1960 was a defining year for the decade. John Fitzgerald Kennedy becomes the 35th President of the United States. Media attention in the States is drawn to the South, where African Americans begin sit-ins to protest lunch-counter segregation. Francis Gary Powers, flying a U-2 spy plane, is shot down over the U.S.S.R., launching a diatribe against the U.S. by Khrushchev. Fidel Castro, the liberator of Cuba, announces that he’s a Communist and the U.S. government reacts by throwing up an embargo against sugar imports. France tests its first atomic bomb in the Sahara and there are massive demonstrations of Africans against the apartheid government of South Africa. Israel captures Adolph Eichmann in Argentina. War breaks out in the Congo and Cyprus wins its independence. And on September 12, 1960, immediately after joining the FDA, Frances Kelsey, with both a Ph.D. and medical degree, is given her first assignment: to approve or deny the United States distribution of Kevadon, generic name: thalidomide: A seemingly inconsequential event, considering the explosive state of the world. But Kelsey’s decision to thwart the efforts of a powerful pharmaceutical company, Richardson-Merrell, saved countless numbers of American children from lifelong disabilities.


Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation