Research in Progress

The Pill Hearings:

Science, Politics, and Birth Control

Women’s liberation protesters at Nelson’s first round of hearings, January 1970

Women’s liberation protesters at Nelson’s first round of hearings, January 1970

In January 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) convened a relatively obscure subcommittee of the U.S. Senate (the Senate Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Monopoly) to ask his assembled scientific experts: Is the birth control pill safe? Should we be concerned about all these new reports about Pill side effects? Are doctors withholding information about potential harms from their patients when they prescribe this wildly popular new drug? Inspired in large part by journalist Barbara Seaman’s controversial exposé The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill (1969), Nelson leveraged his power within the liberal political establishment to attempt to answer these urgent questions. The hearings did not go quite as planned, attracting the ire of both feminist protesters and the family planning community, but they had long-lasting effects on the practice of medicine and the regulation of pharmaceuticals that are still with us today. My book takes a fresh look at these hearings, the media frenzy that accompanied them, and the diverse cast of characters with stakes in this scientific and political debate.



Hippocratic Vows:

How the Doctor’s Wife Transformed American Medicine

MD’s Wife  magazine, September 1969. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

MD’s Wife magazine, September 1969. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Marrying a doctor became an aspirational goal for many young women in the twentieth century United States. For those who succeeded in securing a physician husband, however, married life was often hard work. From fundraising for hospital construction to answering patients’ phone calls, the doctor’s wife was an essential part of the history of American health care. Indeed, the wives of physicians had a significant impact on the growth, reception, and reform of modern medicine. Following this long-neglected population from the mid-nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth, I argue that “Mrs. MD” was not merely the support behind a great man, but a powerful force in her own right.