Eugenics & Contraception, part 8

The birth control battle of the first half of the twentieth century was for the right to prevent conception using barrier methods like condoms and diaphragms. In the latter fifty years the battle was for hormonal contraception. Several people played key roles in the invention and development of hormonal birth control. 

“Theoretically, one of the greatest triumphs of mankind would be the elevation of procreation into a voluntary and deliberate act.”

Ludwig Haberlandt wrote that decades before the invention of a hormonal contraception pill. Born in 1885, he was a contemporary of Margaret Sanger. He was born in Austria but carried out his groundbreaking experiments at a commercial laboratory in Budapest, Hungary. There in 1921 he tested his hypothesis that pregnancy hormones induced temporary sterility by transplanting the ovaries (and thus hormones) of a pregnant rabbit into a non pregnant one. 

There was not yet a way to synthesize pregnancy hormones and obviously this surgical experiment was not intended to be used as temporary sterility inhumsns. Still he was a man of vidsion and spoke of a world of planned parenthood. His sexually liberated views on procreation made him a pariah, and he died at 47 from suicide. Thirty years after his discovery a team of three men would synthesize the hormones necessary for a contraceptive pill. 

George Rosenkranz was a five year old living in his native Budapest when Haberlandt made his discovery. As a young man he studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where he received his doctorate. Nazi sympathizers and antisemitic gangs caused Rosenkranz and his Jewish colleagues to leave Europe. His mentor arranged a job for him in Quito, Ecuador but before he could board his ship, Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor and the US entered World War II. 

Rosenkranz ended up in Batista’s Cuba for a few years, working for a government funded lab on treatments for venereal (sexually transmitted) diseases. Eventually he was hired by Syntex to oversee their research lab in Mexico City. They were in a race against other teams to first synthesize cortisone. Mexico did not have its own doctoral level chemistry program at that time, so Rosenkranz recruited talent from near and far. 

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