Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

History

First Advisor

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff

Abstract

As the women’s health movement grew out of second wave feminism in the late 1960s, activists demanded women be taken seriously as health care consumers and critics of male-dominated medicine. Health feminists aimed to fundamentally redefine the relationship between patient and practitioner. Jewish women helped found and sustain the women’s health movement, yet their activist identities are often separated from Jewishness in histories of health reform. “Patients’ Rights, Patients’ Politics: Jewish Activists of the U.S. Women’s Health Movement, 1969-1990,” considers the impact of Jewish identity on Jewish activists’ conceptions of social justice while also tracing their significant contributions to women’s health care. Using organizational records, oral histories, personal papers, and more, this study shows how Jewish women’s identities as Jews were closely tied to their health activism and feminism(s). Whether they identified as secular or religious, liberal feminist or radical, many Jewish activists connected their Jewishness to their patient politics. This study shows how Jewish women pioneered health feminist rhetoric and developed strategies to address issues like birth control safety, breast cancer, patients’ rights, and mental health care. Jewish women occupied a complex position within the movement, as many were members of the white majority and yet their activism was informed by the experiences of their religious and ethnic minority group. Attention to Jewish identity not only helps historians understand Jewish women’s roles and representation within the women’s health movement, it complicates the history of second wave feminism’s cultural, ethnic, and religious intersections and divides.

Available for download on Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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