Carl Djerassi who died last week at the ripe age of 91 was only the father of the contraceptive pill. Well, I did not know and nobody I spoke to had heard of him. He did not invent the pill all by himself but he isolated the key ingredient which led to it being developed. There were many scientists working in the field but it was Djerassi “who first synthesized a progestin called norethindrone, which became the key ingredient of the pill.” according to the New York Times.
Well, that itself is such a big deal. It changed the world socially, politically and philosophically in so many unthinkable ways. As Dr Djerassi himself said the “Pill” would have been invented by somebody eventually but it was he who got there first, along with his coworker and student assistant.
What got me interested in the man was his amazing life and the fact that he did not stop with inventing the pill. He also patented the first commercial antihistamine, worked on insect control, and collected along the way on top of his doctorate, 36 honorary degrees. He was an art collector, a farmer, a writer who produced plays and novels and he also managed a 1200 acre ranch.
His early life was even more amazing. It was a story of family loyalties and of the American dream coming true. Carl Djerassi was born in Vienna, the child of two physicians. His parents were divorced but when Nazi Germany invaded Austria, Carl Djerassi’s father, the elder Dr Djerassi returned to Vienna and remarried his mother as a way of getting her out of Germany. The 16 year old Carl and his mother emigrated to America. There is a tale told about how they lost their last $20 to a ruthless taxi driver. Carl wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt the wife of the President and managed to get a scholarship though her intersession. That was the begninning of young Carl’s career. He was on his way to achieve fame and fortune.
What amazing life that was and the incredible thing is so few people had heard of him. He was not a “celebrity”. He was the real thing. We only seem to be making celebrities of people who have no substance.
I have been by the way under the weather for so long. This story of Carl Djerassi inspired me to start to writing again.
See you soon folks!