the pill and the sexual revolution -- 3/2/20

Today's selection -- from 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson. 

The Pill and the sexual revolution:

"In 1951, Planned Parenthood pioneer Margaret Sanger arranged for a grant for Dr. Gregory 'Goody' Pincus to study how to inhibit ovulation via hor­mones. Nine years later, on June 23, 1960, the FDA approved the oral con­traceptive pill Enovid. By 1965, five to six million American women -- one out of every four married women under forty-five -- were taking it.

"Still, a number of states banned the use of contraceptives even for mar­ried couples. In 1879, Connecticut legislator P. T. Barnum (of the Barnum and Bailey circus) had sponsored a law that outlawed making or selling birth control. So when the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut opened in November 1961, it was shut down within two weeks. Its directors, Estelle Griswold and C. Lee Buxton, were arrested and charged with distributing contraception, and each fined a hundred dollars.

"Griswold v. Connecticut went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the case was argued on March 29. On June 7 the Court decreed that the Constitution protected the 'right to marital privacy.' Its decision meant that state laws that banned birth control could be overturned, and the U.S. De­partment of Health, Education, and Welfare could now begin distributing the Pill and other birth-control services to low-income, married women as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, not only in the United States but also internationally, through the U.S. Agency for International Development. Nixon continued the approach, and by 1969, 8.5 to 13.0 million women were taking the Pill. By the mid-1980s, that number had grown to 80 million; and in 2000, to 100 million.

"The Court also struck down restrictions on the Pill's distribution to unmar­ried women, but oral contraceptives were still not readily available for them in many states. Whether unmarried women could receive the Pill was left to the prerogative of the doctor writing the prescription, and many people still believed that premarital sex was wrong. College students would sometimes wear fake wedding bands or engagement rings to doctor's appointments. Often, doctors realized the rings were phony but wrote the prescriptions any­way, believing that it might prevent future abortions.

"In the fall, a female reporter for the Pembroke Record, the newspaper of the women's college at Brown University, asked the university's Dr. Roswell Johnson for a prescription. When he provided one, the reporter wrote about it, and the story unleashed a firestorm of criticism against the doctor. Johnson responded that he denied many requests and had dispensed prescriptions -- after 'a great deal of soul searching' -- only to two students who were each engaged and over twenty-one. He also stressed that they both had parental consent. 'I want to feel I'm contributing to a solid relationship and not contributing to unmitigated promiscuity,' he said.

"The New York Times, Newsweek, and Time reported on the brouhaha. A Gallup poll found that 77 percent of American women disapproved of the Pill being prescribed to unmarried college students. It wouldn't be until the 1972 Supreme Court case Eisenstadt v. Baird that unmarried people's right to possess birth control was formally decided.

"But however unmarried women got it, the Pill did indeed lead to a surge in premarital sex, just as moralists had feared. In 1965 approximately 75 per­cent of female college graduates were virgins. By 1969 that number had de­creased to 45 percent. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that 'the proportion of women who delayed sexual intercourse until mar­riage [had] declined from 48 percent among women who married in 1960 to 1964, to 21 percent among women who married in 1975 to 1979.'

"In the mid-1960s, most colleges and universities did not allow women to stay out past curfew, and being caught having sex could lead to suspension or expulsion. In many schools, when a man visited a woman's dorm room, three out of the couple's four feet had to stay on the floor at all times. But by the start of the next decade, many dorms at schools such as Harvard and Radcliffe had gone coed."



Andrew Grant Jackson


1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music


Thomas Dunne Books


Copyright 2015 by Andrew Grant Jackson


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