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Bio of Norma Meras Swenson

Norma Meras Swenson (1932 -  ) is the link between the childbirth reform movement of the 1960’s, the second-wave women’s health movement in the US, and the global women’s health movement.  In 1962, she joined the Boston Association for Childbirth Education, an organization that worked against the surgically-oriented childbirth by specialists then in ascension.  She moved into its leadership and became president of its international organization in 1966.  While still active in the childbirth reform movement, Swenson was given a copy of Women and Their Bodies and met with its writers, explaining that the section on childbirth was poor and inadequately informed.  They, in turn, told her that she was not a feminist and would have to go to a seventeen-week course, by and for women, given in a consciousness-raising mode, on women’s health at the Women’s School in Cambridge. 

She completed that course and became one of the incorporating members of the Boston Women’s Health Collective, first writing for the Our Bodies, Ourselves childbirth chapter for several years, next working on the politics of women’s health, and then becoming the collective’s first director of international programs, acting as liaison for foreign editions and for the groups with whom the collective collaborated. 

Swenson was active in organizing the Commission on the Status of Women at the Harvard School of Public Health and, as a follow-up to that, she met with federal government representatives on the treatment of research and lab assistants within Harvard’s health institutions.  She also continued the work of the Commission by organizing women’s health programs in developing countries for three years.  Swenson and Judy Norsigian were the main organizers of the 1975 Harvard Conference on Women’s Health. 

Swenson has written and lectured on the women’s health movement and believes that its critical posture, examining and criticizing the science and technology of established women’s health practices, and challenging the power structure in technology and the pharmaceutical industry, contrasted with the approach taken by most of the second-wave women’s movement.  Swenson has taught at the Harvard School of Public Health for over fifteen years.  She holds a B. A. in Sociology from Tufts University and an MPH from Harvard in Administration and Health Law.  She has also studied Medical Sociology on the doctoral level at both Tufts and Brandies University.

She can be reached at [email protected].

This bio is excerpted from the book Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975, edited by Barbara Love.






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