Barbara Seaman: Writer who exposed Pill risks

It is a historic event when anyone takes on the might of the pharmaceutical industry and wins, but the writer, medical journalist and activist Barbara Seaman did just that. During the 1960s, Seaman exposed the health risks associated with the contraceptive pill and went on to become a key figure in the women's health movement.

She was born Barbara Rosner to an English teacher mother and a public welfare administrator father. She credited her passion for social justice and writing to her upbringing. Even in her early career as a health writer she introduced a new style of reporting, focusing on the patient rather than the latest medical fad. She was married briefly to Peter Marks, before marrying a psychiatrist, Gideon Seaman.

In 1967-68, after studying history at Oberlin College in Ohio, Barbara Seaman won a Sloan-Rockefeller Science Writing Fellowship at the Columbia University School of Journalism. While there she began work on her first book, The Doctors' Case Against the Pill. After the book appeared in 1969, the allegations it made became the basis for a US Senate hearing. Seaman claimed that the high levels of oestrogen in the Pill had been associated with risks of strokes, blood clots and embolisms. She also exposed the fact that this was known within the world of the drug manufacturers, and even the medical profession. One can only imagine that, with the Sixties in full swing, the decision makers of the time chose to keep this information under wraps.

The protests that occurred during the Senate hearing in 1970 marked the beginning of women's voices being heard in women's health. Seaman described these protests as acts of "feminine disobedience". Alice Wolfson, a fellow activist, repeatedly interrupted the hearing demanding to know "Why isn't there a Pill for men?" and "Why are 10 million women being used as guinea pigs?" These demonstrations were widely covered by the press and the hearing became known as the "Boston Tea Party" of the women's health movement. As a result of the hearing, warnings were introduced on packets of medication for the first time in history.

Following the publication of her second book, Free and Female, in 1972, Seaman was cited by the Library of Congress as an author who raised sexism in healthcare as a worldwide issue. Her third book, Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones (1977), co-authored with Gideon Seaman, exposed the dangers of an oestrogen called diethylstilbestrol (DES) which was being prescribed to women to prevent miscarriages, but was causing cancers in their daughters.

In 1975, Seaman co-founded the National Women's Health Network, an advocacy group based in Washington DC. Cynthia Pearson, the network's current executive director, described Seaman's influence as "profound". "It led to more women in medical school, more written information in patients' hands, the breakdown of rules against dads in the delivery room". Perhaps most importantly, her work made "informed consent" a national issue in America.

By the 1980s her influence had become so widespread that the pharmaceutical industry perceived her to be a major threat. Seaman had started to expose what she believed to be the dangers of Hormone Replacement Therapy. During the following decade she faced censorship and firing from mainstream magazines, who were forced to withdraw her articles for fear of losing their advertising contracts with pharmaceutical companies. "I didn't start out to be a muckraker", Seaman said. "My goal was simply to try to give women plain facts that would help them to make their own decisions, so they wouldn't have to rely on authority figures."

Criticism and blacklisting did not discourage her, and instead she turned her attention to other projects. By 1987 she had finished a biography of the Valley of the Dolls author Jacqueline Susann entitled Lovely Me which later became a film, Scandalous Me (1998).

Seaman's book The Doctors' Case Against the Pill was reissued in 1995 in a 25th anniversary edition. Science Magazine described it as a "book that fuelled women's health activism, patient information and a 'blossoming' of women's health research".

Barbara Seaman continued to dedicate her life to the empowerment of women, and in her later years published The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women: exploding the estrogen myth (2003) and For Women Only: your guide to health empowerment (1999, co-edited with Gary Null). Her acts of "feminine disobedience" inevitably put holes in the pockets of pharmaceutical executives. But more importantly, those acts finally gave women a voice in the world of women's health, a world which, until then, had been dominated almost exclusively by men.

Mary Dohnal

Barbara Ann Rosner, writer and activist: born New York 11 September 1935; married first Peter Marks (marriage annulled), secondly 1957 Gideon Seaman (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved), thirdly 1982 Milton Forman (marriage dissolved); died New York 27 February 2008.

The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
In other news ... Jon Snow performed at last year's Newsroom's Got Talent charity event
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?