Former CWLU member Laura Newman attended the memorial service for women's health activist Barbara Seaman held last week. The following is her report. Laura is now a medical journalist living in New York City.
Barbara Rosner Seaman, Sept. 11, 1935 – February 27, 2008
Barbara Seaman’s contributions to the women’s health movement were celebrated last week at a memorial service in New York. More than 300 people attended the service and 25 people were asked to deliver eulogies. Although best known for her book The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill, her friends pointed to many other accomplishments.
Her work in fighting high-dose birth control pills in the early 1970s led to important changes at the FDA, according to Dr. Philip Corfman, who was at the FDA when Barbara began her organizing. As a result of her work, patient package inserts were added to prescription medicines; FDA meetings became open meetings; and the public got safer pills.
Corfman, Alice Wolfson, and Judy Norsigian pointed to her relentlessness in fighting for women’s health and attacking regulators head-on. Alice recalls her breaking into a closed-door meeting at the FDA and refusing to leave; Judy remembered her leading the charge in a demonstration in 1975 on DES in Boston in 1975.! Barbara was also instrumental in starting the National Women’s Health Network, which continues to be a watchdog in Washington. (Cindy Pearson spoke, but I couldn’t stay through the end.)
Just about every speaker pointed to Barbara’s generous efforts to bring people together—people who never wrote before, but had good ideas—or people who she knew would like each other. would never Letty Cottin Pogrebin described her as having a “congenital networking tic” and someone who was a “journalistic perfectionist.” People who worked with her as editors or on the front lines said that Barbara saw herself as a historian. “She also was a believer that the word can change the world,” said Erica Jong.
As someone who was a founding member of CWLU’s Women Act To Control Health Care (WATCH) in the 1970s, I was disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to thank Barbara publicly for her work at the memorial service. When her book on the pill first came out, I felt it was like a shot in the arm to those of us working in community-based women’s health projects in Chicago. She elevated women’s health rights to a national and international level.
Donations in Barbara’s name can be made to the National Women’s Health Network and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice Care, as per her request
For more on her final year, read these remembrances from her children:
After being diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2007, our mother underwent surgery, but, unfortunately, the cancer had already spread into her nodes. She visited quite a number of oncologists and she and others did a great deal of research into the effectiveness of various treatments. Our mother ultimately choser not to undergo any further treatment, since the data indicated that she might only gain a few more weeks or months of life, but at the cost of terribly debilitating side effects. She had always been an advocate of informed consent, and she felt that her decision was based on a great deal of well-researched information. We supported our mother in this decision and feel very blessed that she had a happy and productive remaining ten months of life after her diagnosis. In the last days of her life, our mother was at home being cared for by her family with the help of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice Care. She was at peace with the choices she made. We love her and will miss her terribly. –Shira, Elana, and Noah
Laura Newman would love to get back in touch with CWLUers. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org . Folks traveling to NY, please let her know when.