The Pill and the Public


            The release of the birth control pill set off many discussions among women, families, and doctors. Some were skeptical of its adoption because of the degree of individual choice and risk involved. The pill would be taken on a voluntary basis by healthy individuals. People began to weigh the risks and benefits of the new drug. Those who were in favor of the distribution of the new drug claimed that it was successful in its clinical trials and that no definite links could be found between the use of the pill and long term health effects such as blood clotting or cancer. Though women who were taking the pill may have incurred some of these health problems, the pill could not be established as the causative agent. Additionally, the pill offered a “foolproof” method of birth control that was necessary to slow the population growth. With this established, it also seemed counterintuitive to take a drug that may have side effects such as “nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, breast tenderness, weight gain, and breakthrough bleeding,” when the drug was not meant to curb a current health condition.[1]

            For many, the benefits of the birth control pill far outweighed the costs. In a letter written by Patricia Robinson she explains that the birth control pill seemed to be an obvious choice given her circumstances. Though the drug was not meant to cure a health ailment, it did prove beneficial in maintaining the economic health of a household. It would allow women and parents to better support their children and was especially helpful for single women or heads of households. Robinson explained plainly, “Now here’s how it is. Poor black men won’t support their families, won’t stick by their women-all they think about is the street, dope and liquor, women, a piece of ass, and their cars. That’s all that counts. Poor black women would be fools to sit up in the house with a whole lot of children and eventually go crazy, sick, heartbroken, no place to go, no sign of affection-nothing.”[2] In this respect, the birth control pill served to preserve the health of women in a more indirect fashion.

            Articles debating the use and effectiveness of the pill sprang up throughout the United States. One article makes claims regarding the effectiveness of the birth control pill[3], while others explore the impact the pill had on women of all ages throughout the U.S. There were varying reactions to the pill that will be explored as one examines the lasting impact that the pill had on women, families, and churches. One thing that can not be disputed is that the pill became increasingly adopted by women of various ages and across race and social classes.  


            As the birth control pill gained popularity, competing companies began marketing their version of the pill. Marketing obviously plays a significant role in pushing a society to adopt different or particular version of new technology. In this case, different brands of the birth control pill were marketed as the most effective and easiest solution. Enovid (featured to the right) began marketing the pill as “the perfect pack” as a “compack, designed with her in mind.”[4] Ortho-Novum (photo above) marketed its version of the pack as one that would never allow women to miss a dose. It was a “specifically designed dial-pack”[5] and illustrates the pack being held with a ribbon tied around the finger, centralizing the advertisement around ease and memory. The Enovid advertisement makes similar claims, however, does so more subtly and focuses on the feminine aspect of the design. The marketing of the birth control in these packets, with slim, compact, and organizational design, served to increase the perception that the birth control was an easy and “foolproof” method to limit ones family size (The patent for this packaging device can be seen in the photo to the left). This served to increase the adoption of the pill over alternative forms of birth control while at the same time transitioning American’s toward the idea of a more public and comfortable means of discourse.

Leave a Reply