The medical community and broader public have historically focused on heart disease as a concern for men, even though it has been the leading cause of death in women for decades. Through an analysis of medical publications, women’s health literature, and mainstream media, this article traces the interactions of gender and age on perceptions of heart disease during the twentieth century. I argue that attention to middle-age mortality rates accentuated men’s susceptibility to heart disease over women’s, even as these differences diminished at older ages, when the majority of deaths occurred. Age and gender biases combined to frame heart disease as a man’s disease on one hand, while the women’s health movement marginalized older women’s health on the other. It was not until the following decades that older women began to attract clinical concern and greater public attention, which ultimately expanded narrow frameworks of both heart disease and women’s health.
This essay examines the career of feminist journalist Barbara Seaman and her contribution to the circulation of health feminist ideas in the 1970s. Seaman, author of the influential exposé The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill (1969), became a noted critic of women’s health care and of gynecologists in particular. In her next book, Free and Female (1972), and in newspaper articles, interviews, and television appearances, she implored women to “liberate” themselves from their gynecologists and empower themselves in the arena of health care. Seaman’s media engagement contributed to the development of a “popular health feminism” that took the ideas of the women’s health movement public for mainstream audiences to consume and engage with.