Susan M. Reverby, Ph.D.
Faculty Research Scholar
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 a 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 more than two 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 nearly 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 is now available. Please see the following website for more information: http://www.examiningtuskegee.com.
One of her articles on the study, "History of an Apology: From Tuskegee to the White House" won both the Will Solimene Award and the Ralph A. Deterling Award from the New England Chapter of the American Medical Writers Association in l998. Her article on Nurse Eunice Rivers, a key figure in the study, appeared in the Nursing History Review and is reprinted in her edited book on the study, Tuskegee's Truths: Re-thinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
Susan Reverby is completing a book entitled Testifying on Tuskegee: Telling the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Stories that examines the differing narratives that have been created to understand the study. 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. Most recently she was on WBUR radio's "The Connection" and WGBH television's "Greater Boston" to discuss rising cesarean section rates. She has appeared in several documentaries as a "talking head" on both nursing and the Tuskegee study.
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, and the politics of identity 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. is 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 1970s, focusing on women's health and nursing issues. From 1993-1997 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 is currently the Affirmative Action officer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and has served on its Board of Directors since l998.
She has 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 Institute at Radcliffe and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard. In 2002-03, she received a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard.