Group Health Cooperative Women's Caucus meets for the first time on March 21, 1973.

  • By HistoryLink Staff
  • Posted 8/14/2005
  • Essay 7425
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On March 21, 1973, the Group Health Cooperative's Women's Caucus meets for the first time. About 100 women attend, including about 25 employees of Group Health, two well-dressed women (the Group Health personnel director and her secretary) who were there to take down names -- an activity quickly objected to -- and Hilde Birnbaum, vice president of the board of trustees. Birnbaum had helped the women arrange for space after Group Health had declined their request, and she had then decided to attend. The women expressed dissatisfaction with aspects of Group Health's pregnancy care, abortion, and other services.

Hilde Birnbaum had risen during a 1969 meeting of the board of trustees to question the departure of Group Health's sole female obstetrician, to the shock of all attendees, women as well as men. Now, a week after the inaugural meeting of the women's caucus, she reported on the proceedings to the board. At this meeting she convinced fellow trustees to edit out sexist language (the universal "he") from Group Health bylaws.

The first mission of the Women's Caucus was to elect a board member, Emma Beezy. Beezy lost to Ralph Bremer, but the caucus pressed on under the leadership of Caroline MacColl (1923-2007), who was assistant director of the Puget Sound Health Planning Council, a nurse with a master's degree in public health education, and the second wife of Group Health pediatrician Dr. William "Sandy" MacColl. Caroline MacColl knew her way around Group Health.

MacColl lobbied successfully to win official recognition for the caucus, and this established the precedent for sanctioned special interest groups within the Group Health Cooperative. At the annual meeting in September, an ongoing debate about providing coverage for contraception resumed, with the Women's Caucus participating this time and with Group Health members who were Catholics opposed. Coverage for contraception won, 214 to 171.

The following April the membership meeting was packed with 900 members and spectators to witness an effort by conservatives to repeal coverage of contraceptives. Conservatives lost by just 10 votes but their position on abortion was defeated decisively.

Sources: Walt Crowley, To Serve the Greatest Number: A History of Group Health Cooperative of Seattle (Seattle: GHC/University of Washington Press, 1995), 140-142.

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