With Women’s History Month and National Reading Month falling in March, it is a critically important month to us at NA Publishing. Combining these two themes of equality and literacy that are so central to our work here at NA Publishing, we looked into Publishers Weekly Digital Archive (1872-2013) and explored the collection for material that would complement this dual focus on women’s history and reading.
Our Bodies, Ourselves, Our Determination to Know
Peg Bessette Knight
Publishers Weekly, Volume 2, Issue 11, September 11 1972, pg. 3
At a time when women, their bodies, and their rights are front and center on the political stage, it seems only fitting to return to the landmark publication that not only explored topics considered to be taboo at the time, but succeeded in talking to women frankly, clearly, and scientifically about their own anatomy and sexuality, as well as issues such as self-defense, menopause, pregnancy, and lesbianism. No book prior to Our Bodies, Ourselves had addressed these topics so candidly, the project itself a symbol of the very empowerment it promoted.
The story of Our Bodies, Ourselves is a rich one, and is even featured in a March 1976 piece in Publishers Weekly entitled “Story Behind the Book.” A grassroots effort by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, it grew into an essential resource for women, ultimately seeing multiple revisions and reprints, as well as translation into Spanish. In the “Story Behind the Book” piece, Genevieve Stuttaford interviews seven of the original 12 women behind the work. “What’s most striking about these women is their sense of community, their obvious trust in one another,” notes Stuttaford. This was no typical project. And, its impact was not typical either.
To extend its distribution, after a great deal of consideration and careful negotiation, the members of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, co-authors in the project, decided to take the project to a commercial publisher, and the sales of this sought-after resource spoke volumes about the dearth of information available for, by, and about women at the time.
- By February of 1973, it was reputed to have sold 140,000 copies
- By April 1973, Publishers Weekly reported 180,000 copies in print (after three printings)
- By September 1973 sales had hit ~9,000 copies per week, resulting in Simon and Schuster sending it back to the printer for another 100,000 copies. “There are now 360,000 copies in print, of which 259,000 have been sold already,” reported PW (September 1973).
- In April 1974, Simon and Schuster was celebrating the title’s first anniversary, by now in its 11th printing, for a total of 500,000 copies in print.
- By December 1975, a 2nd Edition, completely revised and expanded, was released, the advertisement boasting that, since its 1973 publication, “this remarkable book has sold over 1,000,000 copies.”
Sadly, alongside this timeline, there are sobering moments, for example a February 1978 story in PW headlined: “Right-of-Center Censorship Increasing, ALA Finds.” Within this article, Our Bodies, Ourselves is singled out as one of “[t]hree specific books that have been frequent targets of censorship.” Still, sales continued, and in June 1983, Simon and Schuster issued The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, “completely revised for the 80s and beyond.” Many more updated versions and revisions of this classic work on women, their bodies, and their choices have followed, and it is now estimated that more than four million copies have been sold.
As we celebrate women this month, and the freedom to pursue information, two slogans come to mind:
- “Free People Read Freely” – The American Library Association’s slogan corresponding with Banned Books Week
- “Nevertheless, she persisted.” – Mitch McConnell’s accidentally authored slogan celebrating the strength and determination of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor.
Looking back at these significant milestones, at the publication of a work that finally acknowledged women’s ownership of their bodies, and that continues to liberate women worldwide, we can continue to read freely, continue to persist.
Learn more about Publishers Weekly Digital Archive (1872-2013)
Famous Author Birthdays
March 2, 1904-1991
March 20, 1937
March 26, 1874-1963
March 30, 1820-1878