The 1968 Exhibit: "Who Says the Pill is Perfect!" Pageant, September 1968

Let's call this post "The Pill, the Pope, promiscuity, and PAGEANT."

pageant-mag-sept68Pageant was a popular small-format magazine published from 1944 to 1977.* It went somewhat against the grain in publishing, since it carried no advertising.* To judge from this issue, it was a little on the low-brow side, a little on the salacious side. *There is a remarkable number of articles about sex here-- premarital sex on campus (describing the by-now famous Barnard co-ed Linda LeClair as "one of that growing body of 'value rebels' who will lead us into a more hopeful future"); post-marital sex (couples should get an annual sex "check-up"); a photo feature on "Glamazons" in the movies (Barbarella and her cinematic sisters); and an article about teen promiscuity by a Unitarian minister (he thinks it's OK).

The cover image--a pregnant woman holding a protest sign reading "Who says the Pill is perfect!"-- has, oddly, no direct connection to anything inside the issue. *But flaunting a kind of j0key hipness about "the Pill" in 1968 was a way of attracting attention on the newsstand.* The first FDA-approved oral contraceptive had been on the market only since 1960, as historian Elaine Tyler May has written about recently in her wonderful book, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation (Basic Books, 2010). * In 1968, the Pill, as Prof. Tyler May points out, was still considered something only for married women. *Prescribing oral contraceptives for single women was still banned in several states.

But there was another reason that 1968 was a signal year in the history of birth control: the publication ("promulgation") on July 25th of the encyclical letter "Humanae Vitae" by Pope Paul VI. *It was the long awaited official response by the Catholic Church to the recently transformed landscape of birth control, and it proved a massive disappointment for advocates of liberalization. *The Pope--speaking "ex cathedra," that is, infallibly-- condemned all "unnatural" forms of contraception," including new pharmaceutical contraceptives, which went against "the*moral order which established by God."

As for some of the other claims on the cover of this issue--for example, that falsetto-crooner Tiny Tim was "1968's answer to John Wayne" or Ronald Reagan's belief that "young Hitlers" were running our colleges--we will have to wait for another time to investigate those.