It sparked protests and controversy, and is credited with spurring the women's liberation movement. Now, the contraceptive method known as 'The pill' is turning 50.
By Elaine Tyler May
Forget the single girl and the sexual revolution. The pill was not anti-mother; it was for mothers. And it changed motherhood more than it changed anything else. Its great accomplishment was not in preventing motherhood, but in making it better by allowing women to have children on their own terms.
Today, we celebrate both motherhood and the pill. It is Mother's Day, and it is the 50th anniversary of the pill's approval by the Food and Drug Administration -- though the dream of an oral contraceptive is much older. The birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger first envisioned such a "magic pill" in 1912, two years before Congress established a national Mother's Day. She wanted to do more than honor mothers: She wanted to change their lives.
While in her 30s, Sanger had worked as a nurse in New York City, and she saw many poor mothers become sick and die from the strain of frequent pregnancies. A turning point, she would recall later, came when she heard a physician instruct Sadie Sachs, a frail 28-year-old mother of three who was desperate for contraception, to "tell Jake to sleep on the roof!" Sachs's death from a self-induced abortion inspired Sanger to begin her crusade for birth control.