Kelly Suzanne O'Donnell
Kelly Suzanne O'Donnell
history and other endeavors

Kelly S. O’Donnell, Ph.D.

Welcome. Please click the navigation links or scroll down to find my bio, my CV, links to some of my published work, and descriptions of my research projects currently in progress (in that order).

 
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About

Hello! I am a historian of gender, activism, and health care in modern America.

As a first-generation college student, I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2009. I then earned my Ph.D. in History at Yale University, where I wrote a dissertation on feminist health activism. After graduate school, I spent a year working at a non-profit women's health advocacy organization.

I currently teach at Jefferson—East Falls. During the Spring 2020 semester I will be in residence at the Massachusetts Historical Society as an NEH Long-term Fellow.

At the moment I am working on two book-length projects: 1) a reassessment of the 1970 U.S. Senate hearings on the safety of oral contraceptives, adapted from my dissertation, and 2) a history of doctors' wives and the role they played in shaping American medicine.

When not reading or writing, I can be found running (very slowly) or exploring coffee shops of the greater Philadelphia area. You can also find me on Twitter at @KellyODonn.

Curriculum Vitae

Education

Ph.D., History, Yale University, December 2015

Concentration in History of Science and Medicine

Dissertation: “Barbara Seaman and the History of the Women’s Health Movement”

M.Phil., History, Yale University, 2013

M.A., History, Yale University, 2012

B.A., Liberal Arts, Sarah Lawrence College, 2009

Visiting Student, University of Oxford, 2007-2008

Employment

2017-present Adjunct Professor, College of Humanities and Sciences, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA

2016-2017 Office Administrator, HERS (Hysterectomy Educational Resources & Services) Foundation, Bala Cynwyd, PA

Publications

 Refereed Journal Articles

Online Publications

Book Reviews

Manuscripts in Progress (excluding works currently under review)

  • The Pill Hearings: Science, Politics, and Birth Control, book manuscript in preparation.

  • “‘What the Women Can Do:’ Doctors’ Wives and the American Medical Association’s Campaigns Against Socialized Medicine,” article in preparation.

Awards and Honors

2019-2020 MHS-NEH Long-term Fellowship, Massachusetts Historical Society

2019-2020 Nancy Halverson Schless Fellowship, American Philosophical Society

2019 History of Medicine Collections Travel Grant, Rubenstein Library, Duke University

2019 Michael E. DeBakey Fellowship in the History of Medicine, National Library of Medicine

2018 M. Louise Carpenter Gloeckner, M.D. Summer Research Fellowship, the Legacy Center at Drexel University College of Medicine

2017 Finalist, Signs Catharine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship, for “Reproducing Jane”

2014 University Dissertation Fellowship, Yale University

2013-2014 Dissertation Grant, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Harvard University

2013-2014 Travel-to-Collections Grant, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College

2009-2013 Graduate Student Fellowship, Yale University

Teaching Experience

Thomas Jefferson University, Instructor:

Topics in American Studies (Fall 2019, x2)

Cultures of Health and Illness (Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019)

Debating U.S. Issues (Fall 2017 - Spring 2019, x7)

Gender and Diversity in the U.S. (Spring 2018, Fall 2018)

Yale University, Teaching Assistant:

Public Health in America, 1793-2000 (Fall 2012, Fall 2013)

Historical Perspectives on Global Health (Spring 2013)

Cultures of Western Medicine (Spring 2012)

Media and Medicine in Modern America (Fall 2011)

Invited Talks

  • “Mrs. Methods: Finding Physicians’ Wives in their Husbands’ Papers,” Brown-Bag Lunch Series, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA (2019)

  • “Behind Every Great Medical Man: Doctors’ Wives and American Health Politics,” David A. Walsh ‘67 Arts & Sciences Seminar Series, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY (2018)

  • "Women's Health Activism, Then and Now: Lessons for Past and Present," Bryn Mawr College Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA (2018)

  • Panel Participant, “Perspectives on Women’s Archives,” Delaware Valley Archivists Group Fall meeting, Philadelphia, PA (2018)    

  • “‘Roe’ v. ‘Jane’: Telling Illegal Abortion Stories,” No Turning Back: The Past, Present, and Future of Reproductive Justice, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Symposium, Northeastern University, Boston, MA (2017)      

  • “‘Liberate Yourself From Your Gynecologist:’ Historical Perspectives on Barbara Seaman, Second-Wave Feminism, and Consumer Health Activism, 1969-1977,” Lerner Lecture, Division of Medical Humanities, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY (2016)

  • “The Women’s Health Lobby: Feminist Health Activism in Washington, D.C., 1974-1977,” Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing Seminar Series, Philadelphia, PA (2015)

Conference Participation

Presentations

  • "Writing the History of the Women's Health Movement: Barbara Seaman, Historians, and the Activist Archive," Reproductive and Sexual Health Activism, ca. 1960-present, Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK (2018)

  • “‘I Didn’t Think You Were Hysterical:’ Hysterectomy and Health Activism, 1982-2016,” American Association for the History of Medicine, Nashville, TN (2017)

  • “Writing the Women’s Health Movement: Barbara Seaman, Feminism, and the Politics of Biomedical Expertise,” Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science 2014 Introductory Symposium, Philadelphia, PA (2014)

  • “‘Liberate Yourself From Your Gynecologist:’ Barbara Seaman, Feminism, and Consumer Health Activism, 1957-1977,” A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the Late 1960s and Early 1970s, Boston University, Boston, MA (2014)

  • “‘Dear Injurious Physician:’ Barbara Seaman, Feminism, and the Politics of Women’s Health in America,” Brown bag lunch presentation, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (2013)

  • “The Muckraker: Science Writing as Radical Critique, 1967-1977,” The Return of Biography: Reassessing Life Stories in Science Studies, Science Museum, London, UK (2013)

  • “Pelvic Autonomy: Barbara Seaman and the Emergence of a Feminist Health Politics, 1957-1977,” The Sixties at Fifty: The 5th Annual Boston University Graduate Student American Political History Conference, Boston, MA (2013)

  • “The Many Lives of the Menstrual Cup,” Poster Presentation, 15th Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Amherst, MA (2011)

  • “Stories of Jane: Remembering Chicago’s Underground Abortion Service,” American Association for the History of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA (2011)

  • “‘The Whole Thing Might Seem a Little Strange to You:’ Selling the Menstrual Cup, 1960-1973,” 8th Annual Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Medicine, New Brunswick, NJ (2010)

  • “Cups on Campus: An Analysis of Menstrual Cup Distribution, Advocacy, and Use,” 18th Biennial Meeting of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, Spokane, WA (2009)

Panels Chaired

  • “From Alimentary Canal to Zygote: Humor, Faith, and Resistance in Global Contexts,” American Association for the History of Medicine, Columbus, OH (2019)

  • “Labor and Lay Networks,” Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, CT (2018)

Campus and Departmental Talks

  • “Mrs. MD: How Doctors’ Wives Changed the History of Medicine in America,” Knowledge Exchange Series, Arlen Specter Center for Public Service, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA (2019)

  • “‘Dear Injurious Physician:’ Barbara Seaman, Feminism, and the Politics of Women’s Health in America,” Frederic L. Holmes Workshop, Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, CT (2012)

  • “No String Attached: Selling and Using the Menstrual Cup in the 1970s,” Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Colloquium, Yale University, New Haven, CT (2012)

  • “Stories of Jane: Remembering Chicago’s Underground Abortion Service,” Frederic L. Holmes Workshop, Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, CT (2011)

University and Professional Service

Referee for: Social History of Medicine, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Pharmacy in History, All of Us

2019-pres. Contributing Editor, Pharmacy in History

2010-2015       Steering Committee, Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Medicine

2011-2012       Organizer, 10th Annual Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Medicine

2011-2012       Organizer, Frederic L. Holmes Workshop Series, Yale University

2009-2010       Department Representative, Graduate Student Assembly, Yale University

Works In Print

Our Doctors, Ourselves:

Barbara Seaman and Popular Health Feminism in the 1970s

wikipedia.org

wikipedia.org

The first article from my dissertation (a biography of Barbara Seaman), published in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Pre-print link.

Abstract: This essay examines the career of feminist journalist Barbara Seaman and her contribution to the circulation of health feminist ideas in the 1970s. Seaman, author of the influential exposé The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill (1969), became a noted critic of women’s health care and of gynecologists in particular. In her next book, Free and Female (1972), and in newspaper articles, interviews, and television appearances, she implored women to “liberate” themselves from their gynecologists and empower themselves in the arena of health care. Seaman’s media engagement contributed to the development of a “popular health feminism” that took the ideas of the women’s health movement public for mainstream audiences to consume and engage with.


Reproducing Jane:

Abortion Stories and Women’s Political Histories

Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service, 1968-1973, firestarter press, 2004

Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service, 1968-1973, firestarter press, 2004

My article on the historical memory of the 1970s underground abortion collective known as "Jane" was published in the Autumn 2017 issue of Signs. Link

Abstract (excerpt): In the early 1970s, before the passage of Roe v. Wade, an underground feminist group in Chicago performed an estimated eleven thousand illegal abortions. Women’s liberation groups formed abortion referral services across the country, but the Abortion Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, known colloquially as “Jane” after the pseudonym its members adopted, was distinct, and its story has lingered in feminist consciousness while others have not. Members eventually performed abortions themselves, despite lacking formalized medical training, putting the procedure into women’s own hands. As the pro-choice community began to fear the erosion of abortion rights, Jane stories gained new currency as tales of women’s resilience in the face of unjust legal restrictions...


Selling the Menstrual Cup

Image courtesy of Gerardo Con Diaz

Image courtesy of Gerardo Con Diaz

In a short piece for Technology's Stories, an online publication from the Society for the History of Technology, I explore the curious history of the menstrual cup. Link.

Abstract: The menstrual cup, a relatively obscure feminine hygiene product alternative with a cult following on the Internet, has a rich and surprising history. As old as the more popular tampon, the cup was marketed to women with varying degrees of success over the course of the twentieth century. The cup’s unique design—typically a reusable rubber device that collects, rather than absorbs, menstrual fluids—presented challenges to manufacturers and advertisers, but an ideal hygiene solution to its many devoted fans.


Women's Health Advocacy at Work

Unrelated to, but contemporaneous with, my job.

Unrelated to, but contemporaneous with, my job.

Grad students: Have you ever dreamt that you were trapped inside your dissertation? Link.

Well, that kinda happened to me. In a post for Nursing Clio, I discuss the year I spent post-PhD working at a women's health non-profit, learning even more about the focus of my dissertation than I thought was possible after years and years of historical research.


Pinkie, Your Hospital Pal!

Or, Why I Bought a Weird Old Hand Puppet on eBay

Photo from the Helm Independent Review (Lynbrook, NY) titled “Hospitals can be fun” (The Helm independent review., May 12, 1966, Page 8, Image 8 |  ©NYS Historic Newspapers )

Photo from the Helm Independent Review (Lynbrook, NY) titled “Hospitals can be fun” (The Helm independent review., May 12, 1966, Page 8, Image 8 | ©NYS Historic Newspapers)

My Nursing Clio post on a curious puppet with a surprising history. Link.

"What on earth was Pinky the Puppet? What did they look like? Were they anything like the creepy porcelain dolls adorning the covers of programs for HHA fundraising events that I’d unearthed earlier in the week? I had to know. I decided that I must drop everything I was doing with the Courier and investigate this puppet immediately. I admittedly became somewhat obsessed..."

Research in Progress

The Pill Hearings:

Science, Politics, and Birth Control

Women’s liberation protesters at Nelson’s first round of hearings, January 1970

Women’s liberation protesters at Nelson’s first round of hearings, January 1970

In January 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) convened a relatively obscure subcommittee of the U.S. Senate (the Senate Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Monopoly) to ask his assembled scientific experts: Is the birth control pill safe? Should we be concerned about all these new reports about Pill side effects? Are doctors withholding information about potential harms from their patients when they prescribe this wildly popular new drug? Inspired in large part by journalist Barbara Seaman’s controversial exposé The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill (1969), Nelson leveraged his power within the liberal political establishment to attempt to answer these urgent questions. The hearings did not go quite as planned, attracting the ire of both feminist protesters and the family planning community, but they had long-lasting effects on the practice of medicine and the regulation of pharmaceuticals that are still with us today. My book takes a fresh look at these hearings, the media frenzy that accompanied them, and the diverse cast of characters with stakes in this scientific and political debate.



Hippocratic Vows:

How the Doctor’s Wife Transformed American Medicine

MD’s Wife  magazine, September 1969. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

MD’s Wife magazine, September 1969. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Marrying a doctor became an aspirational goal for many young women in the twentieth century United States. For those who succeeded in securing a physician husband, however, married life was often hard work. From fundraising for hospital construction to answering patients’ phone calls, the doctor’s wife was an essential part of the history of American health care. Indeed, the wives of physicians had a significant impact on the growth, reception, and reform of modern medicine. Following this long-neglected population from the mid-nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth, I argue that “Mrs. MD” was not merely the support behind a great man, but a powerful force in her own right.