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Katharine McCormick: MIT graduate funds science to liberate women’s rights

Katharine Dexter McCormick


The right to life, the right to abortion, the right to have both, or neither. Women are often portrayed as sinners or saints, there is no middle ground, no flexibility or reality in it. If we enjoy sex then we are whores or sluts, loose women that no man can trust their home to, but if we don’t enjoy sex then we are prudes and stuck up. We just can’t seem to win. If we want to have a child, then we are praised but if we do not then we are demonized and sometimes even forced into it. I’m 32 and people are still asking me when I’m going to have children and when they hear my answer they tell me I’m going to change my mind. It’s almost like we have no agency over our own bodies, our own lives.

Comparatively we are very lucky to have the little freedoms our past sisters have won for us. Katharine McCormick was born in 1876 in Dexter, Michigan and grew up in Chicago. She attended MIT where she obtained her MS in Biology in 1904 as only the SECOND woman to graduate. Katharine was an officer of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association where she helped push forward the ratification of the 19th Amendment, she helped found the League of Women Voters and acted as its first vice president. While serving in this office she educated other women in politics and understanding their own agency. Katharine may best be known, though her political achievements are not to be ignored, for her involvement with the development of an oral contraceptive pill for women.

Katharine McCormick came from a wealthy family and married into a wealthy family. She used her means to help support the future of women. She donated around $100,000 annually to fund the research needed to develop the pill and in the mean time she would smuggle illegal diaphragms from Europe into the US for Margaret Sanger’s birth control clinic. Katharine knew science could liberate women from the dark ages of sexual oppression and sexual bias. Her generosity did not end with birth control, as a graduate of MIT she knew there was an inequality on campus. There was a complete lack of housing for female students, making it nearly impossible to properly attend the school. In 1959 she changed this by fully funding the first on campus residence for women, helping to raise the female attendance from 3% to 40% of undergraduates.

Katharine is a shining example of how to use ones wealth and privilege for the betterment of society. She continued giving even after death, in her will she gave $5 million to the Planned Parenthood Federation and $1 million to the Worcester Laboratories for further study of birth control.

Katharine McCormick had the means to help create a future that was beneficial for more than just her and a few close friends, she saw a national problem and global problem and used her wits, politics and means to help bring a better future into fruition. We need to remember her and all she helped fight for as we watch our bodily rights get stripped away, state by state.

Written By: Alicia Whitcome


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