Born in Austria, Djerassi and his mother fled when he was a child to New York. He won a scholarship to college, and graduated summa cum laude in Chemistry at age 19. He then went on to get his Ph.D., and became a Chemistry professor at Wayne State University. During a leave of absence, he took a job at Syntex, where he worked on synthetic hormones. He and his team developed norethisterone — a progestin analogue that could be taken orally. And that led to the first birth control pill. Dr. Djerassi, who was just 28 years old at the time, is widely known as “The Father of The Pill.”
While he was always quick to point out that he was part of a team, he knew it was his legacy. “Any conversation begins with the Pill,” he said. He invested in his invention, and became rich. He used his money to establish a community in Northern California to support writers, composers, and artists, to write himself, and to invest in art. He was a Chemistry professor at Stanford University for 40 years, where he published more than 1,200 research papers. He agreed with feminist criticism that The Pill made contraception a woman’s problem. “Men won’t take responsibility” for birth control, he said. “They shrugged and said: ‘All women are now on the Pill, I don’t need to bother.’ This has become another women’s burden.” Dr. Djerassi died January 30 at his San Francisco home from liver and bone cancer. He was 91.