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Timeline of Women’s Health

Monday, March 11, 2019

A few centuries ago, most medicine practices were based on superstition and religious beliefs. We’ve come a long way in modern medicine since then, but exceptionally huge strides have been made in women’s health.

To showcase just how much growth has happened in a short period of time, here is a timeline of some of the biggest advancements in women’s health to date.

Timeline of Women’s Health

The early 1800’s: In 1800, the average American woman was having seven children, which stands as the largest birth rate for women. This isn’t too surprising when you consider how birth control was not invented or discussed yet. For context, the current U.S birth rate is about 1.9 children for every American woman.

1849: The first woman doctor appeared on the scene! Of course, prior to Elizabeth Blackwell who graduated from New York’s Geneva Medical College (first in her class) in January 1849, women had been in the health industry as nurses or birth maidens. No woman had the official M.D. title, however, and Elizabeth used it well by opening New York’s Infirmary for Women and Children and the first Women’s Medical College in America.

1916: Margaret Sanger, America’s most famous advocate for birth control, opened America’s first birth control clinic on October 16, 1916, in Brooklyn, New York. Just a few years later in 1921, she founded what would eventually become Planned Parenthood.

1921: The first successful Kotex pad was released to the public. Later in 1933, the first disposable tampon was brought into the world. Prior to this, women used paper, napkins, and whatever else they had laying around the house to help keep themselves clean.

1960: “The pill” was created in May of this year. It was a wild success, with more than a million U.S. women taking it after the first two years.

1969: Prior to this year, women used X-ray machines to have mammograms, which often meant having to deal with the harmful after-effects of radiation. However, in 1969, groundbreaking low-radiation mammograms were created, followed by the first digital mammography machine in 2000.

1984: The Federal Department of Justice Task Force on Family Violence shed light on the high domestic violence rates on women by examining just how many women this epidemic affected. This is what led to better mental and health coverage for women who experienced domestic violence.

1991: The Center for Disease Control created the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which, thankfully, helped more than 28,000 women detect their cervical cancers or precancerous lesions when there was still a chance for successful treatment.

1999: This is when the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on mental health was released. In this report, a stark difference in depression rates in genders was highlighted, thus beginning the journey to give women the specific care they needed to lessen their risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.

2006: The FDA approved the first HPV vaccine, closely followed by that second vaccine in 2009. Thankfully so, because in 2013, CDC researchers reported that the rate of U.S. girls ages 14 to 19 contracting high-risk HPV fell by 56% since the release of the vaccination.

General Improvements of Women’s Health

Aside from these improvements, here are some general enhancements for the health and lives of women:

  • In 1984, a woman's life expectancy was 78. Today, women in America live to 81 on average, and the number continues to rise.
  • Today, fewer American women are dying from breast cancer, with a reported drop of 1.9% deaths in the past 10 years.
  • In 2012, 16% of adult women reported being smokers, is an improvement from 28% of adult women who said they were smokers in 1985.
  • Comparing recent years to 1991, the rates of teen pregnancy have dropped by an impressive half. But the rate continued to drop, with the lowest all-time record being reported in 2013. 
  • HIV infections among black women have decreased since 2008, which is certainly worth celebrating when you consider that HIV/AIDS affects more African-American and Latina women than anyone else.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women. The good news is that between 2003 and 2004, the number of women who died from heart disease shifted from 1 in 3 women to 1 in 4 women. What may seem like small improvements are huge steps in the right direction.
  • Right after heart disease is lung cancer, which is the leading cancer cause of death in women. However, over the past few years, lung cancer death rates in women have declined.

Current Ways to Improve

Unfortunately, there are still many healthcare-related areas that are underperforming for women. It’s good to highlight these issues not only to educate women but also to help spur conversations that will lead to improvements.

Pregnancy Issues: During the last 30 years in the U.S., pregnancy-related deaths and serious complications have been on the rise. Unfortunately, many researchers and medical professionals aren’t sure why. However, it may be related to the fact that pregnant women today are more likely to have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. If you are planning a pregnancy, make sure you work closely with your doctor to assess your potential risks.

Women’s Health in Politics: No matter what political party you identify with, women’s health is often talked about subject in politics. It’s worth paying attention, educating yourself, and getting out there to vote on the matters that personally affect you and your health.

Gaps in Coverage for Many Women: Historically, women of different ethnicities and sexual orientation have not had the best health coverage. The same is true today, but the United States Department of Health and Human Services continues to release important data that address these issues and works towards overall improvement.

Our Primary Care physicians are at the forefront of women’s healthcare. If you have any additional questions or want to learn more, click here to schedule an appointment or call 912-691-3600. 


Whether you are looking for a primary care doctor or a pediatrician, or another medical specialist, SouthCoast Health has you covered with its wide range of world-class healthcare services, available throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. SouthCoast Health has 120 physicians and medical professionals in 18 locations in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Pooler, Rincon, Baxley, Bluffton, Hilton Head, and Hinesville. SouthCoast Health offers comprehensive medical services including: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Allergy and Immunity, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Eye Care, Imaging, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Neurology, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Sleep Medicine, Surgery, Clinical Trial Research Studies, Diabetic Self-Management Training Sessions, Dietetic Counseling, High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic, Laboratory Services, Massage Therapy, Optical Shop, Pharmacy, and Urgent Care.

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