This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for May 9, 2017: In Spring

May 9, 2017: on this day: FDA approves sale of the first commercially produced birth control pill

On this day in 1960, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of the world’s first commercially produced birth control pill. The tiny pill in the circular case was called the Enovid-10 and became known, popularly, as “The Pill.”

Methods of preventing pregnancy weren’t new, of course: the ancient Egyptians were fond of mixing a paste of crocodile dung and using it as a pessary. Even famous lover Casanova claimed that half a lemon was a useful cervical cap. Condoms had been around as far back as 3000 B.C., when they were made of fish bladders. But religion and morality also played a role in contraception, or the lack of it, and when Margaret Sanger, opened the first family-planning clinic in the United States in 1916, she became a birth control advocate and pioneer. Sanger believed early on that women needed something, like a pill, that they could take to block ovulation.

In 1951, a chemist named Carl Djerassi, working in a lab in Mexico City, synthesized the key hormones that made possible the ingredients for a successful contraceptive in pill form. There were years of clinical trials and at first, drug companies were afraid to market the pill for fear of boycotts by religious groups, but there was also a remarkable change in the culture: more women wanted to stay in college, even after marrying, and to delay children for careers. When a representative from the Food and Drug Administration announced approval for “The Pill,” he said: “Approval was based on the question of safety. Our own ideas of morality had nothing to do with the case.”

The pill was tiny, discreet, affordable, and almost 100 percent effective. It cost 11 cents to manufacture and a month’s supply was $2.00. It was the first medicine ever designed to be taken by people who were not sick, and it paved the way for the sexual revolution and the feminist movement.

Today, the number of women completing four years of college is almost seven times what it was before the introduction of “The Pill.”