Birth Control and Reproductive Rights: Katharine McCormick

In the history of reproductive rights, everyone knows about Roe v. Wade. But before abortion was considered a right, there was a much different fight in the 20th century, mainly about the fight to legalize birth control and to bring more attention to women’s sex education.  Enter Katharine McCormick. Of all the famous suffragettes, she isn’t given as much attention as some others, which is a shame, because she is the one who funded efforts that created the birth control pill.

Katharine was born to Josephine and Wirt Dexter on August 27, 1875 in Dexter, Michigan. She grew up with rich parents in Chicago and eventually went to MIT and graduated in 1904 with a BS in Biology. I mean, that in itself is an amazing feat, especially for a woman in the early 1900s. Eventually, she married the rich Stanley McCormick, meaning Katharine was now mega-rich. But, she used her money to fund a lot of reproductive reform.

Katharine was always involved in women’s rights. Her mom was a suffragette and she was in the Massachusetts Women’s Alliance. Through this, she met one Margaret Sanger, who got Katharine more involved in the birth control movement, which was illegal in America at the time. Margaret Sanger is only the person who started the first birth control clinics in America which eventually became Planned Parenthood. Also, she is the one who approached Dr. Gregory Pincus about creating the Pill. So, nothing major really.

So now Katharine is committed to reproductive rights. One of the coolest things she did (which is also kind of hilarious) is her trip to Europe. She told people that the purposes of the trip was in fashion, while hiring people to sew diaphragms into her clothes to bring back to the States. Thus, she returned to America with a huge supply of diaphragms for Sanger’s clinic. Yes, this really happened. Katharine was also the one who funded Dr. Pincus to make the Pill. She annually contributed $100,000 at first, and later gave $150-180,000 annually until her death in 1967.

Her will gave $1 million to the Worcester Laboratories where Dr. Pincus worked, and $5 million to Planned Parenthood. Katharine McCormick: the rich girl from a rich family who gave her money for women’s and reproductive rights and issues. In the future, I hope she gets more recognition, because she was an integral part in how women have options to express sexuality safely. And also, she smuggled birth control into the United States in her clothes. Total bad ass!