A Woman's Right to Know
Pregnancy Testing in Twentieth-Century Britain
424 pp., 6 x 9 in, 117 color illus., 14 b&w illus.
- Published: January 9, 2024
- Publisher: The MIT Press
The history of pregnancy testing, and how it transformed from an esoteric laboratory tool to a commonplace of everyday life.
Pregnancy testing has never been easier. Waiting on one side or the other of the bathroom door for a “positive” or “negative” result has become a modern ritual and rite of passage. Today, the ubiquitous home pregnancy test is implicated in personal decisions and public debates about all aspects of reproduction, from miscarriage and abortion to the “biological clock” and IVF. Yet, only three generations ago, women typically waited not minutes but months to find out whether they were pregnant. A Woman's Right to Know tells, for the first time, the story of pregnancy testing—one of the most significant and least studied technologies of reproduction.
Focusing on Britain from around 1900 to the present day, Jesse Olszynko-Gryn shows how demand shifted from doctors to women, and then goes further to explain the remarkable transformation of pregnancy testing from an obscure laboratory service to an easily accessible (though fraught) tool for every woman. Lastly, the book reflects on resources the past might contain for the present and future of sexual and reproductive health.
Solidly researched and compellingly argued, Olszynko-Gryn demonstrates that the rise of pregnancy testing has had significant—and not always expected—impact and has led to changes in the ways in which we conceive of pregnancy itself.
“Eminently readable, packed with fascinating, surprising, inspiring, and occasionally appalling stories, A Woman's Right to Know excavates the history of pregnancy testing with verve and nuanced insight.”
Lara Freidenfelds, author of The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy
“Always instructive and often amusing, A Woman's Right to Know is a rich social and cultural history that emphasizes representations of pregnancy testing in literature, visual arts, and the media.”
Ilana Löwy, Senior Researcher Emerita, Center for Research on Medicine, Science, Health, Mental Health, and Society, Paris; author of Imperfect Pregnancies
“This innovative book is also a brilliantly curated exhibition! With a plethora of informative illustrations, Olszynko-Gryn shows how women's market demand was as important as science in unleashing home pregnancy testing.”
Simon Szreter, Professor of History and Public Policy, University of Cambridge; co-author of Sex before the Sexual Revolution