Susan M. Reverby

  Susan M. Reverby
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Telephone: 781.283.2535


Susan M. Reverby’s research on an immoral government medical study in Guatemala between 1946-48 where men and women were given syphilis led to a U.S. government response from the Secretaries of the Departments of State and Health and Human Services and an apology from President Obama to President Colom of Guatemala. The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, at President Obama's request, is exploring the historical context of the research in Guatemala and current human subject protections. The article was published in the Journal of Policy History in January 2011.

Reverby, “’Normal Exposure,’”

Current Courses
120 Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies
220 American Healthcare History in Gender, Race, and Class Perspective
230 Female or Feminist: Women's Movements in U.S. History
222 Women in Contemporary American Society

324 History, Memory, and Women's Lives


Susan M. Reverby is the Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Wellesley College and an historian of American women, medicine and nursing. The first hire at Wellesley in Women's Studies in 1982, she has taught at the college for nearly three decades. She is the co-editor of America's Working Women: a Documentary History (1976); Health Care in America: Essays in Social History (1979); and Gendered Domains: Beyond the Public and Private in Women's History (1992). She was the editor of The History of American Nursing: a 32 Volume Reprint Series (1982-83). Her prize-winning book, Ordered to Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing (New York: Cambridge University Press, l987) is still considered one of the major overview histories of American nursing.

She has completed two books on what is referred to as the infamous "Tuskegee" Syphilis study (1932-72), the longest running non-therapeutic research study in U.S. history that involved the United States Public Health Service and more than 600 African American men in the counties surrounding Tuskegee, Alabama. The men thought they were being "treated," not studied, for what they thought of as "bad blood." The study has become a central metaphor for distrust of the health care system and as the key example of unethical research. She was a member of the Legacy Committee on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that successfully lobbied President Bill Clinton to offer a public apology to the surviving men and their heirs in l997. Her edited book of articles and primary documents on the study appeared in 2000 (Tuskegee Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study). Her new book, Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and its Legacy came out in 2009. It won the Arthur Viseltear Prize from the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association in 2010. Please see the following website for more information:

Susan M. Reverby's scholarship has appeared in a wide range of publications from scholarly journals to editorials in the popular press. Her work on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study has appeared in England in both the Times Education Supplement and in the Postgraduate Medical Journal and in the ethics journal, Hastings Center Report, in the United States. She has spoken widely in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Sweden, on the history of gender, ethics and health care issues. She is a frequent commentator on health, gender and race issues in public forums.

At Wellesley, Susan M. Reverby has taught a wide range of courses from introductory women's studies to history of American health care. Her other courses have focused on history/gender and memory, the politics and history of passing, the politics of identity and women's movements in American history.

Susan M. Reverby received her BS degree from Cornell University in Industrial and Labor Relations with a focus on labor and economic history. Her M.A. is from New York University and her Ph.D. from Boston University in American Studies. She has worked as a community organizer in New York and as a women's health activist. She spent three years as a health policy analyst at the Health Policy Advisory Center in New York in the early l970s, focusing on women's health and nursing issues. From l993-l997 she served as the consumer representative on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Obstetrics and Gynecology Devices Advisory Panel and from 1998 and 2007 served on the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

She has also held the Whitehead and Luella LaMer chairs at Wellesley College and received support for her scholarship from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Association of University Women. She has been a fellow at the Bunting/Radcliffe Institute and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard twice each.

Articles published by Susan M. Reverby, available here below in
PDF format:

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Department of Women's and Gender Studies,
Wellesley College

422 Founders Hall
21 Wellesley College Road
Wellesley, MA 02481

Created: January 28, 2006
Last Updated: May 17, 2011

Administrative Assistant: Betty Tiro
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Telephone: 781.283.2538
Fax: 781.283.3630

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