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May 9: The Pill

Lawrence Bush
May 9, 2010

gregorypincusThe Pill — the first oral contraceptive for women — was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on this date in 1960. Among the three scientists responsible for its development was Gregory Pincus, founder and research director of the tiny Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology (where he sometimes served as his own janitor). Educated at Cornell (where he founded the Cornell Literary Review), Harvard and Cambridge University, Pincus was the first scientist to produce in vitro fertilization and parthenogenesis (pregnancy without sperm cells) in rabbits, which brought him notoriety and kept him from gaining tenure at Harvard. His birth control research was funded by Katharine McCormick, a scientist and philanthropist who was one of the first women to graduate from MIT and was a close associate of Margaret Sanger’s, the long-persecuted advocate of women’s reproductive rights. In the fifty years since the Pill was approved, women’s earning potential has greatly increased (more babies are now born to women over 35 than to teens, according to U.S. News & World Report), families have become significantly smaller, menstrual problems have become far less of a health issue, and sex has become far less laden with fear of pregnancy.
“The meeting with Gregory Pincus was a nirvana for my grandmother [Margaret Sanger]. It must have been absolutely stunning finally to find a man of science who understood the basic science of reproduction.” —Alex Sanger

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.