The birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, though at the time of its approval it had already been in wide use by a number of females throughout the United States as a treatment for a variety of other “menstrual disorders.” This breakthrough in biomedical technology can be traced throughout the 1900’s as shifts in American culture and values allowed its development and facilitated its demand. Margaret Sanger was the primary figure behind the American birth control movement from the start, as she fought in the face of disapproval by US legislatures for the dissemination of birth control information. Beginning as a matter of population control and family planning for low income individuals, it grew into a massive movement including upper and middle class women demanding oral contraceptives in the context of a sexual revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There are many paths one may take when discussing the development of the birth control pill. It is necessary to include, through both primary and secondary sources, the background and antecedents of its development, the increased demand for “the pill” through the later half of the 20th century, and its impact on American society including the sexual revolution and the conflicts with the church.

In conducting research on this form of biomedical technology, it would first be helpful to turn to books addressing the breadth of the subject. Books such as The Pill: A Biography of the Drug that Changed the World and On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives discuss the backgrounds of the development of the pill including the four significant people associated with its development (Sanger, McCormick, Pincus, and Rock). Many antecedents of the pill are explained by Margaret Sanger in her Pamphlet Family Limitations which was meant to provide information to the general public about what types of birth control were most useful and safe in the early 1900’s. In this pamphlet, she outlines antecedents such as the pessary, the douching technique, and the use of condoms. Next, one would move on to discuss the invention of the pill. Sanger and McCormick were the primary advocates of a “pill” that could be taken orally and would be a form of female controlled, physiological method, to prevent one from becoming pregnant. This would be better than relying on physical barriers and cooperation from the male partner.  As the pill was being developed, and after its approval by the FDA, the questions that people faced were those of personal choice. This was the first medical intervention that would take place without any kind of precondition or ailment, it was preventative. In adapting to the new biomedical technology, one may ask why it was chosen in the face of alternatives and with the possible side effects that may result. Finally, since the pill became widely used amongst American women of varying ages, the impact of the pill must be addressed. In order to do this, one may turn to primary sources such as newspaper and magazine articles that address the public reaction to the pill. For example, in 1965, the New York Times published an article titled “The Pill and Morality.” This is only one of the myriad of articles addressing similar issues.

Obviously, there is a wide variety of sources available addressing all aspects of the development of the birth control pill. It is a technology that many could have never predicted, not even some of the chemists tied to its development. Once the idea was made public, many women adapted to the prospects of the new technology. With the development of the birth control pill, U.S. and State laws became more apt to protect the right of privacy and the spread of information on family planning methods. Sex became something that could be discussed more openly and comfortably, even if it was done so indirectly by implications of what being “on the pill” meant. The birth control pill is an important piece of American biomedical technology that should be addressed because of its impact and adaptation to American society and culture. Despite its long history and the controversies that arose throughout different stages of its development, it is a technology today that many women would undoubtedly find far more inconvenient to live without.


The Birth Control Pill

An Annotated Bibliography

Asbell, Bernard. The Pill: A Biography of the Drug That Changed the World. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1995. [a background of the development of the pill]

“Birth Control Pill ‘Reliably Effective’.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, July 14, 1962. [a primary source     describing the effectiveness of the pill]

Bullough, Vern L. Contraception: A Guide to Birth Control Methods: Condoms, Spermicides, Diaphragms, Sterilization, Natural Family Planning, the Pill. 2nd ed. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 1997. [a text describing alternative methods to the birth control pill]

“Cheating and Sex Called Major Campus Issues.” New York Times, October 19, 1964. [a primary source addressing the impacts of the pill]

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. A Social History of American Technology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. [outlines a brief history and social ramifications of the pill in addition to multiple other American technologies]

Duncan, Marijane. Marijane Dill Duncan to Nancy Guri Duncan, spring, 1968. In Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present, edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler. New York: Dial Press, 2005. [a primary source discussing the changing standards in regards to a sexual revolution]

“Freedom from Fear.” Time, April 7, 1967.,9171,843551,00.html. [a primary source addressing the impact of the pill]

Friedman, Ann. “Like a Natural Woman.” Ms. 18, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 61-62. [a current article addressing the debate on ‘natural’ birth control methods]

Havemann, Ernest, and Time-Life Books. Birth Control. New York: Time, Inc, 1967. [a book that offers alternative methods to the pill and antecedents]

Lawrence, Leah. “Reproductive Liberty and Social Reform in the Shape of a Pill.” Endocrine Today 6, no. 12 (July 10, 2008): 20. [offers an image of a patent for a birth control medication dispenser]

Leitzell, Katherine. “The Passions Behind the Pill.” U.S. News & World Report 143, no. 5 (2007): 68-69. [brief history of the development and significant people involved with the creation of the pill]

Maynard, Joyce. “The Sexual Revolution Exists All Right.” In Second to None: A Documentary History of American Women. Vol. 2. Lincoln [Neb.]: University of Nebraska Press, 1993, 311-313. [a primary source assessing the social effects of the pill and a sexual revolution]

McCormick, Katharine. Katharine McCormick to Margaret Sanger, June 19, 1954. In Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present, edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler. New York: Dial Press, 2005. [a primary source describing the early testing of progesterone]

McLaughlin, Loretta. The Pill, John Rock, and the Church: The Biography of a Revolution. Boston: Little, Brown, 1982. [a text outlining the conflicts between the use of the pill and Catholic religious practices]

Robinson, Patricia. Patricia Robinson and Black Sisters to Brothers, September 11, 1968. In Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present, edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler. New York: Dial Press, 2005. [a primary source advocating the use of birth control for self preservation]

Sanger, Margaret. Family Limitation. New York?: s.n, 1917. Available online at [a primary source describing antecedents to the birth control pill]

Solinger, Rickie. Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America. New York: New York University Press, 2005. [a description of the pill and a new “womanhood”]

“The Pill and Morality.” New York Times, November 21, 1965. [a primary source addressing the moral affects of the pill and a sexual revolution]

“U.S. Approves Pill for Birth Control.” New York Times, May 10, 1960. [a primary source indicating the approval of the pill in the United States]

Watkins, Elizabeth Siegel. On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives, 1950-1970. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. [a text discussing the development of the pill and its social acceptance]

“Welcome Decline.” Time, May 6, 1966.,9171,901819,00.html. [a primary source discussing population decline and the birth control pill]