History

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) is a national nonprofit dedicated to promoting research on biological sex differences in disease and improving women’s health through science, policy, and education.

SWHR is correcting imbalances in health care for women.

Founded in 1990 by a group of physicians, medical researchers, and health advocates, SWHR is addressing unmet needs and research gaps in women’s health. Thanks to SWHR’s efforts, women are now routinely included in most major medical research studies and scientists are considering sex as a variable in their research.

SWHR is the brain-child of Florence Haseltine, MD, PhD, (pictured) who also coined the term “sex-based biology,” referring to the study of sex differences in health and disease. In the spring of 1989, while working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Haseltine gathered together physicians, researchers, nurses, lawyers, and public policy advocates from across the country to discuss the need for more research into conditions affecting women. They congregated at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and agreed on the need not only for more gynecological research at NIH but also for research regarding women’s health in general. This meeting gave rise to SWHR, and in 1993, SWHR opened its official headquarters in Washington, DC, and hired a professional staff.

In the 1990s, the health of American women was at serious risk because of longtime gender biases in biomedical research. Women of childbearing age were being actively and intentionally excluded from most medical research, and SWHR made it a priority to confront this injustice. SWHR advocated for the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical trials at both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In 1993, Congress passed a law mandating that NIH ensure women and minorities are included in government-funded research and permanently establishing the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH). That same year, the FDA reversed its 1977 guidelines that women with childbearing potential be excluded from early clinical studies and published new recommendations that encouraged the inclusion of women in Phase I and II (safety and dosing) studies, required their inclusion in efficacy studies, and required analysis of data by sex, as well as race and ethnicity.

Since these initial successes, SWHR has continued to encourage the appropriate inclusion of women and minorities in medical research as well as the study of biological sex differences that affect the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. SWHR also advocates for greater public and private funding for women’s health research and educates informs women, health care providers, and policymakers about contemporary women’s health issues. SWHR is making women’s health mainstream.