The Thrill Remembers Carl Djerassi

Djerassi in the Reveille

Djerassi in the Reveille.


After the death of “the father of the pill,” Carl Djerassi ’43 we decided to look in the Greenslade Special Collections and Archives to properly honor the man who gave us oral contraceptives and antihistamines. Pictured above is Djerassi’s picture in the ’43 Reveille. Listed among his activities is his membership in the Pre-Med club and the Speech Club. Read more about Djerassi after the break!


This next picture is a receipt for Djerassi’s P.O. Box rental. During his years at Kenyon you had to take care of getting a P.O. Box on your own. So if you have Box 229, maybe you should switch your major to Chemistry, because that P.O. Box must have a lucky charm in it.


This picture is of a letter written by former Kenyon President Gordon Chalmers and dated 1944. It states that Chalmers will support Djerassi’s application for U.S. Citizenship.

Dear Carl:

I shall be glad to bear witness to your sojourn here and urge the United States to make you a member. I judge that you want me to wait until the immigration service writes to me, and I will let you know when they do.

I hope things continue to go well with you.

With kind regards and good wishes, I am

Yours sincerely,

Gordon K. Chalmers

Lastly we would like to present a piece from the October 22, 1999 Collegian

Scientist, Author Carl Djerassi ’43 to Lecture on ‘Science’ of Sci-Fiction

By Greg Nock

On Wednesday, October 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Biology Auditorium, Professor Carl Djerri (sic.) will give a lecture entitled “Science Fiction is not Just FIction: is it Autobiography?”

Widely known as the “father of the birth control pill,” Djerassi is a 1943 Kenyon graduate.

According to Factuly Lectureships director Susan Spaid, “He is more than just the inventor of the oral contraceptive. He is an accomplished writer of prose and poetry, and is a very interesting man.”

Djerassi has published a collection os short stories including The Futurist and Other Stories in 1988, a novel The Cantor’s Dilemma in 1989, a scientific autobiography Steroids Made it Possible in 1990, a poetry collection The Clock Runs Backwards in 1991. In addition to other works, he also published his memoirs The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas’ Horse in 1992.

Djerassi established an artists colony, located near Woodside, California, that houses approximately seventy people a year, offering studio space for work in visual arts, choreography, music, and literature.

Obtaining his Ph.D from the University of Wisconsin in 1945, Djerassi has worked for numerous scientific firms, including Syntex and Zoecon. Until 1983, he served as chief executive officer at Zoecon, a company concerned with new approaches to insect control. He served as chairman of the board until 1988.

After holding a professorship at Wayne State university in 1952, Djerassi accepted his current office as professor of chemistry at Stanford University in 1959. He also teaches a course in “Feminist Perspectives on Birth Control” in Stanford’s Feminist Studies Program, which is directed by his wife Diane Middlebrook, an English professor.

Djerassi is responsible for seven books and over a thousand articles, dealing with the chemistry of natural products, artificial intelligence, and the application of physical measurements. His medical work includes the initial developments of oral contraceptives, topical corticosteroids, and antihistamines.

In addition to numerous scientific achievements and honors, Djerassi was the winner of the National Medal of Science in 1973, as well as an inductee into the national Inventors Hall of Fame in 1978. President George Bush awarded Djerassi the National Medal of Technology in 1991 for his work on insect control, and the American Chemical Society presented him with the Priestly Medal. Djerassi is also a member of many scientific academies worldwide.

Outside of his involvement in the natural sciences, Djerassi has a deep interest in the arts and is known for a large colelction containing the work of Paul Klees and pre-Columbian Art. He is concerned with equality of the sexes, and opportunities for women.

Djerassi, we’re sorry to see you go, you were clearly a perfect representation of the liberal arts, with your varied interests and diverse publications. You’ve made an impact of the lives at everyone at Kenyon through your legacy, and inventions. We’ll think of you, especially in 2050. Rest in peace.

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