The Birth of The Pill
Origins of Birth Control
Before the development of The Pill women all over the world used a variety of different birth control methods, which were mainly ineffective and dangerous. The oldest forms of birth control, with origins in the Bible, were the withdrawal and rhythm methods. In pre-industrial America, women used homemade herbal douches to prevent pregnancy, but the biggest breakthrough in contraception was by Charles Goodyear in 1839, with the production of rubber condoms, intrauterine devices, douching syringes, and diaphragms. However, the most reliable and safe way to prevent pregnancy was still yet to come-The Pill.
The Comstock Laws
Anthony Comstock was the early force behind restrictions on birth control. He was a devout Christian who believed that the majority of American society was becoming licentious due to the contraceptive industry. Comstock headed for Washington in 1872 to further his cause. In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act, which was aimed at stopping trade in "obscene literature" and "immoral articles." It also targeted information on birth control devices, sexually transmitted diseases, human sexuality, and abortion. In a 1915 article, Margaret Sanger refers to the Comstock Law saying, "There is nothing which causes so much laughter or calls forth so many joking comments by people in Europe as Comstockery in America". She challenged the law in 1916 by opening up the first birth control clinic in America and in 1936 she helped bring the case of United States v. One Package to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision allowed physicians to legally mail birth control devices and information throughout the country. Finally, in 1965, the Supreme Court case of Griswold v. Connecticut overturned the Comstock Law, ruling that the private use of contraceptives was a constitutional right.
The Creation of the Pill
Gregory Pincus was an American physician, biologist, and researcher during the 20th century. Early in his career he began studying hormonal biology and steroidal hormones, but his first breakthrough came in 1934 when was able to produce in vitro fertilization in rabbits. In 1953, Margaret Sanger and Katherine McCormick confronted Pincus with the idea of creating an oral contraceptive. He sought out Searle, a pharmaceutical company, about funding for their plan. Searle's initial reaction was 'no' because it jeopardized his company due to the austere birth control laws. Despite the fact that Searle had no intention of creating an oral contraceptive, Frank Colton, a chemist at the company, accidentally developed a type of one. Pincus was allowed to have samples of the drug for his research and in 1957 The Pill was released as a treatment for gynecological disorders. Finally, in 1960, it became FDA approved and by 1963, 1.2 million women were using it. Although Searle was originally reluctant to fund research for an oral contraceptive, he soon reaped the rewards of the newly invented Pill, and monopolized the industry for a short time.
Although The Pill gave women reproductive control, they still didn't have complete control over their bodies. The first doses of The Pill were 10 milligrams. The high dosage led to numerous reactions, such as nausea, blurred vision, bloating ,weight gain, depression, blood clots, and strokes. Women's complaints of these symptoms to doctors were quickly dismissed. Doctors didn't share much with patients at this time because they felt the patients were not capable of understanding. Our Bodies Ourselves challenged this notion and "wanted to do something about those doctors who were condescending, paternalistic, judgmental, and non-informative". Finally, in the 1980s the high dosage of The Pill was lowered, and today, women can receive a prescription of The Pill that has as little as one milligram of progesterone.
The Forgotten Women: Margaret Sanger and Katherine McCormick
Margaret Sanger watched her mother die at an early age, which was partly due to the stress of bearing eleven children. After her mother's death she worked as a nurse in New York City and saw many women die from childbirth and self-induced abortion. The horrors that she witnessed there caused her to devote much of her time to promoting birth control for women. She set up the first clinic in 1916 and founded the American Birth Control League in 1921. She had always envisioned a birth control pill that would be much easier to use than the diaphragm. In 1950, she met up with Gregory Pincus, who researched her idea, and with Katherine McCormick, who funded it. Her exhaustive efforts paid off in 1960 when The Pill was finally approved and sold on the market.
Katherine McCormick was born in 1875 to a wealthy Chicago family. Unlike many women of her time, she was granted the opportunity of attending college, but despite her education she married Stanley McCormick in 1904. However, two years after their marriage he developed schizophrenia and her life was greatly altered. She soon turned her her focus to promoting the cause of women's suffrage. In 1917, McCormick met Margaret Sanger in Boston and they frequently kept in touch. During this time McCormick was devoted to researching schizophrenia while Margaret Sanger was adamant about pursuing the area of birth control. In 1947, McCormick's husband died and she was the heir to his $15 million fortune. She now decided to turn her attention to the birth control movement and joined forces with Sanger. With her astounding wealth, McCormick financed the majority of research and development of The Pill.
Margaret Sanger dreamt of the idea of a birth control pill since she was a young woman. If she wasn't confined to the boundaries of her time, her and McCormick could've researched and funded The Pill without the help of any male doctors or scientists. Unfortunately, the society that they lived in would not allow them to do so; they did go as far as they could. Many of their achievements go unnoticed, but both women were really the leading forces behind the development of The Pill. Margaret Sanger died in 1966 and Katherine McCormick in 1967, but fortunately, both lived to see their dream be fulfilled.
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