Women's and Gender Studies
B.S., Cornell University; M.A., New York University; Ph.D., Boston University
Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas; Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Historian of American health care, women, race, and public health with a focus is on equality and ethics.
As a historian of American health care, my major research has been on women's health, women as health workers/professionals, and the ethics of public health and research. In recent years I completed a long commitment to writing about what is often called the infamous "Tuskegee" syphilis study, the four decades long (1932-72) U.S. Public Health Service research study in which African American men were deceived into believing they were being treated, not monitored, for their disease. I edited a book on this study called Tuskegee's Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (2000) and my written book on the study, Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy , appeared in 2009, winning three major academic awards. I was also part of the Legacy Committee that led to President Clinton offering a federal apology for this study in 1997.
As part of the research on the syphilis study, I found unpublished papers about a Public Health Service study (1946-48) in Guatemala that involved infecting men and women in a prison, army barracks and a mental hospital with sexually transmitted diseases, but then also offering to cure most of them. I shared the then unpublished paper on this with a former director of the Centers for Disease Control in 2010. The gruesome details of the study caused much alarm and concern. The result was that my work was used as the basis for the U.S. government’s apology by the Secretaries of State and Health and Human Services to the people of Guatemala, a focus on the study by the President’s Bioethical Issues Commission, and the reassessment of the protections we give to subjects, especially in studies that take place outside the U.S. borders. I have spent much of the last year speaking to media from around the world and in many different public venues about this study.
As Wellesley's first faculty hire in Women's Studies in 1982, I have worked with my colleagues to build a fine department in this subject here at Wellesley. I teach both the introductory course every year and a survey on American women's history since 1945. I also teach on the history of American medicine and public health, a seminar on women, history, and the use of memory, and a course one women’s political activism.
I continue to try to find ways to share my scholarship and perceptions with the public. I have written op eds, been interviewed by the media on numerous women's and health research issues, and speak often on radio and TV programs. I served on the board of directors of the ACLU of Massachusetts for more than a decade. I am now the President of the board of the Wellfleet Nonresident Taxpayers Association on Cape Cod, an organization I helped to start.
I am fascinated by nature photography, especially mushrooms on Cape Cod in September (how specialized is that!). I have been in Wellesley's drum troupe with students and also performed in the 2002 version of The Vagina Monologues.