Rome, Esther (1945–1995)

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Rome, Esther (1945–1995)

American writer and advocate for women's health. Name variations: Esther Seidman. Born Esther Seidman on September 8, 1945, in Norwich, Connecticut; died of breast cancer on June 24, 1995, in Somerville, Massachusetts; graduated from Brandeis University, 1966; Harvard Graduate School of Education, M.A., 1968; married Nathan Rome; children: Judah and Micah.

Was a founder of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective which produced the pioneering Our Bodies, Ourselves (early 1970s); served as an advocate for a variety of women's health issues, particularly breast cancer, body image, nutrition, and eating disorders; served as a consumer representative for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee that investigated the potential hazards of silicone breast implants and ran a support group for women with silicone implant difficulties (early 1990s).

A leading advocate for women's health who insisted that many fitness issues were cultural and economic as well, Esther Rome graduated cum laude from Brandeis University in 1966. She then went on to earn an M.A. in teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1968. While Rome had a love for the field of medicine that dated back to the second grade, as a child she had decided that she could not be a doctor because, at the time, very few women became doctors. She would nonetheless have a dramatic impact on the field of women's health.

In 1969, Rome became involved with the growing feminist movement when she met a small group of women at Emmanuel College through a workshop called "Women and Their Bodies." The workshop turned out to be instrumental in Rome's founding, with several other women, of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (BWHBC). In 1970, the collective put out its first book, Women and Their Bodies, a guide to the physical and psychological aspects of being female. It was printed on newsprint and initially sold for a mere 75 cents, the profits from which went back into the collective. In 1971, they changed the name of the book to Our Bodies, Ourselves, and within a few short years more than 350,000 copies of the book had been sold. The women then decided to incorporate as a private operating foundation and signed a book contract with Simon and Schuster. The New Our Bodies, Ourselves was also a bestseller when it appeared, and the various editions of the book have been integral to the rapid growth of the women's health movement. By the start of the 21st century, over 4 million copies had been sold, and translations had appeared in some 19 languages, including Russian, Thai, Chinese, Serbian, and Japanese. "Cultural adaptations" of the book have been produced in Egypt and were planned for Francophone Africa, and in 2000 the BWHBC, in collaboration with women's groups from the Americas and the Caribbean, published Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas, a Spanish-language version that presents health information in light of Hispanic culture and mores. In 1998, the BWHBC published Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century.

In addition to Rome's association with the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, she was also well known for her vocal advocacy of women's health issues. She often criticized the way women's health issues were handled both by the medical community and the media. Some of her main targets were body image, cosmetic surgery, nutrition, eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, breast implants, breast cancer, and the connection between tampons and toxic shock syndrome. She armed herself with an extensive knowledge of medical studies and made herself readily available to journalists. She was constantly in demand as a valuable resource for women's health stories that were broadcast on national television and printed in newspapers all over the country. Rome also served as a consumer representative on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee that investigated the potential hazards of silicone breast implants in the early 1990s; the committee's findings brought about a partial ban on the implants. She also started a support group for women with silicone implant difficulties.

Rome succumbed to one of the women's health issues she had so vigorously campaigned about, dying from breast cancer on June 24, 1995, at the age of 49. She had continued working with co-author Jane Hyman up until her death on her last book, Sacrificing Our Selves for Love, which was published in 1996. A practicing Jew who kept a kosher home, Rome was buried at B'nai B'rith Cemetery in Peabody, Massachusetts.


The Boston Globe. June 26, 1995.

Susan J. Walton , freelance writer, Berea, Ohio