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America and The Pill (History of the Birth Control Pill)

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Updated February 23, 2013

America and The Pill (History of the Birth Control Pill)

America and The Pill

Photo © 2010 Dawn Stacey

The Bottom Line

Historian Elaine Tyler May takes us on the journey of the birth control pill – from the inception to the present day. The book explores the relationship of the pill to international events (like population control), scientific developments, the feminist movement, and the sexual revolution. The history of the birth control pill is examined within the cultural and political backdrop of the time and explores how the invention of the pill has affected the lives of generations of women and men.
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  • Explores many facets of history of the birth control pill (from religious to cultural to political)
  • Personal persepective - May's father played an integral part in the FDA-approval of the pill
  • Examined the pill from the male perspective (discussed possible male pill alternatives)
  • Presented a balanced view between supporters and opponents of the birth control pill
  • Included many personal antidotes from women who responded to the author's internet survey


  • It was a little difficult to follow the author's train of thought
  • The information in the book jumped around (a bit confusing to read)
  • Many of the sources were not from professional literature


  • Title: America + The Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Literature
  • Author: Elaine Tyler May
  • Publisher: Basic Books: New York, NY
  • Publishing Date: April 27, 2010
  • ISBN: 978-0-465-01152-0
  • This book is available in hardcover. Cost: $25.95
  • 214 pages: book consists of 7 chapters - plus an introduction, conclusion, acknowledgments, notes, and index.
  • Book traces the history of birth control pills from the "mothers" who invented the pill (Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick) until how the pill is viewed today – 50 years later.

Guide Review - America and The Pill (History of the Birth Control Pill)

"The pill has been at the center of the major transformations in women's lives over the past half-century," argues Historian May, and yet, in America + The Pill, she examines just how much has changed and how much has remained the same. This book paints a vivid picture of the cultural landscape when the pill first gained FDA-approval. Back in the 1960’s, the pill was thought to be a way to control overpopulation, end war and poverty throughout the world and was heralded as the key to a happy marriage. May explores the role that pill use had (and did not have) in the sexual revolution and how the feminist movement allowed for the pill’s popularity. She argues how the birth control pill did not cause an increase in premarital sex and had little impact on world fertility rates or overpopulation.

May offers a personal connection to the history of the pill since her father was a clinical researcher largely responsible for the FDA-approval of birth control pills and her mother was an activist in the birth control movement. This book covers many in-depth areas surrounding the pill. One main theme permeating through the book is how women have been responsible for the success of the pill; from Margaret Sanger and Katherine McCormick (who came up with the idea of a birth control pill) to the hundreds of women who volunteered for the early, risky clinical trials, to the millions of women who use the pill today.

Other topics include the meaning of the pill in women’s lives, access to contraception, how the pill diminished the power gap between men and women, how the birth control pill has empowered women, and legal and religious battles over contraception. May also explored men's changing relationship to the pill and discussed various efforts to create an oral contraceptive for men.

The book examines how women have demanded more from their doctors, the government, the Catholic Church and pharmaceutical companies; in fact, May argues that it is because of the demands of women that lead to safer formulations of the pill with fewer side effects. Finally, the book includes many personal stories and opinions from real women who responded to May’s internet survey. The use of such antidotes help to highlight exactly how women’s lives have changed and the various testimonials reflect the profound way that the pill has become entrenched in both private and public life.

The pill has allowed women to control their fertility and take charge of their lives; America + The Pill does a poignant job celebrating the journey of the birth control pill and commemorates the power of the pill -- this book is a wonderful tribute for the 50th anniversary of the pill.

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