History of the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN)

The National Women’s Health Network’s genesis was in the 1960s, a time when society was under scrutiny everywhere and women were questioning the way they were treated in doctor’s offices, during childbirth, and throughout society. The 1970 Pill Hearings brought the voice of women into Congress, and women let it be known that they would no longer blindly accept what they were told by doctors, the medical establishment, or their government.

A women’s health movement developed, knit together by hundreds of grassroots women’s health projects in communities across the United States. Our Bodies, Ourselves — the first book about women’s health written by and for women — inspired millions of women to become active participants in their own health care. And, a small group of visionary women recognized the need for an organization that could function as an “action arm” of the women’s health movement by directing influencing policy in Washington, D.C.

The National Women’s Health Network was the result of these influences. Our first public action took place on December 16, 1975, when we protested in front of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), demanding that women have the right to written information about the prescription drugs they were taking. As a result of our bold action and savvy organizing, important changes happened quickly. Quotas on women in medical school were dropped, bans on fathers in the delivery room were abolished, protections against coercive sterilization were put in place across the country, and women’s right to information about their health care was established.

Having started as outsiders, protesting at the FDA, we took our rightful place inside and we changed the way the medical establishment listened to women.