Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Department of History

Content Description

1 online resource (v, 212 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Kori A. Graves

Committee Members

Carl Bon Tempo, Richard Fogarty


Health Care, Reproduction, Women, Reproductive health, Reproductive health services, Women's health services, Contraceptives, Women social reformers

Subject Categories

European History | History | United States History


ABSTRACTFor American and British women, the definition of being healthy changed in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Previously, there had been a resigned acceptance of the fact that a woman’s reproductive capacity often relegated her to a lifetime of suffering and ill health. Certainly, individual women sometimes sought out solutions to their health problems, but there was no concerted social movement to help all women. Then in the Progressive Era that changed. The professionalization of medicine, combined with scientific breakthroughs, such as using Salvarsan to treat syphilis and urine testing to identify eclampsia meant that women could hope for meaningful treatments. Women embraced these medical advances and began to advocate for reproductive healthcare reform. Two of the main movements that emerged were the campaign for painless childbirth using twilight sleep and the effort to legalize and legitimize contraception. Generally, these movements are studied separately. This work contributes to existing accounts by demonstrating that when studied together we find that women were not only advocating for reproductive autonomy and healthy babies, they were advocating for their own health. This was critical because when plagued by ill health and debility it was nearly impossible for women to engage in social citizenship. Obtaining health is the prerequisite for other types of civic engagement. These reproductive activists set the stage for how women’s healthcare would be handled for the rest of the century.