Thalidomide

The Woman Who Stood Between America and an Epidemic of Birth Defects

You may or may not be old enough to remember the horror of Thalidomide, a drug that caused thousands of birth defects in Britain, Canada, and West Germany in the late 1959s and early ’60s. It didn’t do much harm in the U.S. because the drug was never approved by the FDA. Therein lies a story, much of it the work of Frances Oldham Kelsey. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938, in no small part due to Kelsey’s work.

Kelsey was first introduced to the dangers of mass marketed unsafe pharmaceuticals in 1937, when the FDA enlisted Geiling to solve…