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Kelly O'Donnell, PhD


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Kelly O'Donnell, PhD



Kelly O’Donnell is a historian of medicine whose research focuses primarily on gender and health politics in modern America. She has published widely on the history of feminist health activism, including several articles drawn from her dissertation, a biography of journalist and activist Barbara Seaman.

In 2020-2021, she was the NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Prior to her fellowship, Kelly received her PhD from Yale’s Program in the History of Science and Medicine and worked at a historic women’s health advocacy non-profit organization in the Philadelphia area. She then joined Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Humanities and Sciences, where she taught courses in medical humanities and American studies.

Kelly is currently working on two book projects. The first interrogates the controversy over the safety of oral contraceptives in the early 1970s. The Pill Hearings: Science, Politics, and Birth Control is under contract with Rutgers University Press and will appear in the Critical Issues in Health and Medicine series. Using Senator Gaylord Nelson’s Senate Subcommittee hearings (and the protests against them) as its focal point, this book explores debates over biomedical expertise, patient rights, and medical paternalism. The second book project rewrites the history of health care in the United States by centering the experiences of physicians’ spouses, who had a significant impact on the professionalization, cultural reception, and reform of the medical establishment.

At Yale, Kelly teaches courses on the history of health activism, medical technologies, reproductive health, and gender and medicine. As a first-generation college student, she also hopes to serve as a resource for students who are the first in their family to attend college.

Selected Publications:

Education & Training

  • PhD
    Yale University, History of Science and Medicine (2015)
  • MPhil
    Yale University, History of Science and Medicine (2013)
  • MA
    Yale University, History of Science and Medicine (2012)
  • BA
    Sarah Lawrence College, Liberal Arts (2009)

Departments & Organizations