The University of Iowa College of Public Health has named women’s health pioneer Byllye Avery the recipient of its 2015 Richard and Barbara Hansen Leadership Award and Distinguished Lecture. For more than 40 years, Avery has been on the front lines of the women’s health movement in the United States, leading advocacy, educational, and self-help initiatives that explore how race, gender, and class affect women’s empowerment.
Avery presented a lecture, “Why Black Women’s Health Matters,” on Oct. 8, 2015, and also appeared in a Q&A on spirituality and public health with College of Public Health Prof. Miesha Marzell.
Through activism and a commitment to social justice, Avery has fostered a national forum for the discussion of the health issues of African American women. The founder of the Black Women’s Health Imperative and co-founder of Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need, she continues to document and speak on black women’s health experiences in America, highlighting the effects of factors such as poverty, crime, violence, and racism.
Avery’s commitment to women’s health began in the mid-1970s, when she co-founded both the Gainesville (Fla.) Women’s Health Center and Birthplace, a midwifery birthing center, known today as the Birth and Wellness Center. Throughout the ensuing four decades, she led grassroots advocacy efforts to develop both national and international networks focused on issues related to women’s wellness, sexuality, and reproduction.
Prior to her entry into the health care arena, Avery taught special education to emotionally disturbed students and consulted on learning disabilities in public schools and universities throughout the southeastern United States. She studied psychology at Talledega (Ala.) College and earned an M.A. in special education from the University of Florida.
Avery has been the recipient of many honors and awards, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Institute of Medicine’s Gustav O. Lienhard Award for the Advancement of Health Care. Avery has served on the Charter Advisory Committee for the Office of Research on Women’s Health of the National Institutes of Health and has served as a visiting fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. She has honorary degrees from Thomas Jefferson University, State University of New York at Binghamton, Gettysburg College, Bowdoin College, Bates College and Russell Sage College.