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Roots of the Pill: Conceiving the Pill


[Margaret Sanger] said that when she started out in 1912, one of the first things she thought of was a new method for women to use. She after all was a nurse. She was an obstetrical nurse. She knew about birth control. She knew what methods were out there, and she knew they were lousy. She knew they worked sporadically. She knew it took the cooperation of the male and the female, the man and the woman, to make the method work. This was not always satisfactory, and she wanted to apply science and medicine to her feminist mission of giving women control of childbearing, so from the very early days in 1912, she dreamt of a pill. She knew the science wasn't there yet, which is why it took over four decades for this to happen.

Alex Sanger
Margaret Sanger's grandson

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McCormick's involvement with the Pill is extraordinary. I think she's one of the most underappreciated figures in not just Pill history, but the entire history of scientific and technological innovation. First of all, it was very uncommon for a woman in the 1950s to have the kind of fortune that McCormick had. She had a fortune that was so vast that, as John Rock said at one point, she couldn't even spend the interest on the money that she had. So she was unique from the get-go in simply having this access to capital... At the time, the pharmaceutical companies which had historically been involved in some kinds of birth control production, like condom production and diaphragm production, saw the Pill project also as too controversial. Many large companies had passed on the opportunity to develop the Pill, including Pfizer and Merck, because they just didn't want to touch it. And so, were it not for McCormick, it's unclear how the Pill would have been developed. She really deserves credit for single-handedly financing one of the most important developments of the 20th century.

Andrea Tone
historian

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Introduction
Early Influences
Early Activism
First-Wave Feminism
> Conceiving the Pill



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