A Timeline to Making Women’s Health Mainstream

Until the 1990s, the health of women was at serious risk.

Three women smiling

Women were intentionally excluded from participating in most medical research, setting a dangerous precedent that overlooked fundamental biological differences between women and men.

In 1990, the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) was founded by Dr. Florence Haseltine to confront this injustice and change the culture of medical research. Thanks to SWHR and other advocacy groups, women are now routinely included in medical research and make up a larger portion of the scientific workforce, and scientists are studying how biological sex differences affect the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

Since its founding, SWHR has fought to bring attention to research gaps and unmet needs in women’s health and to advance its mission to eliminate imbalances in care for women through science, policy, and education.

SWHR is making women’s health mainstream.

Women’s health research has been overlooked for decades. SWHR is changing that.

Events from 1990 to 1999

Feb 1990

SWHR Founded by Dr. Florence Haseltine

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) was founded by Dr. Florence Haseltine, along with other physicians, medical researchers, and health advocates, to change the culture of medical research and advocate for the inclusion of women in clinical research at a time when they were being actively and intentionally excluded.

Jul 1990

GAO Report Reveals NIH Not Including Women in Research

SWHR and the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine whether NIH was following its 1986 guideline that encouraged the inclusion of women in clinical research. The resulting GAO report, “Problems in Implementing Policy on Women in Study Populations,” revealed the guideline was not being followed as NIH did not make information regarding the inclusion of women readily available, and when it did, the guideline was only applied to extramural research.

Aug 1990

NIH Strengthens Policy on the Inclusion of Women in Research

Just one month after a GAO report that showed NIH was failing to comply with its policy on including women in clinical research, NIH published an updated policy in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts (vol. 19, no. 31) that required “a clear rationale” for the exclusion of women and minorities in grant applications for clinical research.

Sep 1990

NIH Establishes the Office of Research on Women’s Health

NIH logoIn addition to strengthening its policy of inclusion, NIH also established the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH). The mission of this office is to “strengthen and enhance the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of illnesses in women and to enhance research related to diseases and conditions that affect women.”

Jan 1991

HHS Creates Office on Women’s Health

OWH logoThe Office on Women’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was created to serve as the focal point for women’s health across all HHS offices and agencies. Later that year, OWH published the Action Plan for Women’s Health, which identified widely disparate health needs of women that required more attention and scrutiny.

Apr 1991

Dr. Bernadine Healy Becomes NIH’s First Female Director

NIH took another step forward for women when President George H.W. Bush appointed Bernadine Healy, MD, as NIH Director. Healy, a cardiologist, went on to establish NIH’s $625 million Women’s Health Initiative. This 15-year study enrolled more than 160,000 women to make strides in preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporosis.

Apr 1991

SWHR Holds First Scientific Advisory Meeting: ‘Towards a Women’s Health Research Agenda’

SWHR kicked off a decade of annual Scientific Advisory Meetings (SAMs) with an event in Washington, D.C., to establish priorities for women’s health research. The top priorities identified were:  cardiovascular disease, cancer, violence against women, and depression/ substance abuse. The first SAM also shed light on the need to increase the number of women in STEM leadership positions.

Jan 1992

Journal of Women’s Health Launches

Journal of Womens HealthSWHR helped establish the Journal of Women’s Health, whose founding editors were SWHR Founder Dr. Florence Haseltine and former SWHR Board member Dr. Anne Colston Wentz. The first issue featured a foreword about SWHR and a short commentary by then-NIH Director Dr. Bernadine Healy.

Oct 1992

GAO Report Reveals Women Are Underrepresented in Drug Trials

SWHR asked the GAO to review the inclusion of women in clinical trials used by FDA to evaluate drugs for market approval. The resulting report, “Women’s Health: FDA Needs to Ensure More Study of Gender Differences in Prescription Drug Testing,” concluded that women were underrepresented in drug trials and that even when women were included, the data were not analyzed to determine whether their responses to drugs differed from those of men.

Oct 1992

SWHR Holds Meeting Series on Women in Medicine

From October 1992 to February 1993, SWHR held a series of roundtables that collectively served as its second Scientific Advisory Meeting. These meetings focused on the need for more women in academic medicine or health science careers, and SWHR produced a series of recommendations meant to advance the prevalence of women in these fields.

Jan 1993

SWHR Opens Official Headquarters and Hires Professional Staff

SWHR opened its official headquarters in Washington, D.C., and hired a professional staff, including its first executive director.

Feb 1993

SWHR Hosts Two-Day Workshop on Menopause

SWHR held a workshop on menopause’s potential influence on neurological, cardiovascular, social, and psychological changes, as well as its effect on bone, endometrial and breast cancer. SWHR published a report on the meeting, “Women’s Health Research and Menopause: A Dialogue Among Public Policy, Community, and Health Leaders.”

Jun 1993

NIH Revitalization Act Mandates Inclusion of Women and Minorities in Research

In a historic moment for women’s health research, President Bill Clinton signed into law the NIH Revitalization Act, which was written with input from SWHR. The law mandated that women and minorities be included in all NIH-funded clinical research and that Phase III clinical trials be analyzed for sex differences. Although the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health was already established, the law also permanently secured that office and gave it the authority to monitor the inclusion of women in the NIH’s clinical research.

Jun 1993

SWHR Focuses on Environmental Health

SWHR’s third Scientific Advisory Meeting discussed environmental health and its relation to women’s health. SWHR hosted a series of roundtables across the country (Seattle, Baton Rouge, Denver) to dive deeper into this topic and produced a report focused on environmental health concerns most important to women.

Jul 1993

FDA Rescinds Guideline Banning Women of Childbearing Potential from Research

In response to GAO’s October 1992 report on the inclusion of women in drug testing, FDA rescinded its 1977 guideline that banned all women capable of becoming pregnant from Phase I and Phase II clinical research. FDA released new guidance, “Study and Evaluation of Gender Differences in the Clinical Evaluation of Drugs,” encouraging the participation of women in Phase I and II studies and requiring their inclusion in Phase III efficacy studies. The new guidelines also required that FDA analyze drug data for sex, racial, and ethnic differences.

Mar 1994

FDA Establishes Office Of Women’s Health

FDA OWH LogoA congressional mandate created the FDA Office of Women’s Health (OWH), whose mission is to “protect and advance the health of women through policy, science and outreach; and to advocate for the participation of women in clinical trials and for sex, gender and subpopulation analyses.” The office’s first director, Dr. Ruth Merkatz, noted the efforts of SWHR staff were “extremely important and lasting, especially to be able to influence members of Congress about the importance of establishing the Office of Women’s Health at the FDA.”

Jun 1994

SWHR Promotes Healthy Behavior in Young Women

SWHR’s fourth Scientific Advisory Meeting targeted the unmet health needs of young women ages 18-24. A series of focus groups on college campuses found considerable misinformation about women’s health circulating in this age group, so the SAM produced an educational program, “Get Real: Straight Talk About Women’s Health,” in collaboration with the U.S. Public Health Service’s Office on Women’s Health. This program included a video that addressed topics of interest to college-age women, including nutrition, exercise, eating disorders, alcohol/substance abuse, violence, contraception, STDs, and smoking.

Jun 1995

SWHR Hosts First Sex Differences Meeting

SWHR held its fifth annual Scientific Advisory Meeting (and first-ever sex differences meeting) on sex differences in neurobiology, language ability after stroke, autoimmunity, and osteoporosis. After the meeting, SWHR published several articles about sex differences in the August issue of the Journal of Women’s Health.

Jun 1995

Hillary Clinton Speaks at SWHR Awards Dinner

Hillary Clinton speaks at SWHR Awards DinnerThen-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at SWHR’s annual awards dinner, saying: “We have a very long way to go before we can say with any confidence that women’s health has taken its rightful place in the American health care system.” She also thanked the organization “on behalf of literally millions and millions of American women who will never hear of the Society for the Advancement of Women’s Health Research.”

Nov 1996

SWHR Holds Meeting on Genetics and Women’s Health

SWHR held its sixth Scientific Advisory Meeting on the role of sex-based research in human genetics. The meeting focused on the idea that a better understanding of differences in genetics and inheritance between males and females would facilitate improved diagnostics, preventative strategies, and therapies for women and men.

Jan 1997

SWHR Publishes Book on Women’s Health Research and Policy

Women's Health Research Policy Book CoverWith the goal of making women’s health a priority for U.S. researchers and policymakers, SWHR published “Women’s Health Research: A Medical and Policy Primer.” SWHR Founder Dr. Florence Haseltine served as editor for the book, which outlined research and policy agendas aimed at improving women’s health research at an institutional level. Recommendations included improving medical school education and changing the ways women’s health research is funded.

Oct 1997

SWHR Examines Health Care Outcomes for Women

SWHR’s seventh Scientific Advisory Meeting explored research on health care delivery outcomes. The meeting stressed the importance of understanding when differences in health outcomes between women and men are sex-based (due to biological differences between males and females) and when they are service-based (meaning they differ because women and men receive a different standard of care).

Nov 1998

SWHR Looks at Discoveries in Gender-Based Biology

SWHR’s eighth Scientific Advisory Meeting examined sex neurology, psychiatry, immunology, and pharmacology. Based on the meeting’s findings SWHR published the article “The Sexual Revolution in Science: What Gender-Based Research Is Telling Us” in March 1999 in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.

May 1999

SWHR Establishes National Women’s Health Research Coalition

SWHR brought together a broad spectrum of health researchers, health care providers, and policymakers to promote a women’s health agenda by creating the National Women’s Health Research Coalition. The WHRC’s mission was to encourage coordination and funding of women’s health research. The coalition included more than 600 advocates from academic, medical, and scientific institutions, and health-related associations. They advocated for SWHR’s legislative priorities during a Capitol Hill Day.

Jun 1999

SWHR Conference Addresses Barriers to Participation in Clinical Research

SWHR convened a thought leader conference, “Covering Routine Patient Care Costs of Clinical Research,” to discuss the importance of clinical trials and the reduction of barriers to voluntary participation in research. The objective was to identify areas of agreement among federal agencies, industry, and private interest groups about financial coverage of routine patient costs of clinical trials, and to discuss potential coverage models.

Oct 1999

SWHR Explores Role of Estrogen in Heart Disease

In its ninth Scientific Advisory Meeting, SWHR primarily focused on sex differences in cardiovascular biology and musculoskeletal health. The meeting emphasized the importance of research to learn more about the role of estrogen in protecting premenopausal women from cardiovascular disease.

View more