Carl Djerassi developed the first oral contraceptive pill in 1950. He shared the discovery and the patent for the drug [norethindrone] with two other colleagues. They sold the patent for just a dollar but he shrewdly bought shares in the company, Syntex and later became a millionaire and philanthropist. He stated that ‘there was no eureka moment’ ‘As a synthetic chemist you are an architect.‘
Effective contraception first became available in the late 50s and 60s. Critics complained that the uncoupling of sex and procreation was immoral and leads to irresponsible behaviour. The Catholic Church still is against the use of contraception. It is thought that such views accounted for the fact that he and his colleagues never won a Nobel Prize. Experts predicted at that time that the world’s population would carry on growing in an exponential manner and a Domesday scenario would arise because of over population. Now it seems that women if given the choice and a means prefer fewer children and most experts think that the world’s population is showing signs of stabilisation and in some countries it is decreasing.
The pill and effective contraception is probably responsible for massive societal change. In the 50’s if a female teacher became pregnant she would have to give up her job. There were hardly any women in medicine. Those that were doctors tended to choose medicine rather than have a husband and family. With effective birth control and the ability to choose when to have children women can have both a career and family. Within two generations women have started to dominate medicine in the UK. About 66% of medical students are now women in some universities. The presidents of the three main Royal Colleges [The Royal College Of Physicians, The Royal College Of General Practitioners and The Royal College of Surgeons] are all women.The Chief Medical Officer in the UK is a Woman [Dame Sally Davies] and the Editor in Chief of the BMJ is also a woman.
Girls there is no glass ceiling -there is no excuse and boys the girls are not just arriving they are already here – pull your socks up quick!
[PS When I was a junior doctor I worked for a surgeon who used to say’ women doctors do n’t read journals – they read knitting patterns.’ I wish I could have told him the future]