Nancy Worcester

Nancy Worcester

Dr. Nancy Worcester is a Professor Emerita in the Departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and Continuing Studies, who, for the past 40 years, has made vast contributions to the field of women’s health.  Her work has mostly been focused in the areas of women and food, domestic violence, and the medicalization of menopause, but her numerous publications and professional service roles have spanned a wide range of women’s health topics. Her health publications include five editions of the textbook Women’s Health: Readings on Social, Economic and Political Issues (1988, 1994, 2000, 2004 and 2008), edited with Mariamne H. Whatley, The Truth About Hormone Replacement Therapy: Breaking Free of the Medical Myths of Menopause (2000) with the National Women’s Health Network Writing Group, and articles on a range of health topics.  Her international women’s health work, including leading and organizing health study tours to China (1978, 1983), Cuba (1981) and Grenada (1983) is reflected in a number of articles and chapters on women’s health issues in Britain, China, Cuba, Grenada and Nicaragua.

Before coming to UW-Madison, Nancy was active in women’s studies both in and outside of the academy, and continued this dual commitment throughout her career. In the 1970s, Nancy was a pioneer in developing women’s studies programming in England. She was a founding member of the British National Women’s Health Information Center.  In the US, she served on the Women’s Health Network Board for 12 years. In addition to serving on several state level councils, task forces, and committees on domestic violence, Nancy founded the prize-winning Wisconsin Domestic Violence Training Project in 1991 to educate workers and train trainers across the state about appropriate school and health system responses to domestic violence.  In 1998 she was awarded the
“Outstanding Achievement in Domestic Abuse Issues” award by the Governor’s Council on Domestic Abuse. On a national level, she was appointed to the FDA Metabolic and Endocrinologic Drugs Advisory Panel between 2002 and 2006.

Nancy is a unique blend of activist and academic, and as such is an especially good model of the Wisconsin Idea. Her activist commitment, combined with her experience doing outreach work across Wisconsin through her position in Continuing Studies, made her the ideal person to direct the Gender and Women’s Studies Internship Program, which she ran from 2002-2008.  Through the program, which combines a weekly seminar and fieldwork as an intern, Nancy provided a supportive yet challenging environment that helped graduating Gender and Women’s Studies majors build bridges between feminist theory and practice, academia and activism.  But Nancy is best known in the UW-Madison community for teaching Gender and Women’s Studies 103: Women and Their Bodies in Health and Disease.  For over 25 years, she taught approximately 400 students a semester about the current biological, social, political, and economic issues related to women’s health through an intersectional, social justice oriented, feminist lens. Thousands of students have had the health care system and their own or their loved ones’ bodies demystified thanks to Nancy teaching them about sexual and reproductive anatomy; the basic determinants of health and inequalities in the health care system; the science of the menstrual cycle, birth control, and infectious diseases; the medicalization of pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause; domestic violence; sexuality; nutrition; the politics of cancer; and numerous other topics.  Students frequently refer to 103 as the “best class they’ve ever taken.”

Nancy also has mentored countless numbers of graduate students who served as her teaching assistants for GWS 103.  The 103 teaching team provides master’s and doctoral students across disciplines with a home and source of support for their feminist research and work.  As the leader of the six-person team, Nancy fostered collaboration, provided guidance and supervision, and yet also gave TAs the opportunity to develop their own activities and teaching styles.  She keeps in close touch with, and continues to mentor, dozens of her former TAs, many of whom are now professors who have created their own 103-like courses at other colleges and universities.  Both taking and teaching 103 with Nancy was an experience that changed people lives.

In addition to her work in women’s health, Nancy is an advocate not only of women’s rights but of general social justice. One of the things she is proudest of is her work on anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and anti-oppression. Those who know Nancy well can remember her strong desire to become a “revolutionary.” Little did she know that by being such a strong activist for social justice, she had already become a revolutionary, in class settings and beyond.

With Nancy, the “Personal is Political” is grounded in her lectures, her conversations, and her personal life. For Nancy, activism and political struggle have been a continuum. All successful battles were battles to celebrate, but also an opportunity to keep working and win more battles. In Nancy’s own words: “We can celebrate a few tiny victories that will make some differences, BUT THERE IS STILL SO MUCH WORK TO DO. THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES….”

Please help us to honor Nancy and keep Nancy’s activist spirit vibrant in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies by making a donation to the Leavitt/Whatley/Worcester fund.

To mail a donation to the fund, include the fund name and number designation (12547167 – Leavitt/Whatley/Worcester Fund) on your check, payable to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, and send it to: 

UW Foundation
U.S. Bank Lockbox
P.O. Box 78807
Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807

To make a secure gift online using your credit card,
please fill out the online donation form.

If you have other questions or would like to talk about other giving opportunities, please contact Ann Lippincott, Managing Development Program Director, College of Letters and Science, University of Wisconsin Foundation at or 608-308-5320.

Thank you for your support!