Margaret Sanger was a crucial character in it. She was a woman who worked as a nurse on the lower east side of New York City. Her own mother had given birth to eleven children, suffered seven miscarriages, and Margaret Sanger came to believe that women needed the right to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

She published a pamphlet in 1914 called Family Limitation and opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in the same year in Brooklyn. It was illegal to advocate the use of contraception back then, and she was arrested. And her arrest drew attention, and it enabled her to get the laws changed.

By the 1950s, Margaret Sanger was trying to get scientists to develop a pill that might stop ovulation. She got some money from a woman named Katharine McCormick to fund a research project, and she found a scientist named Gregory Pincus who was interested in the effect of hormones on ovulation; and a gynecologist in Boston named John Rock, who agreed to do the clinical trials.

The hormone progesterone was synthesized from a wild yam. It was tested on rabbits, run through clinical trials, approved for use as a method of birth control. It was one of the first times a drug had been approved by the FDA for anything other than to cure an illness or relieve pain. The official name was Enovid-10, but it was known simply as "the pill."

Less than two years after it came on the market in 1962, 1.2 million women were using it every day. By 1968, the number had jumped to 12 million. Today it's estimated that of women born after 1945 in America, 80 percent have at one time or another taken the pill. It did not end overpopulation, as some people thought it would. It did not end unwanted pregnancies. About 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. today are unplanned.

Margaret Sanger was 81 years old when the FDA approved the birth control pill in 1960. Her son and her granddaughter read about it in the paper. They went to Sanger's house. She was eating breakfast in bed. When they told her what had happened, she said, "It's certainly about time." 

-- The Writer’s Almanac