This is part of the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival. Purchase a Festival Concurrent Sessions Pass to attend this event.
This event is supported by the Humanities Scholars Program, Carngie Mellon University.
This talk traces the arc of the history of the birth control pill, from life-changing and revolutionary in the 1960s to life-enhancing and commonplace today. In its first decade, the pill extended the reach of pharmacy beyond the treatment or prevention of disease and brought about a contraceptive revolution by changing the ways people thought about, discussed, and used birth control. By the 1990s, the pill had become part of the contraceptive establishment in America, prescribed and used more often than any other method, and manufacturers shifted their marketing strategies away from family planning to emphasize the secondary effects of relieving discomforts resulting from the menstrual cycle, such as acne, irritability, and monthly bleeding. The transition in the pill’s status – from a radically innovative drug that upended therapeutic and social conventions to a reliable old workhorse on pharmacy shelves – reveals sweeping changes in the trajectories of women, birth control, and pharmaceutical use over the last six decades.
Elizabeth Watkins, PhD, is Dean of the Graduate Division, Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Affairs, and Professor of History of Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. She earned her BA in biology and her PhD in history of science, both at Harvard University. She is the author of On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives and The Estrogen Elixir: A History of Hormone Replacement Therapy in America and co-editor of Medicating Modern America: A History of Prescription Drugs; Prescribed: Writing, Filling, Using, and Abusing the Prescription in Modern America; and Therapeutic Revolutions: Pharmaceuticals and Social Change in the Twentieth Century. She has also published articles on the history of birth control, the history of testosterone and male menopause, and the history of stress. Her work has been funded by: the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Education, and the National Science Foundation. She lived in Squirrel Hill for 12 years, from 1992 to 2004.