Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

World War II to the Present:


Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus: Father of "The Pill"

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus and Dr. M.C. Chiang, his collaborator, developed the first practical oral contraceptive birth-control pill after being persuaded to do so by Margaret Sanger, a leader in the American birth-control movement, and Katherine Dexter McCormick, an heir to the International Harvester fortune. He received a grant from the Planned Parenthood Federation in 1951. Pincus and Chiang began to look for a progestin or a synthetic progestin that could be used as a birth control agent.

After much experimentation with more than 200 substances, the two derived the steroid compunds from the roots of the wild Mexican yam. The steroids were found to be successful in inhibiting ovulation in laboratory animals and appeared to be harmless.

Pincus started conducting field tests for the steroids in pill form with hundreds of women in Brookline, Massachusetts; Puerto Rico; and Haiti in 1956. They proved to be effective. The only side-effects were brief feelings of nausea. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the marketing of steroids for limited use in 1957. Three years later the FDA licensed Enovid, a birth-control pill produced by G.D. Searle Company.

Soon after the success of the birth-control pill, Pincus and Chiang started work on a new pill which would prevent implantation after fertilization. The two were still working on this new pill when Pincus died on August 22, 1967.

Pincus was the son of Joseph William and Elizabeth Florence (nee Lipman) Pincus. He was born on April 9, 1903, in Woodbine, New Jersey. His father was a teacher, the editor of the Jewish Farmer and an agricultural consultant. Pincus' father was also a leader in a community of Russian Jews who hoped to turn refugees from the czar's pogroms into American farmers in the late 19th century.

Pincus went to Morris High School in the Bronx, New York, after his family moved there. He received his B.S. degree in biology from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, in 1924. While in his first year of graduate school at Harvard University, he married Elizabeth Notkin, a social worker he had met when she was a boarder in his family's home. They had two children. Pincus received his doctorate of science in 1927.

Pincus was recognized many times for his work. He received the Lasker Award from Planned Parenthood, the Oliver Bird Award (London) in 1960, and the Modern Medicine Award in 1964. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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