Chicago Women’s Health Center (CWHC) has served Chicago communities with pride for more than four decades. In 1975, a group of health care providers, counselors and health educators, troubled by unjust gynecological care disparities in Chicago, joined together to create CWHC. Emphasizing self knowledge and a peer approach to health care, these early collective members believed that health care was a right, not a privilege, and that gender inequity was a serious barrier to respectful health care. The history of CWHC embodies a dynamic story of the women’s health movement and feminism in Chicago. This history and perspective lends CWHC strength and perspective as a leader in reproductive justice and health care.
Your History is Our History
In 2019, as part of Women's History Month, CWHC is celebrating several important moments in our 44 year history. We are reflecting on how the history of our programs have been intertwined with the histories of our clients and students.
1975: CWHC is born out of the Feminist Health Movement
“CWHC has been a steady and steadying force in my life, having my back through some of the hardest years of my life - confronting childhood trauma and abuse, going to grad school, a fibroid diagnosis, divorce, and seeing my kids off to college. At CWHC, I found people who held my multiple identities, who respected me as a person, and adjusted to my need as my finances became very precarious. I am truly so grateful for their presence. I can't and do not want to imagine my life (and Chicago) without CWHC!” - gynecological care and counseling client
1983: CWHC opens the first Alternative Insemination (AI) Program in the Midwest for lesbians, bisexual and queer couples, single women of any sexual orientation, and trans people
"My wife and I credit CWHC with the gift of our family. Our first child was conceived there, and we felt safe, comfortable, and well taken care of from the moment of our first consultation through receiving the sweet letter congratulating us after the positive pregnancy test. The experience was so positive that we felt empowered to conceive our second child at home, and did so after another helpful phone conversation with CWHC. So grateful!" - alternative insemination client
1989: CWHC opens its Counseling Program
"CWHC was the first time I had had therapy with someone who saw my gender accurately – and never questioned it. It was the first time I had a therapist who actually, really, listened, and gently encouraged me to advocate for myself, to learn to be proud of who I am, and not have to hide anything from my therapist. I have never been turned away when my financial situation was dicey, CWHC was always there to help me until I got back on my feet. Though I have now moved on from CWHC, the years I spent having therapy there were incredibly valuable for me, and I don’t know that I would be where I am today without them." - counseling client
1989: CWHC opens the Outreach and Education Program to provide health education in communities across Chicago
"Learning about the female body more deeply and closely allowed me to truly understand and accept my body in an entirely new way. You allowed me to learn more about the LGBTQ community and male body which allowed me to have a more understanding and open mind. I'm so grateful for your cooperation in teaching us this important information all teenagers deserve to know." - sexual health education student
2008: CWHC revises its mission to be explicitly inclusive of trans people
"I don’t want to sound overdramatic, but this was a life changing visit for me. I felt extremely heard, cared for, and kindly and competently treated. As a trans person, I’m elated to know I have somewhere I can afford to go for quality care." - trans health services client
We are proud of our historical roots which inform our approach and services today. Each time we offer a client a speculum, provide services regardless of a client’s ability to pay, or work with a group of middle-schoolers on making healthy choices for their lives, we advance the notion that individuals have both the right to self-determine their health care and the right to affordable services.
As our collective adapts and evolves for today’s patient needs, we remain committed to the founding ideals of CWHC. In the early 1980s we were one of the first health centers to provide dedicated alternative insemination services to single women and lesbian and queer families. In the early 1990s, we established one of Chicago’s first counseling services that embraced a feminist relational model. Today, our Trans Greater Access Project (TGAP), developed in partnership with the Queer People’s Health Collective, offers needed and affordable services to Chicago’s trans communities.
Our commitment to complementary medicines and holistic health care has led us to partner with Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, providing us the ability to offer acupuncture on a sliding fee scale. In partnership with Young Women’s Empowerment Project, we have helped develop sex education materials for young women involved in Chicago’s sex trade and street economies. CWHC continues to adapt and grow as our health care needs and our communities change.
CWHC’s flexibility and adaptability has nurtured our slow and steady growth. CWHC has grown from serving hundreds of clients per year in our early days to more than 6,000 clients and student in 2018.We bring the best of our history to the challenges and complexities of the current health care and health education landscape, always working to meet the changing needs and identities of our ever-inspiring community of clients, students, volunteers and collective members.