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Jonathan Eig is a former senior reporter for the Wall Street Journal and is the author of three highly acclaimed books – Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season.
During the First and Second World Wars, while our men were fighting for freedom overseas, their wives, girlfriends and mothers were working in jobs once considered the domain of men. The women enjoyed the freedom – the freedom from worry of contraception and the freedom to earn their own money. Women up until then had been conditioned to believe their place was in the home – looking after their menfolk and bearing children. The types of birth control were very limited: condoms were given out to servicemen to stop the spread of venereal diseases while the men were posted overseas. Later on there were early forms of diaphragms, which had a high failure rate.
In the Winter of 1950 in Manhattan, Margaret Sanger, a woman of 71 years of age, who loved sex, wanted a better way for woman to be able to control when and how they conceived. She had spent forty years trying to find a way – a scientific way, and she had campaigned throughout those year for a woman’s right to control their own fertility. She finally met a man in an apartment high above Park Ave, who was, possibly, her last hope.
That man was Gregory Goodwin Pincus (known as Goody), a scientist with a genius IQ and a dubious reputation. He was 47 years old. He wasn’t famous and he didn’t have any world changing inventions filed under his name. He’d been considered a radical by Harvard and had been left with no choice but to conduct experiments in a converted garage. Pincus was a biologist and perhaps the world’s leading expert in mammalian reproduction. He’d attempted to breed rabbits in petri dishes using much the same technology that decades later would lead to the development of IVF for humans. Pincus does not give up; this book goes on to describe the dedication and sponsorship of many people, to achieve a much-needed result.
Reading this book in today’s world it’s hard to imagine the hardship women went through over the decades to achieve rights to control their fertility. We now take contraception for granted with millions of women worldwide swallowing The Pill daily. I found this book a fascinating read, with a lot of detail – at times too much detail. This book will be enjoyed, hoever, by anybody with an enquiring mind who is open to learning.
Reviewed by Christine Frayling
The Birth of the Pill
by Jonathan Eig
Published by Macmillan