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

How the United States escaped a national tragedy in the 1960s



Frances Oldham Kelsey, a pharmacologist with the Food & Drug Administration, helped prevent an epidemic of birth defects in the United States. (Everett Collection Historical / Alamy )

MAY 8, 2017


In 1960, America had a stroke of luck. That was when the application to begin mass-marketing the drug thalidomide in the United States landed on the desk of Frances Oldham Kelsey, a reviewer at the Food and Drug Administration. Today we know that the drug causes severe, devastating birth defects when taken by pregnant women for nausea. But the time, thalidomide’s darker effects were just becoming know

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