Dr. Carl Djerassi was the chemist behind the synthetic hormone used in the oral contraceptive most commonly known as the Pill. Dr. Djerassi died in his home in San Francisco on January 30 at the age of 91.
According to the Washington Post, Carl Djerassi died of complications due to liver and bone cancer. Dr. Djerassi was a research chemist who studied across the disciplines of women’s health, gender equality, and global population in relation to the creation of the birth-control pill. Dr. Djerassi was a professor at Stanford University where he studied the “human side of science” and how scientists are portrayed in fiction and non-fiction.
Carl Djerassi created the birth-control pill alongside another chemist, Dr. George Rosenkranz, and doctoral student Luis Miramontes. Dr. Djerassi worked with Dr. Rosenkranz and Miramontes at Syntex SA in Mexico City in 1951. Dr. Djerassi conducted research on a synthetic version of the female hormone progesterone. The team successfully created an oral contraceptive called norethindrone in October 1951.
Djerassi also had a number of professions, including chemistry professor, an insect-control entrepreneur, rancher, and founder of an artists’ colony. He wrote three autobiographies, science novels, poetry, and plays. In his final autobiography, This Man’s Pill: Reflections on the 50th Birthday of the Pill, Carl claimed that his contributions to science created one of the largest movements in recent history.
“By separating the coital act from contraception, the Pill started one of the most monumental movements in recent times, the gradual divorce of sex from reproduction.”
The New York Times reports that the Austrian-born Carl Djerassi arrived in the United States during World War II. Carl was a 16-year-old Jewish refugee. When he and his mother lost their little remaining money to a New York City cabdriver, Carl wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped him obtain a college scholarship.
With help from Mrs. Roosevelt, Carl first attended Tarkio College in Missouri. He then moved on to Kenyon College in Ohio, where he earned his Bachelors degree in chemistry in 1942 at the age of 18. Three years later, he earned his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Djerassi became a naturalized American citizen and worked for a number of pharmaceutical companies before eventually becoming a professor.
Carl Djerassi was hesitant to call himself the “father of the Pill” as many scientists collaborated on the effort and provided essential research for decades before Dr. Djerassi conducted his studies.
In an interview with Nicholas Wroe for the Guardian in 2000, Dr. Djerassi downplayed his efforts as only one of many working toward the creation of an oral contraceptive.
“Yes, I am proud to be called the father of the pill. But identifying scientists is really only a surrogate for identifying the inventions or discoveries. Maybe it is true that Shakespeare’s plays would never have been written if it wasn’t for Shakespeare. But I’m certain that if we didn’t do our work, then someone else would have come along shortly afterwards and done it.”
Birth control even still creates controversy. Religious communities still debate oral contraceptives today, including recent remarks by Pope Francis as covered by the Inquisitr.
[Photo Source: http://thekenyonthrill.com]