The latest image gallery from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) invites viewers to reconsider histories of early hormonal contraceptives.
Hormonal contraceptives, informally known as ‘the Pill’, were first marketed in Britain in 1961. The advent of the oral contraceptive is frequently cited as a significant moment of change in social history, which gave rise to new sexual identities.
Today the Pill is currently prescribed to 3.5 million British women, with one quarter of all 16- to 49-year-old women thought to be taking the Pill. This unique image gallery takes viewers back to the sixties when the pill, and social attitudes surrounding it, were in their infancy. In particular, it depicts the many competitive varieties available, and asks viewers to consider the ‘micro-histories’ of different Pills as commercially traded and branded goods.
The gallery offers an overview of printed marketing material from 1961, when the first pill was first sold in Britain, to 1969, when the Committee on Drug Safety withdrew 19 brands from its recommended list.
Highlights of the gallery include image 7. In this example from 1966 we see the pill ‘Norlestrin-21’ advertised in a mailer sent to physicians. We see a photograph of a young woman ironing, suggesting that the domestic schedule of the sixties housewife might be matched to routine self-administration of oral contraceptives.
In Image 14, from 1969, we see an advert for the brand, ‘C-Quens’, which was aimed at general practitioners. It depicts a mock passport stamped ‘approved by British trials’, with the slogan reading “Mrs Everywoman’s Passport to Freedom”. Thanks to C-Quens, the modern British wife might now expect “freedom to plan her family as she chooses” but also, thankfully, “a very low incidence of depression and loss of libido”.
Images are taken from the Robert J Hetherington archive, which is held at the Wellcome Library, London, and the gallery has been brought together by Jessica Borge, a research student at Birkbeck College, University of London. Click here to view the image gallery in full
- The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to: www.ahrc.ac.uk
1966. Physician’s circular: With reference to 21-day regimens, This advert suggested that the domestic schedule of the sixties housewife might be matched to routine self-administration of oral contraceptives. , No.4 in a series of 7 / Parke Davis, ‘Norlestrin-21’. By kind permission of Pfizer. Courtesy of Julia Larden, and the Wellcome Library, London. Photography by J Borge 2014 CC BY 4.0
1969. Physician’s circulars / Eli Lilly & Company, ‘C-Quens’. Mrs Everywoman’s “Passport to Freedom” Fanfare campaign announcing validation for the American brand ‘C-Quens 21’. The modern British wife might now expect “freedom to plan her family as she chooses” but also “a very low incidence of depression and loss of libido”. With the kind cooperation of Eli Lilly. Courtesy of Julia Larden, and the Wellcome Library, London. Photography by J Borge 2014 CC BY 4.0