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Norma Swenson, founding member of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and coauthor of Our Bodies, Ourselves, will speak on “The Politics of Women’s Health” at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 20, the auditorium of Lafayette College’s Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.

The lecture is the keynote speech for Lafayette’s celebration of Women’s History Month. It is sponsored by The Ethics Project, Values and Science/Technology (VAST) program, Association for Lafayette Women, the department of psychology, and the department of government and law.

Swenson lectures at the Harvard School of Public Health, where she has taught the course Women, Health and Development for the past seven years. Her major involvement in the women’s health movement began in the 1960s, when she worked to reform maternity care at the Boston Association for Childbirth Education, where she still holds membership. She also met regularly with a group of 11 women to discuss the medical field’s discrimination and injustice in regard to women’s health. Those discussions led to the group’s 1970 publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves, a revolutionary women’s health guide that covered topics ranging from pregnancy to menopause in a candid, open manner.

“We had a huge list of issues, from the Vietnam War to welfare to birth control, and we felt it was important to address them,” Swenson said in an interview with The Newton (Mass.) Tab last year. “So we used our experiences as women and did lots and lots of homework.” None of the women involved had a medical background, but the book made a significant challenge to the medical status quo.

The first edition of the book sold 50,000 copies, despite the lack of a publisher. Three years later, Simon & Schuster picked up the rights, and it became a best seller. It has sold four million copies and been translated into more than 15 languages. Following the success of the book, the nonprofit Boston Women’s Health Book Collective was founded. The group revises editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves and works to promote women’s health education.

Swenson has served on the senior staff of the Boston Women’s Health Collective for more than 25 years. Formerly director of international programs at the collective, she also has been a contributor to the work of the National Women’s Health Network and the National Black Women’s Health Project. Among many other organizations, she has served on the advisory boards of the Chicago Community Midwives, the Harvard-Radcliffe-MIT Women in Development group, and COVOL Uganda. Swenson once served as president of the International Childbirth Education Association. She is a member of the Alumni Council at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Recently, Swenson has been coordinating translations and adaptations of Our Bodies, Ourselves in other languages, and completed work on the “Politics of Women’s Health” chapter in the 1998 U.S. edition. She recently visited China at the invitation of Chinese women to help celebrate their translation and publishing of the book in Chinese.

Primarily a community organizer, Swenson has visited and worked directly with women’s and community groups in most regions of the world. She has consulted for many national governments, private foundations, and other organizations, including the World Health Organization.

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