The Dittrick Medical History Center will host the 2022 Percy Skuy Annual Lecture with a talk presented by Kelly O’Donnell, titled “The Case Against the Pill?: Science Journalism and the Controversy Over Birth Control Side Effects, 1965-1975.”
O’Donnell’s free, public lecture will be held Thursday, March 31, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Powell Room at the Allen Memorial Library; a livestreaming option also is available.
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960, the new birth control pill was instantly popular with women across the country. By the mid-1960s, however, with millions of prescriptions filled, rumors of side effects ranging from headaches to blood clots grew into serious reporting in the mass media. By the end of the decade, many were calling for the government to investigate and ensure the safety of oral contraceptives.
This talk examines the role of investigative journalism—particularly the career of science writer Barbara Seaman—in broader debates over the safety and suitability of “the Pill” during the 1960s and 1970s.
Kelly O’Donnell is a historian of medicine, gender, and health politics in modern America. She received her PhD from Yale University’s Program in the History of Science and Medicine.
O’Donnell teaches in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and is currently an NEH Long-Term Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). Her first book, The Pill Hearings: Science, Politics, and Birth Control, is under contract with Rutgers University Press.