Today in 1960, the birth control pill was finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This victory came about primarily through the work of Margaret Sanger, with support from Katharine McCormick, who was just the second female graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sanger and McCormick first met in 1917, when Sanger was already a well-established activist and McCormick had a sizable inheritance, eventually becoming a major sponsor of the pill’s research.
Sanger began as a nurse on the
But these accomplishments were hardly met without opposition. In 1914, Sanger was indicted on nine charges of obscenity deriving from the Comstock Act. Passed in 1873, the Comstock Act defined contraceptives as obscene and illicit, making it illegal for birth control—or even just information about abortion—to be distributed through the mail or across state borders. This federal law was named after its crusader Anthony Comstock, whose ideals of Victorian morality led him to create the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and advocate censorship in a number of areas.
Sanger witnessed the approval of the pill as an 80-year-old widow living in Tuscon, Arizona, and celebrated by herself with some champagne. She lived to see the Comstock Act’s repeal as well, and died in 1966. Margaret Sanger undoubtedly left her legacy, and today, 80% of American women have used the contraceptive pill.