Southern Women, Feminist Health: Place, Politics, and Priorities in Five Feminist Women’s Health Organizations in the Southeastern U.S., 1970-1995 Open Access

Blank, Johanne (Spring 2019)

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Southern Women, Feminist Health:

Place, Politics, and Priorities in Five Feminist Women’s Health Organizations in the Southeastern U.S., 1970-1995

By Hanne I. Blank

This project, Southern Women, Feminist Health, bears witness to the history and ongoing existence of feminist women’s health organizations in the southeastern United States. By presenting case histories of five southeastern feminist women’s health organizations between 1970 and 1995, this research proves that such organizations existed, and continue to exist, in a region they are sometimes thought not to have existed at all. This begins to fill a southern regional gap in feminist health historiography while also considering ways southernness might have influenced the specific ways feminist women’s health developed in the southeastern United States, thus contributing to the interdisciplinary conversation on “southernness” and its meanings.

This study thus confronts the idea of southern distinctiveness, approaching it via the modalities of feminist historiography as a question of lived experience as well as through more external and objective measures, and argues that historical actors may have perceived their experiences as being distinctively southern, or as distinctively linked to southern histories. Simultaneously this study takes part in an emerging scholarship on southern feminist, queer, and Black lives which contends that regional distinctiveness must be evaluated in a context inclusive of regionalized oppressions. In doing so this project employs a “multiple Souths” sociogeographic model and five locations: Fayetteville, Arkansas; Tallahassee, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; and two quite different versions of Atlanta, one Black and the other largely white. 

This project firmly establishes the women’s health movement as a phenomenon with a diverse and widespread southern presence, something lacking in the extant literature. It engages the hyperlocalized and frequently ephemeral nature of grassroots activism, allowing comparative views of ways local organizations manifest dynamics, goals, and ideologies of larger, national movements. This project argues that although feminist health activists shared some basic tenets of what feminist health could and should be, what activists attempted and realized was neither so uniform or so singularly focused on reproductive and sexual health as is often assumed.  In these southern manifestations of the women’s health movement, much depended on the activists’ positionality—including location—as they struggled to create better health options for women.  

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                                              2

Chapter One                                                                                                              36

Feminists vs. Doctors: Feminist Health and the

Politics of Professional Regulation in Feminist Women's

Health Center, Inc. vs. Mohammad et al.

Chapter Two                                                                                                             71

Divided Loyalties: The Mari Spehar Health Education

Project, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1977-1982

Chapter Three                                                                                                           103

She Did it Her Way:

The Singular Origins of the Memphis Center for

Reproductive Health

Chapter Four                                                                                                              149

Sisterhood, Self-Help, and Strife:

the Making and Unmaking of the National Black

Women’s Health Project

Chapter Five                                                                                                               194

Business as Usual: The Atlanta Feminist Women’s

Health Center and the Art of Feminist Health Survival

Afterword                                                                                                                   236

Appendix                                                                                                                    241

Some Southern Women’s Health Organizations and

Abortion Providers, 1970-1995

List of Archives and Special Collections                                                               253     

Bibliography                                                                                                               254

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