The career of Deirdre Elena English reflects the activist ethics of the 1960’s and 1970’s in which it began: No matter how eclectic the subjects, her writing, teaching, and editing all stem from the same concerns and work toward the same goals. Primarily known as a feminist, English also serves as a critic and conscience in areas such as harmful activities of corporations and shortcomings of the American government. She comments on topics from the history of medicine to gender and sex in the works of Robert Crumb.
English’s early life prepared her to be both politically aware and comfortable in many intellectual areas. Her mother, Fanita English (née Blumberg), was a psychotherapist and writer; her father, Maurice English, was a poet and publisher. Deirdre graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1970 and received her master’s degree in social welfare (M.S.W.) from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, in 1975.
From 1971 to 1975, English taught courses in American studies and women’s studies at the College at Old Westbury, part of the State University of New York system. In 1972 she co-taught a course titled “Women and Health” there with Barbara Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.D. in biology. They wrote in the authors’ note in For Her Own Good:Perhaps because we are not professional historians (or social scientists of any kind), we approached this material in a spirit of fresh discovery. We had the feeling that we were uncovering a long-suppressed story. One which had the power to explain many things about our own present-day experience as women.
English and Ehrenreich began self-publishing their research in 1972 as an illustrated booklet, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers; they mailed out copies from a kitchen-table office. The demand was surprisingly large and outstripped the authors’ abilities to print and mail copies. The Feminist Press in Old Westbury, New York, published that booklet in 1973, and a second booklet by English and Ehrenreich, Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness, in 1974. Despite the lack of any advertising, the two publications spread widely and with strong effects: They became texts for courses from...
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