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A Brief History of the Development of the Birth Control Pill and Its Impact on the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960's

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Shavonda Bethly

US History

November 11, 2008

Final Paper

The Pill

A Brief History of the Development of the Birth Control Pill and its Impact on the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960's

"The first right of every child is to be wanted, to be desired, to be planned with an intensity of love that gives it its title to being."

-Margaret Sanger

These words reflect the deeply held beliefs of Margaret Sanger that women had the right to control their bodies and decide for themselves whether or not to become pregnant. She devoted her entire life to ensuring that women had access, information, and knowledge about birth control. Her tireless work and efforts led to the formation of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the development of the Birth Control Pill (Topalian, 1984). The formation of birth control caused several problems for women and their ever changing bodies along with changing the perspectives of women and how they saw themselves in the 1960's.

Birth control was not only a technical way of spacing and limiting children to benefit both mother and child but also part of a larger debate about the extent to which women should be able to control their own reproductive lives. The birth control pill caused for a change in thinking and even today in its rarest form is still one of the most talked about discoveries in women's liberation and freedom. The pill is one of the most needed and useful contraceptives on the market. The introduction of the birth control pill allowed women to be totally liberated because control over their reproductive systems.

From as early as 1912, Margaret Sanger dreamed of a pill, as easy to take as aspirin, that could prevent, not end, pregnancy. Knowing that science was not there yet, she put her efforts into providing women with information and the contraceptives that were available at the time. It was not until 1951, when she met Dr. Gregory Pincus that her dream of a "magic pill" seemed like it would become a reality.

During 1950's Cold War America, the American Family, marriage and children were part of the American agenda. The family, after all, is what made Americans superior to the Communists. The American woman was impeccably dressed, tended to her home and enjoyed freedom and democracy. This type of propaganda was everywhere. Women of this era felt tremendous pressure to wed. The marriage rate was at an all time high with couples marrying at younger ages. Getting married right out of high school was the norm and if a woman was lucky enough to go to college, she was there for a MRS. Degree, meaning a husband (Kerber, 1995).

Although women, had other dreams during this critical time, society's main focus was on the women being married and having families. Women who were not married by their early 20's were in danger of becoming old maids. The women who did become pregnant during these times were forced to leave school and were exalted as the moral foundation of America.

With most women married by the age 19, families started to increase at a dramatic rate. Women were highly encouraged to stay home, and sex was one of the integral parts of maintaining a healthy, happy marriage (Galvin, 1998). Without effective methods of pregnancy prevention, women were faced with having multiple children before they reached the age of menopause. With many of the pregnancies being unplanned, women resorted to drastic measures to rid themselves of these babies. It was not uncommon for women to attempt home abortions by using sharp objects or homemade remedies. These included laxatives, quinine, douches, and cocoa butter solutions. Also among the home abortion techniques were herb teas, turpentine, rolling downstairs, inserting slippery elm, knitting needles, and shoe hooks (Galvin, 1995). This was a hard pill to swallow in the eyes of some women. In the late 1950's, single and married women were looking for a "new day"- a better form of birth control.

Dr. Pincus was a medical expert in human reproduction who had a theory that progesterone could work as an anti-ovulent. Margaret Sanger managed to get a grant from Planned Parenthood to start the research. When the grant money ran out, Katherine McCormick, a friend of Margaret Sanger and fellow activist, pledged to fund the entire project. Mrs. McCormick moved east to keep an eye on her investment and urge the project along (PBS, 1999-2002).

Dr. Gregory Pincus' assumption about progesterone turned out to be correct. He found a synthetic formula for progesterone, approached G.D, Searle and Company for manufacturing help and recruited the help of Dr, John Rock to test the pills using clinical trials. With success in Massachusetts using a small human population, a larger subject group in Puerto Rico was used in 1956. The synthetic progesterone pill became known as Enovid.

In 1957, G.D. Searle and Company applied to the US Government's approval to use the drug, Enovid, as a treatment for gynecological disorders. The sentiment of G.D. Searle was convinced that women would not take the drug daily just to prevent pregnancy. In less than 2 years, over 500,000 women were using Enovid. Women were now using the drug as a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy, which in turn caused G.D. Searle and Company to apply to the government for approval to use Enovid as a contraceptive.

In the 1960, Enovid became public on the market and the timing was propitious, for it coincided with a period of sexual liberation that, while provoking in some respects to be a mixed blessing for women, also coincided with new recognition of the intensity of their sexual drive and capacity for sexual pleasure. The usage of the contraceptive was accepted and in a few years 1.2 million women were using the pill and that number increased to 5 million by 1965. The side effects were tolerated by women to avoid the risk of becoming pregnant (PBS, 1999-2002).

The majority of women, and a fair amount of men, welcomed the Pill. The Pill provided women

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