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The History of the Pill and Feminism Term Paper

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2019

This article appears on the Public Broadcasting Website (PBS) website. The article talks about the history of the pill in the United States and makes references to the 2011 movie “The Pill”. According to the article, the pill has had a long history that is dominated by scientific and medical debates.

The article also outlines some subtopics in the debate on the pill including “contraception, eugenics, social engineering, population trends, government involvement in legislating social behavior, conflicts between religious values, feminist activism of the 1960s, and twentieth century women’s movements”1.

The article also touches on the roles women play in the society and the changing relationship between medical professionals and the public. PBS published this article as part of the organization’s informative repertoire. Most of the information that is provided by the article relates to the 2011 film “The Pill”.

Recently, the debate on the pill has heightened around the country. The debate is particularly focused on the issue of sexuality among teenagers. There are those people who feel that the use of pills among teenage girls is unacceptable. The opponents of this notion feel that the pill provides girls with freedom from several burdens. In addition, this group feels that the era of sexual repression is over.

The history of the pill dates back several centuries ago. However, the modern debate on the pill began in the 1960s when the pill was enshrined in the country’s legislation. During this period, all prior disagreements concerning the pill were put to rest.

The increase in the rate of teenage pregnancies acts as proof of the need to institute the pill into the lives of the American teenagers. Several organizations and television shows have tried to address this issue by trying to depict the effects of unplanned pregnancies. This article offers an informed account of the history and uses of the pill to its readers.

The document in the PBS website provides a rich account of the pill’s revolution. The film account includes the testimony of some of the very first users of the pill. Most of the women who appear in “The Pill” concur that the pill was a revolutionary tool when it came to the women’s freedom. Some of the women claim that the pill opened new horizons for them during the tumultuous period around the 1950s and 1960s.

The idea of women amounting to anything else other than mothers and homemakers was alien in the 1950s. The women who chose to pursue careers ended up foregoing having families. The pill was the game changer for many women who were provided with an effective means of birth control.

There were major controversies concerning the invention of the pill. The heroes behind its invention sacrificed a lot of their resources to make sure women were provided with a birth control method. This sacrifice passes as one of the most significant sacrifices in the American history.

The pill’s invention was initially viewed as a feministic campaign. However, this invention included some men and women who had no ties to feminism but were instead looking for an alternative to natural birth control. Years later, it has become clear that the pill has had a more medical than theoretical impact. The input provided in this website is important to the still on-going debates about the pill.

Today, the pill is still being associated to feminism five decades after it was instituted in the US constitution. The truth of the matter is that the debate on the pill will most likely be associated with feminism even in future. This association exists because most chauvinists are always uncomfortable with any tools that liberate women sexually.

The pill is definitely one of the most controversial inventions in the American history. Before the pill was invented, there were other existing methods of birth control that were not as controversial as the pill. However, most of these earlier methods were tedious and inaccurate. None of the existing methods of birth control was at the dispensation of the women.

The pill is a product of strive and defiance among some distinguished citizens. One woman notes that during the 1960s scientists invented hundred of pills but avoided the birth control pill2. The controversies behind the pill proved to be too intimidating even for the most seasoned scientists at the time. Moreover, the field of medical research was at the time dominated by men.

This meant that there was very little personal motivation among the researchers of that time. The controversies around the pill have dragged on from the 1960s to present. Every time a new version of the pill is invented, there is disquiet among the citizens.

The history of the pill has always been associated with feminism. This paper will track the history of the pill and its association with feminism. The paper will show how this association has evolved over the years.

The PBS website offers a historical account of the pill. The website also includes a transcript of the confessions of the women that appeared in the film “The Pill”. In one of these confessions, one woman talks about how the situation used to be in the 19th century.

A woman would give birth to consecutive children and end up suffering from ill health in the process. For instance, one woman says that her grandmother became pregnant eighteen times in the course of her forty-nine years lifespan3. In another confession, a woman says that before the pill was invented, women were ‘desperate’.

However, when the pill was finally invented these health and emotional concerns were overlooked in favor of feminist concerns. The popular view during the 1960s was that the pill gave women sexual freedom and therefore promoted promiscuity. These views mostly belonged to the men folk who were also the majority lawmakers at the time. These voices were also the target of feminists during the 1950s and the 1960s.

The group that is credited with the actual invention of the pill had a feminist at the forefront. The group consisted of Margret Sanger the woman who believed the pill could be realized, Gregory Pincus the scientist behind the invention, and Katherine McCormick the activist and financier of the pill research.

McCormick was the feminist in the group and also the one who donated forty thousand dollars of her money towards this research. Her role was also the most significant one because the pill would not have been realized without her money. According to the PBS article, Margret Sanger used to run a birth control clinic around the time the pill was invented. Her clinic’s aim was to help women achieve planned births.

This means that her clinic did not necessarily have feminist ties. Although McCormick was the only feminist in this group, her presence was taken to mean that the pill was a feminist drive. In the 1950s, feminists were treated with suspicion by the rest of the population. This treatment was transferred to the new birth control invention. Anti-feminist movements sought to discredit the pill on account of its feminist connection.

However, this argument was largely overlooked by the citizens because the pill became popular with American women within a very short time. From its inception, the pill was associated with feminism on account of Katherine McCormick’s input.

Although the pill was constantly discredited by several entities including religious groups, legislation bodies, and some medical organizations, it continued to be popular among American women. This was a sign that the war against the pill was unfounded and probably chauvinistic. Five years after the pill was allowed into the American society, over six million American women were using it.

These statistics made it the most popular form of birth control at the time. The statistics also raise serious questions concerning the anti-pill campaign at the time. If the pill was flawed and immoral as most of the campaigners argued, it would not have found as much support as it did. For instance, there were women demonstrators during the 1970 senate hearing on the pill’s safety.

The women demanded that the senate considers their voices on the matter. This was ten years after the pill was adopted and issues of feminism were still dominating its debate. The senate never considered the women’s voices and instead opted to abandon the proceedings. This move is quite incriminating for the senate because if there were no feminism undertones in the hearings the senate would have considered the women’s voices.

In the course of history, the debate on the pill has been featured in several social struggles. The pill debate featured on the Civil Rights Movement where African American leaders claimed that the pill was being used to control the reproduction of minority women. Such claims caught the attention of the feminists who had always advocated for the women’s right to plan their parenthood.

The pill was also featured in the proposal for Congress to make it a requirement for the women seeking to acquire government aid. When the pill was eventually replaced by the Norplant, there was a proposal that all women who were beneficiaries of government welfare be forced to use the Norplant instead of the pill.

In addition, women who embraced the new birth control method would receive reduced penalties in the event of their conviction. One of the reasons why these proposals never materialized was because they received stiff opposition from feminist organizations. These proposals were forwarded in the 1990s and they targeted women from low economic backgrounds4. Recently, the pill debate involved adolescent girls’ right to access the pill.

A US court made it legal for underage girls to obtain emergency pills without a prescription. This issue was still the subject of a feministic debate that addressed teenage girls’ sexual and reproductive liberties.

The pill continues to elicit major debate especially from feminists. The pill provided women with an important tool of liberation. Over the years, the debate concerning the pill has metamorphosed from the times it used to cover women in their prime to its current focus on teenagers. This debate is likely to continue as the science and technology behind the pill progresses. The feminist aspect of the pill debate is also likely to continue.


Henretta, James. America: A Concise History. Boston: New York Publishers, 2012.

”. Public Broadcasting Website. Web.


1“The Pill”, Public Broadcasting Website.

2 “The Pill”, Public Broadcasting Website.

3 “The Pill”, Public Broadcasting Website.

4 James Henretta, America: A Concise History (Boston: New York Publishers, 2012), 78.

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