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Carl Djerassi, 'father of the pill,' dies at 91.

Carl Djerassi, an eminent chemist who 63 years ago synthesized a hormone that changed the world by creating the key ingredient for the oral contraceptive known as "the pill,'' died at his home in San Francisco on Friday. He was 91. He died of complications of liver and bone cancer, according to his son, Dale.

He arrived in America as World War II engulfed Europe, a 16-year-old Austrian Jewish refugee who, with his mother, lost their last $20 to a swindling New York cabdriver. He wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, asking for assistance, and obtained a college scholarship. It was a little help that made a big difference.

Djerassi wrote books, plays and 1,200 scientific articles; taught at universities for five decades; created an artists' colony in California; and obtained a patent on the first antihistamine. His work on the science of birth control helped engender enormous controversies and social changes, altering sexual and reproductive practices, family economics and the working lives of millions of women around the world.

Djerassi was often called the father of the pill. But it was something of an exaggeration. The synthesis by Djerassi and his colleagues, Dr. George Rosenkranz and Luis E. Miramontes, was economical and effective for oral use. All three names went on the patent. In the 1960s, the combined oral contraceptive pill, based on pioneering work by M.C. Chang, Gregory G. Pincus of the Worcester Foundation of Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, John Rock and others, was developed and marketed by drug companies.

"Yes, I am proud to be called the father of the pill,'' Djerassi told Nicholas Wroe of The Guardian newspaper in 2000. "But identifying scientists is really only a surrogate for identifying the inventions or discoveries. Maybe it is true that Shakespeare's plays would never have been written if it wasn't for Shakespeare. But I'm certain that if we didn't do our work, then someone else would have come along shortly afterwards and done it.''

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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