Roswell Johnson, M.D., Staff

photo of birth control


In this interview, Roswell Johnson, MD, discusses his time at Brown University as the director of health services in the 1960s and the controversy surrounding his willingness to prescribe birth control to Pembroke students in 1965. He explains how his first request for birth control came from Brown’s chaplain on behalf of an engaged couple who were students and the consideration that went into his decision to prescribe “the Pill.” Johnson details how the issue appeared in the Brown Daily Herald and resulted in his appearance on The Today Show. Additionally, he answers questions concerning the perception of gender roles and birth control among students and faculty and briefly summarizes some of the consultations he had with students and families.

See also: Black Alumnae at their 50th Reunion, class of 1968, 50th Reunion, class of 1968, The Year of Thinking Dangerously, That ’65 Business, In 1965, Brown Physician Sparked Furor over the Pill, and Birth Control–It’s Complicated


Part 1

Part 2


Recorded on November 1, 1989
Interviewed by Tim Hannon

Suggested Chicago style citation: Johnson, Roswell. Interview. By Tim Hannon. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. November 1, 1989.


Dr. Roswell Johnson graduated from Ottumwa (Iowa) High School in 1930 and completed undergraduate work and medical school at the University of Iowa. He obtained his B.A. in 1935 and his M.D. in 1938. He began working at Brown University in 1963 as the director of health services and worked closely with students at Brown and Pembroke College. He is most well known for prescribing birth control pills to an engaged couple who attended Brown in 1965 and later to other students. Johnson had three children, seven grandchildren, and a greatgrandchild. He died on July 22, 2000.