Today, "The Pill" is the most common method of birth control in the United States—and it was born in Massachusetts. The story of its birth ends on June 23, 1960. As for where it begins?

"Basically Adam and Eve—you know, the birth of humans on Earth," said Jonathan Eig, author of "The Birth of the Pill." "Ever since we’ve been making babies we’ve been trying not to make babies."

Massachusetts took center stage in this story much more recently, in the 1950s. That’s when Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger approached a brilliant—if peculiar—biologist and researcher named Gregory Pincus.           

"She’d been trying since the 19-teens to find a scientist who would agree to work on birth control and she’d failed," Eig said. "And she approached Pincus in part because she was desperate, in part because she heard that he was desperate."

Because of his controversial work on things like in-vitro fertilization, and partly because he was Jewish at a time of great anti-Semitism, Pincus had been denied tenure at Harvard University.

"He really couldn’t find work at another university anywhere so he started his own laboratory in Worcester," Eig said.

With little other work coming in, Pincus took up the cause, enlisting the help of fellow Harvard alum Dr. John Rock, one of New England’s leading gynecologists.

"John Rock was a Catholic—a very devout Catholic," Eig explained. "He went to Mass every day, but he believed the church was wrong about birth control." 

The money for the work quietly came from Katherine McCormick—one of the first women to graduate from MIT—a suffragette with deep Massachusetts ties and a tragic past.

"She was incredibly wealthy to begin with," Eig said. "She marries an even wealthier man, and then on their honeymoon the man goes mad and has to be institutionalized for the rest of his life."

When her long-suffering husband died in 1947, McCormick found herself in control of a significant fortune. Wanting to do something impactful with her wealth, she reached out to Sanger—an old friend—who arranged for McCormick to meet Pincus.

With the project fully funded, development began in earnest at Pincus’s Worcester lab and Rock’s Brookline clinic. They experimented with dosages and tested the pill, first on women in Massachusetts, then in Puerto Rico, Haiti, Mexico and Los Angeles. The trials were not always smooth. Dosages were sometimes way too high. Side effects could be severe. And not all the women even knew they were being experimented on.

"They’re crossing all kinds of ethical lines," said Eig. "I will say on their behalf that in the 1950s you didn’t have to have consent from patients to perform experiments. It was not unusual what they were doing. That doesn’t make it right."

Still, as word leaked out that an oral contraceptive was in the works, women made their voices heard.

"When they head that these experiments were going on, women all over the world began writing to Pincus and Rock and Sanger saying 'I need this now,'” Eig said.

The importance of that demand from women, Eig says, cannot be overstated.

"It helped push drug companies to take a chance on this," he said. "It helped push the [Food and Drug Administration] to take a chance on this. And it showed the world and showed the men who were making all these decisions that this was something that women desperately wanted."

In 1957, the FDA approved the pill as a menstrual cycle regulator—an iterative step. And on June 23, 1960 the FDA formally approved the pill as an oral contraceptive.

"Overnight, you start to see markable changes," Eig said. "You see women staying in school longer, waiting longer to get married, waiting longer to have children. Women enrolling in law school and medical school in greater numbers, family size starting to shrink. All of this happens almost instantaneously with the arrival of the pill."

Sanger, McCormick, Pincus and Rock all lived to see the pill come to market. McCormick filled a prescription at the age of 90—just to hold the fruit of her efforts in her hand. Rock spent years lobbying the Vatican to allow for oral contraception, nearly succeeding. 

"These four renegades, really, these four rebels pulled off something nearly miraculous," Eig said.