Low-Rock House // c.1883

The neighborhood known today as “Pill Hill” in Brookline was originally a part of Boston, annexed by Brookline in 1844. Commuter railroads connecting Brookline to Boston opened in 1848, making the town attractive for working professionals who wished to live in a more open suburban area. By the 1880s, a significant number of doctors had settled in the district, likely due to proximity of nearby hospitals, giving it its current name.

This home was built and owned by Sumner Flagg, who rented the home as a source of additional income. One of the first tenants of the home was Judith Eleanor Motley Low, a descendant of Benjamin Bussey, successful business man, farmer and horticulturist whose will set aside land from his estate for the Bussey Institute and the Arnold Arboretum. As a 60-year old widow, in 1901, she founded the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture at her summer home in Groton Mass, the first such school intended to prepare women as professionals in the field. In 1945 it merged into the Rhode Island School of Design and became the basis of RISD’s present Landscape Architecture Department.

After subsequent owners, the house was owned by Dr. John Rock, best known for the major role he played in the development of the first birth control pill, colloquially called “the pill”. A man ahead of his time, in the 1930s, he founded a clinic to teach the rhythm method, the only birth control conditionally regarded as moral by the Catholic Church at the time. In 1931, Rock was the only Catholic physician to sign a petition to legalize birth control. In the 1940s, he taught at Harvard Medical School—and included birth control methods in his curriculum. In 1955, his medical team announced successful clinical use of progestins to prevent ovulation. “The Pill” gained approval by the FDA for contraceptive use in 1960. This gives a whole new meaning of Pill Hill!

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