The Women Who Changed the World . . . One Was a Promiscuous Feminist, the Other a Brilliant Scientist Terrified She'd Have a Schizophrenic Son. Together They Gave Birth to a Concept That Would Revolutionise Women's Lives ... the Pill, Which Next Month Reaches Its Fortieth Anniversary in This Country

By Cooper, Glenda | Daily Mail (London), May 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Women Who Changed the World . . . One Was a Promiscuous Feminist, the Other a Brilliant Scientist Terrified She'd Have a Schizophrenic Son. Together They Gave Birth to a Concept That Would Revolutionise Women's Lives ... the Pill, Which Next Month Reaches Its Fortieth Anniversary in This Country


Cooper, Glenda, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: GLENDA COOPER

WHEN Annie Chambers finally went to her doctor to beg him for help, she was on the verge of a breakdown. It was 1957, she was just 25 and already a harassed mother of three.

Each of the pregnancies had been unplanned - she and her husband Maurice had wanted to enjoy life a little before starting a family.

Now they were struggling to bring up three young sons, and Annie's fear of conceiving again had left her a 'nervous wreck'.

'It's got to the stage that whenever my husband comes near me, I freeze,' she sobbed.

'It's threatening our marriage.' The doctor, a middle-aged Roman Catholic, nodded wisely but uncomprehendingly.

'Indulge in a sherry before going to bed,' he suggested. 'That should help you relax.' It did. Unfortunately, for Annie and Maurice, it also resulted in the fourth pregnancy they had been anxious to avoid.

Few can remember just how desperate life could be for some women before the arrival of the contraceptive Pill.

Today we take safe, reliable contraception for granted, but just over 40 years ago, for women like Annie, the burden of yearly pregnancies was an ever-present threat.

Annie is one of more than 100 Daily Mail readers who have contributed to a new book on the Pill by medical historian Dr Lara Marks. She had appealed to women who had participated in the first trials of the oral contraceptive, which began in Britain in 1960.

The response, she says, was overwhelming, recalling women's then enthusiasm for the little pill that promised so much.

Heralded by many as a landmark of the 20th century, it fuelled the sexual revolution and brought about far-reaching social change.

Yet the Pill was castigated by others as the ultimate four-letter word and caused the most bitter dispute the Roman Catholic Church had seen since Galileo claimed that the Earth went round the Sun.

From the time of its first clinical trials in Puerto Rico in 1957 to the present day, nearly 200 million women have taken it, making it one of the most widely used drugs in the world.

But did it really live up to its promise? And why have younger British women, once its most enthusiastic proponents, rejected it so comprehensively?

CERTAINLY, the Pill allowed women, for the first time in history, to control their fertility effectively. On a wider scale, however, it never became the social panacea its inventors hoped.

Successive Popes refused to sanction its use - a teaching increasingly ignored over the years by millions of Catholics - some countries rejected it.

At the same time it remained too expensive in developing countries for women whom the early pioneers believed it would help liberate.

Meanwhile, educated women in developed countries have essentially abandoned it after a series of health scares linking it to breast and cervical cancer, and thrombosis.

From a contraceptive that was used by nearly three-quarters of British women by the end of the Sixties, it is now favoured by just four in ten.

Today, as it approaches its 40th birthday in Britain, the symbol of the young, sexually-free single girl in the Sixties and Seventies has, ironically, become the contraceptive choice of married couples.

IT HAD been known from the early Twenties that a female oral contraceptive pill was a pharmaceutical possibility.

Scientists had established that certain hormones prepared a woman's body for pregnancy by stopping ovulation.

They concluded that if a woman was given extra progesterone and oestrogen, her body could be 'tricked' into thinking it was already pregnant and stop producing eggs.

Achieving the right combination was the key to success but research into contraception was, in most developed countries, regarded as 'immoral' and 'against nature'.

In many American states, conducting research into contraception was forbidden and punishable by five years in prison. …

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The Women Who Changed the World . . . One Was a Promiscuous Feminist, the Other a Brilliant Scientist Terrified She'd Have a Schizophrenic Son. Together They Gave Birth to a Concept That Would Revolutionise Women's Lives ... the Pill, Which Next Month Reaches Its Fortieth Anniversary in This Country
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