Monday, May 17, 2010

Celebrating the Pill: two offerings from across the spectrum of interest.

With all the hoopla commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pill, I’ve seen and read a lot of compelling commentaries. But for my money, the two best offerings come distant poles of competence and interest. One comes from a distinguished senior scientist in family planning residing in California, and the other is from a high school sophomore (!) in greater Cleveland.

The most compelling and well-reasoned celebration of the Pill that I’ve read so far comes from Malcolm Potts, the Bixby Professor of Population and Family Planning at the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Potts is a Cambridge educated obstetrician who has devoted his career to women’s health and reproduction science, and for ten years he served as Medical Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. On Mother’s day he published an op-ed piece in the LA Times, and I commend it heartily to you: The pill — a modern philosopher's stone.

Another celebration of the Pill comes to us from Shaker High School sophomore Luken Zhang. For her
National History Day project, Ms. Zhang decided to focus on the Pill, its social and culture origins and impact. To present her perspective she fashioned a super website entitled The Pill: Birth of a New Woman. The site is loaded with pictures, video clips, and archival sources, making the story of the Pill really come alive.

Ms. Zhang stopped by the Dittrick to capture some i
mages in our gallery featuring the Percy Skuy Collection on the History of Contraception. She also interviewed me on the topic, after her website had made it to the regional finals of History Day. In our conversation, I asked her what she had learned in the process of studying the Pill. She said that she never appreciated how much one thing, one innovation, could influence our lives so profoundly. Seems like a pretty good lesson to have learned while still yet a high school sophomore! Ms. Zhang is off to the National History Day national finals in Washington, DC in June, and we’ll be rooting for her and wishing her much well-deserved success!

Jim Edmonson

p.s. -- by the way, National History Day originated at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, as the brainchild of history professor David van Tassel. Read about it in a
remembrance of van Tassel by Cathy Gorn, director of National History Day.

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