In 1953 the pharmaceutical company that had been funding Pincus and Chang’s contraception research pulled their money out of the thus unprofitable venture. The oral birth control pill looked as if it might never get off the ground. Margaret Sanger made one of the most important introductions of hormonal contraception history when she organized a meeting between Gregory Pincus and Katharine McCormick.
Katharine (Dexter) McCormick was born rich and married richer. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1904. The university was coeducational but severely limited housing for female students meant the gender gap was 97-3. While there she successfully challenged a student dress code rule requiring female students to wear feathered hats, by arguing they were a fire hazard in the lab.
Months after graduation Katharine married Stanley McCormick. Sadly he had schizophrenia, then diagnosed as dementia praecox. In 1906 almost exactly two years after they were married he was hospitalized for a year. By 1908 he was committed to full time residential care, where he would stay until his death at age 72 in 1947. Because of his wealth and Katharine’s love we can assume he received the best care available, limited as it was.
Katharine never gave up on a cure for schizophrenia and spent the better part of her life funding research into hormonal treatments for the condition. She was also a feminist, suffragist, and eugenicist. She’d been a friend and supporter of Margaret Sanger from the early days, and was one of those who smuggled diaphragms into the US. In 1927 she hosted a conference Sanger organized at her home in Geneva. Called the World Population Conference it sought to address overpopulation. A mix of genuine concern for poor mothers and eugenics marked the occasion.
McCormick agreed to bankroll the birth control pill, and gave the scientists a fifty fold increase in funding. Over two decades she spent $2Million ($23Million today) of her personal fortune on contraception research, and left another $1Million in her will. With their funding secured, scientists Pincus and Chang created a solution of norethisterone and steroids which caused a temporary, reversible sterility.
Next up: moving from rabbits to human trials