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Week 15

Theme Four: Medicine, science, and the family

Week 15

Reproduction and revolution: money, medicine, and the Pill

It sparked the Sexual Revolution. It was the death of the family. It’s a ‘life saver’ and a ‘stealth killer’, the liberator of women, and (heterosexual) men’s excuse for reproductive irresponsibility. The birth control pill has a lot to answer for, at least if the media hype is to be believed. But where did it come from, who developed it, and why? What social, medical, and moral effects can legitimately be attributed to the emergence of reliable, female fertility control in the developed world? Has the Pill changed the world – and was it ever supposed to?


Seminar topic: What is a reproductive technology, and why are they so controversial?

Are adoption and birth control ‘reproductive technologies’? Why or why not? How have they historically and how do they today shape individual and familial identity? Is the nature of femininity/motherhood different for women who adopt their children, or control their fertility with the Pill (or by other means?)? What about the nature of masculinity and fatherhood?


Required Reading:


  • Beth Bailey ‘Prescribing the Pill: Politics, Culture, and the Sexual Revolution in America's Heartland’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Summer, 1997), pp. 827-856.
  • Suzanne White Junod, ‘Perspectives on the Pill: An Essay Review’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 57, Number 3, July 2002, pp. 333-339.


AND ONE item from the list below.


  • Simone M. Caron, ‘Birth Control and the Black Community in the 1960s: Genocide or Power Politics?’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Spring, 1998), pp. 545-569.
  • Ellen Herman, “Families Made by Science: Arnold Gesell and the Technologies of Modern Child Adoption” Isis 92, 2001: 684-715.
  • Nelly Oudshoorn, ‘On Masculinities, Technologies, and Pain: The Testing of Male Contraceptives in the Clinic and the Media’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Spring, 1999), pp. 265-289.



Background and Further Reading:

Useful primary sources and a good bibliography on adoption can be found at the Adoption History Project website:

See the alternative readings above, and:

S. Appleton, 'Adoption in an age of reproductive technology', University of Chicago Legal Forum: the Public and Private Faces of Family Law 12 (2004):

Bernard Asbell, The pill: a biography of the drug that changed the world (New York, New York, Random House, 1995).

Adele Clarke and Theresa Montini ‘The Many Faces of RU486: Tales of Situated Knowledges and Technological Contestations’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 18, No. 1, Theme Issue: Technological Choices (Winter, 1993), pp. 42-78.

Ellen Herman, “The Difference Difference Makes: Justine Wise Polier and Religious Matching in Twentieth-Century Child Adoption,” Religion and American Culture 10 (Winter 2000):57-98.

Ellen Herman, “The Paradoxical Rationalization of Modern Adoption,” Journal of Social History 36 (Winter 2002):339-385.

Suzanne White Junod, Lara Marks, ‘Women's Trials: The Approval of the First Oral Contraceptive Pill in the United States and Great Britain’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol 57, Number 2, April 2002, pp. 117-160.

Amy Kaler, ‘A Threat to the Nation and a Threat to the Men: The Banning of Depo-Provera in Zimbabwe, 1981’, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 347-376.

Jessika van Kammen, ‘Representing Users' Bodies: The Gendered Development of Anti-Fertility Vaccines’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Summer, 1999), pp. 307-337.

Molly Ladd-Taylor, ed., Raising a Baby the Government Way: Mothers' Letters to the Children's Bureau, 1915-1932 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986).

Marcia Meldrum, ‘“Simple Methods" and "Determined Contraceptors": The Statistical Evaluation of Fertility Control, 1957-1968’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 70, Number 2, Summer 1996, pp. 266-295.

Judith Modell and Naomi Dambacher, “Making a 'Real' Family: Matching and Cultural Biologism in American Adoption,” Adoption Quarterly 1, no. 2 (1997):3-33.

Peter Neushul, ‘Marie C. Stopes and the Popularization of Birth Control Technology’, Technology and Culture, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 245-272

James Reed, ‘Public Policy on Human Reproduction and the Historian’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring, 1985), pp. 383-398.

James Reed, The Birth Control Movement in American Society: From Private Vice to Public Virtue (Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1978).

Elizabeth Siegel Watkins, On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives, 1950-1970. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

Richard A. Soloway, ‘The “Perfect Contraceptive”: Eugenics and Birth Control Research in Britain and America in the Interwar Years’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Oct., 1995), pp. 637-664.

Andrea Tone, Devices & Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001).

Andrea Tone, ed. Controlling Reproduction: An American History (Wilmington, Del.: SR Books, 1997) Chapters 5 and 7. (You can skim the ‘Documents’)