A Brief History of Birth Control

From early contraception to the birth of the Pill

  • Everett Collection

    Margaret Sanger, 1916, in first birth-control clinic in the United States.

    1550 B.C.
    An Egyptian manuscript called the Ebers Papyrus directs women on how to mix dates, acacia and honey into a paste, smear it over wool and use it as a pessary to prevent conception

    Casanova's memoirs detail his experiments in birth control, from sheep-bladder condoms to the use of half a lemon as a makeshift cervical cap

    Charles Goodyear invents the technology to vulcanize rubber and puts it to use manufacturing rubber condoms, intrauterine devices, douching syringes and "womb veils"

    Congress passes an antiobscenity law that deems birth control info obscene and outlaws its dissemination. At the time, the U.S. is the only Western nation to criminalize contraception

    A large cervical cap is developed--an early version of the diaphragm

    Margaret Sanger opens America's first family-planning clinic, in Brooklyn. It is shut down within 10 days

    Sanger founds the American Birth Control League, which later becomes the Planned Parenthood Federation of America

    Anglican bishops approve limited use of birth control; Pope Pius XI affirms church teaching against contraception

    A judge lifts the federal obscenity ban on birth control, but contraception remains illegal in most states

    Prompted by Sanger, Gregory Pincus begins research on the use of hormones in contraception. In Mexico City, chemist Carl Djerassi creates a progesterone pill

    John Rock, below, in collaboration with Pincus, bottom, conducts the first human Pill trial on 50 women in Massachusetts

    In May, the FDA announces its approval of Enovid as a birth control pill (almost half a million American women are already taking it for "therapeutic purposes")

    In Griswold v. Connecticut , the Supreme Court strikes down state laws prohibiting contraception for married couples; 6.5 million American women are on the Pill

    Concerns about the Pill's safety and side effects prompt Senate hearings

    Lower-dose Pills dominate the market; 10.5 million American women are taking the Pill

    A new study of 46,000 women conducted over 40 years found that women on the Pill live longer and are less likely to die prematurely of all causes, including cancer and heart disease. Some 100 million women around the world use the Pill