March is Women’s History Month! We're celebrating some of our favorite champions, from Maine and away.

Middle-aged African American woman. Short, natural hair. Purple jacket over a black shirt. Gold necklace and earrings.

Today, we’d like to highlight the work of Byllye Y. Avery, an activist who has been a leader in Black women’s health for over 30 years. Avery began her work on women’s health and reproductive rights in the late 1960s. Prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade, Avery helped women access abortion care by helping them find a way to New York, where abortions were safe and legal. In 1974 (after Roe v. Wade passed), she co-founded the Gainesville Women’s Health Center, a first-term abortion provider in Gainesville, Florida. Four years later, she co-founded Birthplace, a midwifery birthing center. Birthplace was also located in Gainesville, Florida.

In 1983, Avery founded the National Black Women’s Health Project during a conference being held at Spelman College in Atlanta. The Project, now called the Black Women’s Health Imperative (Imperative) celebrated its 30 year anniversary in 2013. Prior to founding the Imperative, Avery had been active in the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN), an organization dedicated to addressing women's reproductive health and wellness. In her work with NWHN, Avery noticed that Black women's needs and concerns were consistently being marginalized and ignored. Avery and her co-activists created the Project/Imperative to address the lack of attention being paid to Black women's health issues. Since it's inception, the Imperative has been a leader in Black women’s health issues both locally and nationally (the national headquarters were moved to Washington, DC in 1995). The Initiative has four primary focuses in their work on Black women’s health: advocacy and public policy, health education, research, and leadership development – all aimed at promoting the physical, mental, and emotional health of Black women. The organization "operat[es] within a reproductive justice framework...underscor[ing] how inequalities and complexities in Black women's lives profoundly impact reproductive choices and rights and healthcare decision making."

Avery has received numerous awards for her work and activism. In 1989, she received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for Social Contribution and the Essence Award for Community Service. In 1994, she receive the Academy of Science Institute of Medicine’s Gustav O. Lienhard Award for the Advancement of Health Care, and the Grassroots Realist Award by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. In 2008, she received the Ruth Bader Ginsberg Impact Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women. In 2010, she was awarded the Audre Lorde Spirit of Fire Award from the Fenway Health Center in Boston. Avery has received honorary degrees from a number of intsitutions, including Bowdoin College and Bates College. 

Byllye Avery was recently profiled in an episode of Makers, a PBS-sponsored digital platform designed to highlight the stories of trailblazing US women. You can learn more about her work by watching her interviews here