“Mother of Lamaze” Elisabeth Bing Has Died

Elisabeth Bing (The New York Times)

Elisabeth Bing (The New York Times)

Elisabeth Bing, credited for bringing Dr. Fernand Lamaze’s childbirth techniques to American women, has died at age 100 in New York.

The Lamaze method emphasized relaxation during childbirth, and posited that a mother’s pain during giving birth stemmed from fear. Having studied natural childbirth since 1942, Bing first encountered Lamaze’s technique in the 1950s. In 1960, she and a colleague founded Lamaze International, then known as the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics.

It’s estimated that 25% of expectant mothers and spouses attend a Lamaze class at some point during pregnancy. For context, almost 4M babies were born in 2010. This would put the number of Lamaze-attending parents-to-be around 1M. (But this wouldn’t be completely accurate because it assumes that every mother only gave birth to one child.)

Bing’s goal was to help empower women to make their own decisions regarding how childbirth would go for them, and she certainly achieved that.

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Dell Williams, Influential Sex Shop Entrepreneur, Has Died

Sex shop founder/entrepreneur Dell Williams (Refinery29)

Sex shop founder/entrepreneur Dell Williams (Refinery29)

Sad news from last week: Dell Williams, founder of the first woman-friendly sex shop Eve’s Garden, died at the age of 92.

Her origin story begins in the early ’70s, when she decided to purchase a Hitachi Magic Wand, “the Rolls-Royce of vibrators” after attending famed sex educator Betty Dodson’s “Body/Sex Workshop.” (Dodson was a huge proponent of the Magic Wand.) When Williams attempted to buy the device at a New York City Macy’s, she was shamed by a younger male sales associate.

She reported her lightbulb moment as follows:

Someone really ought to open up a store where a woman can buy one of these things without some kid asking her what she’s going to do with it.

This experience led Williams to build Eve’s Garden from her kitchen table, pursuing it as a side-hustle while working a 9-to-5 as an advertising executive. She was working on this at an interesting time: Discussions about female sexuality were beginning to bubble up, contrasting with the point that sex shops were run by, and catered pretty exclusively to men.

She showed an aptitude for entrepreneurship, as the thriving mail-order business (founded in 1974) grew into a storefront, and later went online. The site sells condoms, sex toys, and books, including Williams’ biography “Revolution in the Garden.”

Williams quickly became one of the go-to women to comment on sexuality changes amidst the larger society. In 1973, she organized a conference on women’s sexuality that received a lot of attention, and was consulted on sexual matters ranging from how to up the passion during Valentine’s Day to Britney Spears’ own ode to female masturbation “Touch of My Hand.”

But perhaps Williams was destined to go into the sex industry: Legend has it she was named for journalist Floyd Dell, who was an ardent supporter for Margaret Sanger’s work.

Williams started something that (thankfully) continues to thrive to this day: the woman-friendly sex shop, where women can go in and explore without fear of being shamed or side-eyed.

Above all, she knew the power of a sexually healthy and knowledgable woman (and how scared the rest of the world is of her). For her dedication in her biography, she wrote:

It has long been my unassailable belief that orgasmic women can change the world.  By this I mean that a woman who is unfettered sexually is unfettered politically, socially, economically and she is unstoppable.

 

Dr. Carl Djerassi, Father of The Pill, Has Died

Dr. Carl Djerassi (Rutgers News)

Dr. Carl Djerassi (Rutgers News)

Modern contraception pioneer Dr. Carl Djerassi died last Friday in San Francisco. He was 91 years old, and had suffered from complications of liver and bone cancer.

Often called the father of The Pill, Djerassi found an essential component of the now-common family planning product. In 1951, while working as a researcher at Syntex in Mexico City, he and two others successfully synthesized norethindrone, a progestin that later provided the base of the modern birth control pill. Djerassi and his team received a patent for their discovery.

Initially, the scientists thought that norethindrone would help fertility, but they soon realized that it served another purpose. The team knew that progesterone inhibited ovulation during pregnancy. They modified the progestin’s basic structure and added ethisterone, a compound thought to be devoid of medical value. (Warning: science-speak ahead.)

Djerassi’s team found that they could change the structure of progesterone to increase its potency eightfold. This progesterone analogue was strong enough to work when injected, but lost its potency when administered orally…Djerassi’s group made the same chemical modification in ethisterone that they had earlier made in progesterone.

(Interesting side note: At the time, Djerassi wasn’t researching anything to do with conception when he and his team made his famous discovery. He was actually looking for a compound that could be used to treat cancer. Happy accident, as they say.)

After five years of clinical trials, the birth control pill began reached the mass market, and cracked 1960s sexual norms wide open. (And we’re still feeling the effects of it today.)

This wasn’t his only big discovery: Djerassi also patented the first antihistamine, the drug that prevents allergy symptoms.

During his lifetime, Djerassi received 34 honorary doctorates. He was also the recipient of the National Medal of Science for chemistry in 1973, and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1991. The two awards are the U.S.’s highest science and technology honors, respectively.

In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Djerassi also wrote plays (some performed off-Broadway) and science-fiction, founded a company to control insect growth, and started an artists’ colony in his property in California.

Dr. Djerassi’s contributions to family planning were, and continue to be, a boon to women the world over, and his work will continue to hold great value for the coming generations.

Thank you, Dr. Djerassi. Thank you.