Beyond being “the father of the birth control pill” – the legacy of Carl Djerassi

carldjerassi photoLast week, the “father of the birth control pill”, Carl Djerassi, died at his home in San Francisco.  He was 91 years old.

Djerassi was a highly accomplished, multi-faceted person.  He was a chemist — best known for his contribution to the development of birth control pills — but also a novelist and a playwright.  Excerpt from the New York Times:

…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.

dialog Djerassi website

Image “Dialog”, 2004. by Roland Mayer. photo by Todd Holloway via the Djerassi Resident Artist Program website

With all of Dr. Djerassi’s accomplishments, what struck me about his life was the reason for starting the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, whose mission is “to support and enhance the creativity of artists by providing uninterrupted time for work, reflection, and collegial interaction in a setting of great natural beauty, and to preserve the land on which the Program is situated”.  From the Djerassi Resident Artist Program website:

The origins of the Djerassi Program lie in a personal tragedy for the Djerassi family. In 1978 Pamela Djerassi, herself a poet and painter, took her own life.

Soon after, while visiting Florence, Italy, with Diane Middlebrook (later his wife) and trying to come to terms with his daughter’s death, Djerassi and Middlebrook considered the patronage that the Medici family had given to artists of their time and how he might, in some small way, be able to extend his support to contemporary women artists.

Djerassi stated that he wanted to help living artist, rather than collecting works of dead ones.

From a Chemical Heritage Foundation Blog Post:

In a 1985 interview with CHF’s Center for Oral History, Carl Djerassi said, “I feel like I’d like to lead one more life. I’d like to leave a cultural imprint on society rather than just a technological benefit.”

With all the awards he received during his lifetime, his contributions to changing the lives of millions of women around the world, and through supporting artists through the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, it seems he has definitely left an imprint on society.

Please visit the Djerassi Resident Artist Program for more information and visit the artists page to see current and past Artists-in-Residence.  The deadline to apply for a 2016 residency is March 15, 2015.

Did you know about Dr. Djerassi and the Resident Artist Program aspect of his life?