generally. Identifying, addressing, and rooting out medical sexism is necessary to successfully protect medical and moral values.

More Than Medicine

In More Than Medicine, Jennifer Nelson reveals how feminists of the '60s and '70s applied the lessons of the new left and civil rights movements to generate a women's health movement. The new movement shifted from the struggle to revolutionize health care to the focus of ending sex discrimination and gender stereotypes perpetuated in mainstream medical contexts. Moving from the campaign for legal abortion to the creation of community clinics and feminist health centers, Nelson illustrates how these activists revolutionized health care by associating it with the changing social landscape in which women had power to control their own life choices. More Than Medicine poignantly reveals how social justice activists in the United States gradually transformed the meaning of health care, pairing traditional notions of medicine with less conventional ideas of "healthy" social and political environments.

Women Healers and Physicians

Women have traditionally been expected to tend the sick as part of their domestic duties; yet throughout history they have faced an uphill struggle to be accepted as healers outside the household. In this provocative anthology, twelve essays by historians and literary scholars explore the work of women as healers and physicians. The essays range across centuries, nations, and cultures to focus on the ideological and practical obstacles women have faced in the world of medicine. Each examines the situation of women healers in a particular time and place through cases that are emblematic of larger issues and controversies in that period. The stories presented here are typical of different but parallel facets of women's history in medicine.