The Pill

In the first episode of Mad Men, titled “Smoke Gets in Yout Eyes,” Joan sends Peggy to a gynecologist to receive a prescription for The Pill. During the appointment, one of the first doctor’s first comments was to question Peggy’s desire, as a single woman, to take the pill. Through the entire scene, he makes comments that judge Peggy, and other women, for their use of contraception. If these attitudes were so prevalent in the time period, why was the pill invented, why did it become so popular?

Development of the birth control pill began in the early 1950s at the urging of early birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. The activist believed that because of unreliable or inaccessible birth control many women and families were burdened with children that they could not possible take care of. Because of many retrictive laws, Sanger was unable to distribute a great deal of useful information on the topic. Despite delays in development, large scale clinical trials of the pill began in 1957. While earlier small trials had occurred in the United States, laws against birth control forced the developers to hold trials in Puerto Rico. Later that year, The Pill, called Enovid, was given FDA approval for the treatment of menstrual disorders. Three years later, it became the first drug approved for use by a healthy person when it was released as birth control. Within two years 1.2 million women were being prescribed The Pill and other companies are beginning to break in to the market.

Image credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.html

One problem with the early birth control pills was that they carried the risk of deadly side effects. These side effects, such as depression, blood clots and strokes, were often ignored by the drug company, the FDA and the prescribing doctors. Often, they were viewed as relating to outside causes and sufferers were referred to specialists. It took the publication of a criticizing book in the late 1960s before an investigation finally occurred. Despite these side effects, the number of women choosing to take the pill continued to increase: in 1973, 10 million women were taking the pill, and by the mid-1990s the number reached 80 million worldwide.

Image credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.html

This Pill’s main result was giving women more control over their bodies. They were able to decide when to have children and whether or not they wanted a career. This allowed women to remain in the workforce longer and develop a career. This is one reason that, by the 1980s, 60% of women of reproductive age were employed in the United States. It also meant women could be more spontaneous in their personal lives. The doctor clearly objected to that aspect.

Links referenced: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/secure/aboutms/index.html


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