By Susan E. Bell
How a overall healthiness catastrophe helped supply upward push to the feminist wellbeing and fitness care move
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Extra info for DES daughters: embodied knowledge and the transformation of women's health politics
Before 1971, a mother could suggest an explanation for a rare medical condition, but during the old DES regime of practices it was up to her gynecologist to listen to her and to produce knowledge. She could provide a “clue to etiology,” but only he could provide the scientific explanation for it; he received public recognition, but her contribution was not acknowledged in the New England Journal A History of DESâ•… 19 of Medicine (Ulfelder 1980). At that time, dominant cultural discourses in medicine discouraged doctors from talking with their patients in any detail about diagnosis and treatment, or patients or their mothers from expecting their intuitions, hunches, or embodied knowledges to be taken seriously by their physicians.
Because so much evidence had amassed in its favor, in 1941 the FDA approved DES for marketing to treat four conditions—menopause, senile vaginitis, juvenile vaginitis, and lactation suppression. Its release for sale came “after one of the most thorough investigations ever given a pharmaceutical product” (Hamblen 1941, 928). It became the first widely used estrogen replacement therapy during menopause (Bell 1987, 1995). Even though the FDA approved DES for limited uses in 1941, it could not prevent physicians from prescribing DES more widely.
Esther greeted me at the door and walked me through the living room, past upholstered chairs and a couch, to the kitchen table, where we sat during the interview. Her teenage son was in the basement working on a carpentry project. Sounds of an electric tool, a saw or drill, whined periodically, reminding us during the interview that Esther’s quest for motherhood had ultimately been successful (although not in the way that she had imagined as a young wife) and reminding me again each time I listen to the recording of Esther’s account.
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