More Than Medicine

A History of the Feminist Women's Health Movement

280 pages

March, 2015

ISBN: 9780814770665



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Jennifer Nelson is Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Redlands (CA). 

All books by Jennifer Nelson

In 1948, the Constitution of the World Health Organization declared, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Yet this idea was not predominant in the United States immediately after World War II, especially when it came to women’s reproductive health. Both legal and medical institutions—and the male legislators and physicians who populated those institutions—reinforced women’s second class social status and restricted their ability to make their own choices about reproductive health care.

In More Than Medicine, Jennifer Nelson reveals how feminists of the ‘60s and ‘70s applied the lessons of the new left and civil rights movements to generate a women’s health movement. The new movement shifted from the struggle to revolutionize health care to the focus of ending sex discrimination and gender stereotypes perpetuated in mainstream medical contexts. Moving from the campaign for legal abortion to the creation of community clinics and feminist health centers, Nelson illustrates how these activists revolutionized health care by associating it with the changing social landscape in which women had power to control their own life choices.

More Than Medicine poignantly reveals how social justice activists in the United States gradually transformed the meaning of health care, pairing traditional notions of medicine with less conventional ideas of “healthy” social and political environments.


  • "Jennifer Nelson has written another terrific book! Her history of the antecedents, the evolution, and the political challenges of the women-of-color-led movement for reproductive and sexual healthand its present identity as the Reproductive Justice movement is absolutely indispensable and profoundly important."

    —Rickie Solinger, author of Reproductive Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know

  • "Makes an important contribution to the growing body of work on the history of health activism. . . . With a deft eye for detail, Nelson grounds her analysis in local stories that take us from Mississippi to Seattle to Atlanta and offer rich stories about women’s understanding of reproductive and sexual rights and the negotiationssometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessfulbetween white feminists and women of color. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the history of the women’s health movement in a nuanced way, taking full account of the ways race and class shaped feminist organizing and affected women’s experiences of reproduction and sexuality."

    —Johanna Schoen, Rutgers University

  • "Years before discussing social and racial disparities in health became fashionable, some feminists were insisting that women’s health and reproductive freedom could not be achieved without addressing issues such as poverty, nutrition, and economic inequality. In More Than Medicine, Jennifer Nelson uses exciting new primary research to trace the history of the movement for reproductive justice, from the 1960s to the present. She skillfully tells the story of the activists who fought to broaden health reform beyond medical care, and to broaden the feminist movement beyond abortion rights. Everyone interested in the past, present, and future of health reform, women’s rights, and human rights should read this book."

    —Beatrix Hoffman, Northern Illinois University

  • "A thoughtful and meticulously researched contribution to the body of knowledge about community-centered health care provision and activism for the past 50 years. Nelson's critical analysis and evaluation of historical source materials provides a rich explanation of the promise and potential of empowerment-based models of health care. By linking the civil rights, new left, and women's movements' strategies into a consistent and comprehensive narrative, she provides fresh insight into how important historical ideas of the 1950s and 1960s had new life breathed into them in the 21st century, proving that the past is indeed prologue. I strongly recommend this book for anyone seeking answers for how to build effective health care solutions for disadvantaged communities."

    —Loretta Ross, co-founder, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

  • "Nelson has written a demanding but important book.  She researched her topic well and provides a valuable history of women’s health care movements of the 20th century.”


  • More Than Medicine is an extensively researched book, focusing on the struggle for feminists to make women’s health a priority, to reach out to those in need of health care, and to integrate women friendly policies and provide care to those who have very little access to it.” 


  • “In the 1960s and ‘70s, US feminists worked for a women’s health movement that would reach beyond the sex discrimination dominating the mainstream medical system and towards healthcare that valued women’s autonomy. The author examines the struggle for abortion rights, as well as the creation of community and women-centered clinics.”

    Conscience: The Newsjournal of Catholic Opinion

  • “The stories Nelson presents are familiar to women’s history, the civil rights movement, and women of color feminism, but sewn together they tell a broader and connected story of the women’s health movement across the United States and its longevity through the 1980s and 1990s.”

    Journal of American History

  •  “More Than Medicine makes important contributions to the history of medicine and women’s history. It is a welcome addition to both fields of study.”

    Project Muse

  • “Nelson’s work in More than Medicine is a solid primer on feminist health and the need for collaboration across social justice platform.”

    Feminist Collections