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Park Street Series

Escaping Melodrama: What should we learn, but what do we learn, from the infamous research studies in Tuskegee and Guatemala?

susan reverby

Susan Reverby

November 17, 2016

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 in Wellesley Massachusetts. She was a women’s health activist in New York in the early 1970s. An historian of American women, race, medicine, public health and nursing, she has taught at Wellesley since 1982 and was the college’s first hire in Women’s Studies. She also served as the consumer representative on the FDA’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Advisory Panel in the mid 1990s.

Reverby’s work has had both a public and scholarly face and she often comments on health, race and feminist issues in the media. Her first co-edited book focused on the history of America’s working women. Her Ordered to Care: the Dilemma of American Nursing (1987) won the Lavinia Dock Award from the American Association for the History of Nursing.  She is also known for her co-edited books in women’s and medical history.

For nearly the last two decades Reverby has been an historian of the infamous “Tuskegee” syphilis study. Her edited book Tuskegee’s Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study appeared in 2000 and her most recent book is Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and its Legacy (2009). This book won the Viseltear Prize from the American Public Health Association, the Emerson prize from national Phi Beta Kappa, and the Sulzby Prize from the Alabama History Association. She continues to work with community members in Tuskegee on the history and legacy of the Study and was part of the Legacy Committee that successfully lobbied President Bill Clinton for an apology in 1997. In May 2011 she received an honorary degree from Sage College and another one in Social Justice from Roosevelt University in December 2012.  

As part of her research on Tuskegee, Reverby found the records of an unpublished research study in Guatemala in the 1940s that involved giving sexually transmitted diseases to prisoners, soldiers and mental patients. She shared her work with the CDC and in October 2010 the U.S. government issues a formal apology to the Guatemala. The result was worldwide media coverage, investigations in two countries, lawsuits and a report from the President’s Bioethical Issues Commission. Her current book project is tentatively titled: “Brother Doc: Solidarity and Revolution in 20th Century America"