History of the American Medical Women’s Association Advocacy Committee

Omega C. Logan Silva, MD, MACP
President 2000 – 2002
May 7, 2017

A group of twelve trailblazing women physicians met in Chicago in 1915 to form the Medical Women’s National Association, the forerunner of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA). The women physicians felt it necessary to form this new organization as the established and largely male American Medical Association (AMA) was certainly not welcoming of women, African Americans, Native Americans, Jews, or other minorities.

As the women physicians of Washington, DC were already organized as part of the DC Medical Society, that group become Branch 1 and Chicago became Branch 2. Chicago continued to be the headquarters with the AMA there as well, until AMWA moved to New York city where it was expected to become a more active organization in the more cosmopolitan city where many organizations were housed. In 1988, after several years in New York the association deemed it desirable to be a more politically active organization and it moved near Washington, DC in Alexandria, Virginia to be near the three branches of government and assume an expanded leadership role in the health scene.

In 1987 I was the president of Branch 1 and as such I attended the National meeting in Orlando, Florida, courtesy of my Branch as was its custom to send the president to the national meeting. At that first National Meeting I attended, AMWA was beginning to show interest in tobacco issues and in assisting gay physicians who were just coming out and asking that their issues be addressed. Most of the other medical organizations were not concerned about the deadly effects of tobacco products and the yearly death toll of about a half million patients nor gender equality issues.

As I walked by the committee meeting rooms during that gathering, I heard a very interesting discussion about tobacco and the ways the students of AMWA could be a part of the solution. Dr. Mary Ann Cromer was meeting with a group she named her Smoke Busters. The room was so crowded many of the students were sitting on the floor enthralled by the idea they and AMWA could do anything about this international medical problem. But Dr. Cromer had a plan! She intended to use the advertisements for tobacco against the industry. She envisioned rallies with these posters and slides led by the students making bold statements about the harmful effects of tobacco on the lives of those smoking and those exposed to the second-hand smoke, probably the first such mention of second-hand smoke, and now, we even have the concept of third-hand smoke. I was fascinated by this committee, the Anti-Smoking Committee, and its leader, Dr. Cromer who seemed to have such wonderful ideas to conquer the problem. I joined the committee and was asked to be the chair of the legislative sub-committee. We testified on the Hill at Congressional meetings and at other medical meetings. One of my first such testimonies was at a meeting of the U.S. Trade Representative where I spoke against this country’s tobacco companies which were trying to force Thailand to advertise their deadly wares. I still have a small poster the Thai people sent me which says, “Thank you from the bottom of my lungs.’

The Committee worked with the Flight Attendants to rid the airline industry of smoking on board flights. It also worked with restaurants and cities to discontinue smoking in restaurants or at least have a no smoking section. In 1992, I nominated Mary Ann Cromer for the Bertha van Hoosen Award which she received in 1993 for her excellent work as the Chair of the Anti-Smoking Committee and her foresight as the impetus for the Advocacy Committee or the Governmental Affairs Committee as it was sometimes called. It arose from the Anti-Smoking Legislative Sub-Committee and was also called the Legislative Committee as much of the advocacy involved Congress and the Senate.

It follows that the legislative activities of the Anti-Smoking Committee were the beginning of the Advocacy Committee for the AMWA. The women of AMWA were realizing the reason for the move to DC from NY. At that time AMWA had more money and many more regular members and the students were the center of much of the attention and finances on which AMWA was focusing. Students attended free or for greatly reduced rates and the regular members were assigned to mentor them and take them to lunch and dinner.

AMWA also had administrative staff to man some committees. For a while staff kept track of the activities of the Advocacy Committee such as Mehgan Kissell who was the staff person for the Governmental Affairs Committee as it was sometimes called. The Advocacy Committee reacted to the subjects that were included in Resolutions, Position Papers, or were debated in the House of Delegates of the AMWA which unfortunately no longer exists. Otherwise, as it is today, we had to poll the Board and/or the relevant committee if we had no clear mandate on the subject.

As AMWA became leaner and had less staff and less money to apply to advocacy, the physician chairs and committee had to assume more responsibility for the records as it does today. The chairs of the so called advocacy committees sometimes called different titles were Mary Jane England 1986 – 1987, Doris Bartuska 1987 – 1988, Lila Wallis 1988 – 1989, Susan Stewart 1989 – 1990, Roselyn Epps 1990 – 1991, Susan Ivey in 1997 – 1998, Debra Judelson 1998, Clarita Herrera 2000, Doris Browne 2001 – 2002, Omega Silva 2003 and Janet Freedman 2004. As Chair in 2007 – 2015, I began recording the activities of the Committee in an Endorsement List and continued until June of 2015. As Chair I had some co-chairs—Dr. Claudia Morrissey, a past president and Dr. Norma Jo Waxman. The Endorsement List is a partial history of the committee and is attached for the period 2007 – 2015.