Happy Birthday Esther Rome!
Esther Rome was born in Norwich, Connecticut on September 8th, 1945. She spent her childhood in Plainfield, Connecticut, where her parents ran a five-and-dime store. Though her roots began as a small town girl she grew to do big things for women across the world. After high school, Rome completed her undergraduate degree at Brandies University in Boston, Massachusetts. Upon completing that she continued to earn a Master’s degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
Soon after she completed her masters degree Rome attended one of the first women’s liberation conferences in Boston. It was this conference that would change her life’s work forever. According to the history of Our Bodies Ourselves,
“in May of 1969, as the women’s movement was gaining momentum and influence in the Boston area and elsewhere around the country, 12 women ranging in age from 23 to 39 met during a women’s liberation conference at Emmanuel College. In a workshop on “Women and Their Bodies,” they shared information and personal stories and discussed their experiences with doctors.”
The conversations had at this first meeting sparked a revolution. All of these women were in agreement that there was not enough accessible information for women on their own bodies. Rome agreed. The women formed the Doctor’s Group, a group that would eventually become Out Bodies Ourselves organization. The group first published papers that challenged numerous, “long-held approaches to medical treatment of women.
The papers addressed a range of topics including childbirth and rape”. They would later publish a book with tons of information for women, “Our Bodies Ourselves”. The book rocked the world, women were hungry to learn more about their bodies in a way that was unfortunately very contested. The Moral Majority group and other conservative organizations attacked the book as pornographic simply because it contained images of women’s bodies. Despite the pushback, since its first publication in 1971, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” , has been republished every four to six years and reproduced in 30 languages for women across the nation and the world.
Rome was served as both staff and a board member of the Our Bodies Ourselves Collective for 25 years. Her specific contributions to the collective came in the arenas of sexuality, menstruation, food and nutrition, and the beauty industry.
One of her first projects through the collective was a brochure that focused on menstruation. What started as an informative brochure turned into a movement to inform women about toxic shock syndrome and force tampon companies to label their tampon absorbency level. Because of Rome tampon boxes today come with a warning about toxic shock syndrome and a flyer that explains possible risks of using tampons.
Another major project Rome undertook was to advocate for better FDA regulation and testing of silicone-gel breast implants. Jane Sprague Zones notes that,
“her greatest contributions were an astute understanding of the science related to the use of silicone in the body and the communication of that information in commonsense language. Rome formed and ran a support group of women with breast implants in the Boston area, provided information to print and television reporters so that consumers would be educated on the issues, and placed the struggle in a larger context of the social pressure on women to alter their physical appearance.”
Esther Rome was completely committed to improving the health and well-being of women, knowing it meant improving society at large. She took on difficult topics that were not popular to the general public, but this did not stop her. With the Our Bodies Ourselves collective she was able to educate women across the world. Right up until her passing Rome was active in her fight for women’s equality, helping to edit a book, “Sacrificing Our Selves for Love”, that investigated issues of HIV, domestic violence, cosmetic surgery, dieting and how these issues related to, “women’s desire to accommodate partners in intimate relationships”. Unfortunately, Rome passed at the young age of 49 after battling breast cancer. But her legacy and spirit can live on to inspire us all to speak up for the women who can not and for the topics which society tries to shelter us from.
Happy Birthday Esther Rome!