The Most Impressive Women’s Health Milestones

Featured Article, Healthy Living, Women's Health
on October 5, 2011

More than 40 years ago, Our Bodies, Ourselves became required reading for women in the U.S. Since then, over 4 million copies of the book that helped launch the women’s health movement have been sold. The book, dubbed “a feminist classic” by the New York Times, sparked honest, empowering discussions about women’s sexuality and reproductive rights, and laid the foundation for gender-based medical research.

The latest edition contains revised and updated information on changes in the healthcare system, safe sex, body image, pregnancy and birth, and menopause, among other topics. Since the book’s debut more than 40 years ago, many advancements have changed the way women take care of their health and interact with the healthcare system. Check out the highlights.

Birth control sales to single women made legal

The U.S. Supreme Court rules against prohibiting birth control sales to a single person, thus putting an end to the Massachusetts law prohibiting contraceptive sales to unmarried women.

Title IX Bans gender discrimination in schools

Title IX, an amendment to the Civil Rights act of 1964, banned discrimination on the base of gender in any educational program receiving federal funding. The upshot was an unprecedented increase of the number of women in athletics programs, which were required to invest in women’s sports programs in equal proportions to men’s,after the law was put into place.

Billie Jean King wins “Battle of the Sexes”

Professional women’s tennis player Billie Jean King faced off in an exhibition singles match against men’s pro and tennis promoter Bobby Riggs in the media spectacle known as the “Battle of the Sexes.” The event, questionable in its significance (King was age 29; Riggs was 55), nevertheless drew attention to women’s tennis and women in athletics in general.

Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion

The landmark, controversial Supreme Court decision gives women the right to choose.

Betty Ford goes public with cancer diagnosis

Diagnosed with breast cancer soon after husband President Gerald Ford ascended to the office upon the resignation of Richard Nixon, the First Lady’s openness about her illness raised the visibility of a disease that Americans had previously been reluctant to talk about. The spike in breast self-examinations after Ford went public with the diagnosis led to an increase in reported cases of breast cancer, a phenomenon known as the “Betty Ford blip.”

Liposuction invented

Italian gynecologist Dr. Giorgio Fischer creates the technique used for fat removal. After facing more than a decade of bad press for its undesirable side effects, lipo got a facelift in 1985 when the tumescent technique was introduced, requiring only local anesthesia and eliminating excessive bleeding and skin dimpling.

Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill” celebrates sexual freedom

The country singer’s ode to oral contraceptives shocked some but expressed the freedom that many women were feeling. It’s estimated that more than 10 million women were using the Pill by the late ‘70s.

FDA approves first home pregnancy test kit

Known as the “Early Pregnancy Test” and then the “Error Proof Test,” e.p.t. was the first home pregnancy test kit on the market in the US.

First test tube baby born

At 11:47 p.m. on July 25, 1978, five-pound 12-ounce Louise Joy Brown was born, the first successful product of in vitro fertilization, now a common process used by infertile couples around the world.

O’Connor and Kirkpatrick represent women in government

Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, serving until 2006. Jeane Kirkpatrick becomes the first female U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Tampon use made safer

Following 38 deaths and 814 confirmed cases of period-related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), the FDA began requiring tampon packages include information about the risk and prevention of TSS.

Jane Fonda workout video released

Based on the book of the same name, Jane Fonda’s Workout helps women “feel the burn” in living rooms around the country.

Anorexia nervosa makes headlines

Singer Karen Carpenter, of popular brother-sister duo The Carpenters, dies of heart failure caused by anorexia nervosa, bringing to light the seriousness of the eating disorder.

First Race for the Cure held

Organized by Nancy Brinker in memory of her sister, Susan G. Komen, who died of breast cancer, the inaugural race to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness featured 800 runners. Today, Race for the Cure events are held worldwide with millions of women and men participating

Oprah shares her weight struggles

Oprah Winfrey, after losing 67 pounds, wheeled out a wagon filled with 67 pounds of fat while wearing a size-10 pair of Calvin Kleins.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee wins gold at 1988 Olympics

Considered by many to be the best all-around female athlete in the world, American Jackie Joyner-Kersee won Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon and long jump.

“Sweatin’ to the Oldies” debuts

Weight loss and fitness fanatic Richard Simmons releases “Sweatin’ to the Oldies,” the first in the video series that launched his “anyone can do it” motivation into an all-out craze.

Gilda Radner loses her battle with ovarian cancer

The beloved “Saturday Night Live” comedian helped bring awareness to the “silent killer.” In 1991, her husband Gene Wilder and several of her friends founded Gilda’s Club, a support network for people and families dealing with cancer. The name was based on a quote from Gilda, who once said cancer, “gave me membership to an elite club I’d rather not belong to.”

Pink ribbon adopted as official symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Derived from the popular red ribbon for AIDS awareness, the pink ribbon was reportedly created by Alexandra Penney, breast cancer survivor and former editor of Self magazine.

National Institutes of Health vows to include women in clinical trials

Before 1993, clinical trials on experimental drugs and treatments did not routinely include women or minorities, calling into question whether their results were applicable to these groups. After the NIH officially adopted the policy to include more women and minorities in their testing, breakthroughs were made in discovering differences in men and women’s heart attack symptoms and other areas.

Breast cancer genes discovered

A team of researchers genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, mutations of which are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Weight Watchers launches the Points system

Though the weight-loss support program had been around since the early ’60s, it wasn’t until it created its proprietary “Points” formula as an alternative to calorie counting that it became a national phenomenon. The formula first incorporated calories, fat and fiber but was revised in 2010 to delete calories from the equation and include protein and carbohydrates, based on updated nutrition guidelines.

FDA approves the first “morning-after pill”

Women now have the option of taking emergency contraception up to five days after sex if their birth control failed or they did not use protection. While it was at first available by prescription only, in 2006 several forms of emergency contraception were made available over-the-counter for women 17 and older.

United States wins its first Women’s World Cup

The final FIFA Women’s World Cup of the century launched the beginning of a new era of success for women’s soccer and was a milestone in the history of women’s sports. On 10 July 1999, a world women’s sporting record attendance of 90,185 sun-baked fans, including former President Bill Clinton, squeezed into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to witness the home side pull out a breathtaking 5:4 penalty kick victory over China in the finals.

The FDA approves the use of digital mammograms

In 2005, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that digital mammograms may better detect cancer in women under 50 and/or women with more dense breast tissue (as many younger women tend to have).

Study refutes hormone replacement therapy benefits

In a study done by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, it was discovered that hormone replacement therapy not only didn’t protect women from the increased risk of heart attack and other conditions experienced after menopause, but that it did just the opposite. Women in the study saw an increased likelihood for heart attack, stroke, blood clots and even breast cancer, findings that led many doctors and patients to abandon the once-routine treatment.

FDA approves Botox for cosmetic use

The wrinkle-eraser Botox, which paralyzes facial muscles, ushers in the era of less-invasive cosmetic procedures and quickly becomes standard for everyone from Hollywood actresses to female (and male) execs.

The American Heart Association launches Go Red for Women

The organization makes awareness a high priority, amid concerns that cardiovascular disease is too often associated with men, and women tend to underestimate their risk.

FDA approves vaccine against cervical cancer

The FDA approved Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. The shot wards off certain types of human papillomavirus, including two that cause roughly 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer, which kills over 3,000 women per year.

Swimmer Dara Torres launches Olympic comeback

Inspiring aging women everywhere, Dara Torres wins three silver medals at the Beijing games at age 41, 24 years after her first Olympic competition.

Congress passes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Among many revisions to the current healthcare system, the federal law set to go into effect in 2014 will make preventive screenings like mammograms and Pap smears free. Those services, as well as contraceptives, will not carry a co-pay or deductible. The law will also forbid insurance companies from charging women higher fees than men the same age and health status, and mandate that all employers allow breastfeeding women adequate time to pump at work.