Leslie J. Reagan

Professor, Department of History
Professor, Ethnography of the University Initiative
Professor, Department of Gender and Women's Studies
Professor, College of Law (by courtesy)


Leslie J. Reagan specializes in the history of American medicine and public health, women, gender, and sexuality, disabilities, visual culture, and 20th century U.S. social history. In 2012, she was named a University Scholar, the highest award the University gives for scholarship, teaching, and service.

Her most recent book is Dangerous Pregnancies:  Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America (2010) which has won several awards, including the Joan Kelly Award from the American Historical Association and the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society for Medical Anthropology of the American Anthropology Association. An article from the book that appeared in Law and History Review received honorable mention for the journal’s Surrency Prize. Dangerous Pregnancies is about German measles (rubella), which, if contracted by a pregnant woman, can cause miscarriages, early child deaths, and birth defects in the newborn child. The book shows the medical, cultural, and political consequences of this disease and the role it played in both the early abortion rights movement and the disability rights movement for the education of children with disabilities. Her first book, When Abortion was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973, (1997) won the Willard Hurst Book award from the Law and Society Association along with several other book prizes.

Professor Reagan joined the Illinois history faculty in 1992. Her current research focuses on the history of Agent Orange in the U.S. and Vietnam, disabilities, illegal abortion, and the intersections between law and medicine.

Department of History bio


MA, PhD University of Wisconsin, Madison
BA University of California, Davis

Areas of Expertise

Medicine, public health, and science
20th century US social history
Women, gender, and sexuality
Disability history
Visual culture and documentary film
Law and society

Selected Publications


Reagan, Leslie J. Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Medicine’s Moving Pictures: Medicine, Health, and Bodies in American Film and Television. . Comp. Nancy Tomes and Paula A. Treichler. Ed. Leslie J. Reagan. Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 2007.

Reagan, Leslie J. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973. . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Book Contributions

Reagan, Leslie J. “Monstrous Births, Birth Defects, Unusual Anatomy, and Disability.” The Oxford Handbook on Disability History. . Comp. Rembis K. Nielsen. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Reagan, Leslie J. “Tim Nugent, ‘Wheelchair Students,’ and the Most Accessible Campus in the World.” The University of Illinois: Engine of Innovation. . Ed. Fred Hoxie. University of Illinois Press, 2016.

Reagan, Leslie J. “After the Sex, What? A Feminist Reading of Reproductive History in Mad Men.” Mad Men, Mad World. Ed. Lauren Goodlad. Duke University Press, 2013. 92-110.

Reagan, Leslie J. “Law and Medicine.” Cambridge History of Law in America. . Ed. Christopher Tomlins. Cambridge University Press, 2008. Chap. 7.

Reagan, Leslie J. “Medicine, Law, and the State: The History of Reproduction.” Companion to American Women’s History. . Ed. Nancy A. Hewitt. New York and London: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. 348-365.

Journal Articles

Reagan, Leslie J. “My daughter was genetically drafted with me: U.S.-Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities, and Gender.” Gender & History28.3 (2016):

“Representations and Reproductive Hazards of Agent Orange.” Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics 39.1 (2011):

Reagan, Leslie J. “Rashes, Rights, and Wrongs in the Hospital and in the Courtroom: German Measles, Abortion, and Malpractice Before Roe and Doe.” Law and History Review 27.2 (2009):

Reagan, Leslie J. “From Hazard to Blessing to Tragedy: Representations of Miscarriage in Twentieth-Century America.” Feminist Studies29.2 (2003): 356-378..

Reagan, Leslie J. “Victim or Accomplice?: Crime, Medical Malpractice, and the Construction of the Aborting Woman in American Case Law, 1860s-1970.” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 10.2 (2001): 311-332.

Reagan, Leslie J. “Crossing the Border for Abortions: California Activists, Mexican Clinics, and the Creation of a Feminist Health Agency in the 1960s.” Feminist Studies, special issue on Women and Health 26.2 (2000): 323-348.

Reagan, Leslie J. “Engendering the Dread Disease: Women, Men, and Cancer.” American Journal of Public Health, 150th anniversary issue, 87.11 (1997): 1779-1787..

“Linking Midwives and Abortion in the Progressive Era.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 69 (1995): 569-598.

Reagan, Leslie J. “About to Meet Her Maker’: Women, Doctors, Dying Declarations, and the State’s Investigation of Abortion, Chicago, 1867-1940.” Journal of American History 77.4 (1991): 1240-1264.