The Pill. The name is simple. Its impact was anything but.
"I think it's really the most revolutionary development of the 20th century," said Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the cofounder of Ms. Magazine. "I don't think that's hyperbole because it changed the lives of half the population."
Its historic status is celebrated at the Smithsonian, which pairs the pill with images from the summer of love, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.
But giving it the pill credit, or blame, for the sexual revolution is missing the larger point, says Time Magazine's Nancy Gibbs in her cover story.
"I think its enormous impact was on social choices and economic choices," Gibbs said. "Once women could more reliably control their fertility they could control a lot of other things as well."
Such as when to start a family and how big it should be. That freedom, along with the women's movement, allowed women to enter the workforce and to advance.
Poll: The Birth Control Pill, 50 Years Later
The Birth Control Revolution
But the pill came out of research intended to help women get pregnant. Condemned by the Catholic Church, at first the pill was prescribed only to married women. A prejudice recalled in "Mad Men," the TV series about the 60s.
"I see from your chart that you're not married and yet you're interested in the contraceptive pill," a doctor on "Mad Men" said.
"The morality of the time was such that we were all supposed to be good girls and that included wives," Cottin Pogrebin said.
Drug companies tried to make the pill seem mundane by using starter kits.
"Brush your teeth, wash your face. It completely removed birth control from sex," said Diane Wendt, with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
It worked. Sales jumped - 400,000 women in 1961 to 6.5 million women four years later- to nearly 12 million women today.
Yet despite relatively easy access to the pill and other contraceptives, nearly half of American pregnancies are unplanned - one in five end in abortion.
Feminists say that's evidence the battle to better educate and liberate women still continues.
But is the old expression true - "You've come a long way, baby?"
"I always say you've come a long way, maybe. Because if we really came a long way baby, we'd have a male pill," Cottin Pogrebin said.
And she doesn't mean Viagra.
Copyright 2010 CBS. All rights reserved.