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July 3, 2000

New oral history documents one of country's oldest women's health centers

By Barbara McKenna

A new oral history on the director of one of Santa Cruz's oldest women's health centers, as well as one of the most long-lived in the U.S., has just been released by the Regional History Project of the University Library.

Titled Ciel Benedetto: A History of the Santa Cruz Women's Health Center, 1985-2000, the volume is the memoir of Benedetto. Assistant Editor Irene Reti conducted two interviews with Benedetto and coedited the volume with Project Director Randall Jarrell.

In her memoir, Santa Cruz Women's Health Center (SCWHC) director Benedetto traces the evolution of this unique community institution, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1974 as a pioneering, feminist health collective, SCWHC is now a thriving health organization operating in today's complex managed care environment. Benedetto has guided the center through this transition, maintaining its feminist perspective while overseeing an annual budget of more than $1 million.

SCWHC is one of the country's few remaining women's health centers and now provides more than 8,000 patient visits annually in general medicine, gynecology, prenatal care, family planning, and pediatrics. The agency also provides information and referral services, low-cost acupuncture, free mental health and nutritional counseling, and health and HIV education.

Benedetto begins her commentary with a discussion of the agency's socialist-feminist political origins as a collective and its commitment to consensus decision making. This phase eventually gave way to a more traditional organizational structure as the agency matured.

Benedetto details the agency's myriad activities, including its highly developed volunteer training program, which has produced a remarkable number of alumni over the years who have become agents of change as physicians, health care providers, and women's rights advocates.

Among the other activities of the center are the production of its internationally distributed newsletter and health education materials; the provision of new contraceptive methods such as the cervical cap; and its participation in breast cancer research studies. SCWHC has maintained its commitment to diversity in its staff and patient population over the years and has a singular reputation among international health agencies for women and children.

Bound, indexed copies of this volume can be ordered from the Regional History Project at (831) 459-2847 or via e-mail to ihreti@cats.ucsc.edu. The volume is also available for viewing at Special Collections, McHenry Library, and at Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

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