Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth Century America

Front Cover
Cornell University Press, 1994 - Social Science - 373 pages
In pocket-sized, coded diaries, an upper-middle-class American woman named Mary Poor recorded with small "x's" the occasions of sexual intercourse with her husband Henry over a twenty-eight-year period. Janet Farrell Brodie introduces this engaging pair early in a book that is certain to be the definitive study of family limitation in nineteenth-century America. She makes adroit use of Mary's diaries and letters to lift a curtain on the intimate life of a Victorian couple attempting to control the size of their family. Were the Poors typical? Who used reproductive control in the years between 1830 and 1880? What methods did they use and how did they learn about them? By examining a wide array of sources, Brodie has determined hew Americans were able gradually to get birth control information and products that allowed them to choose among newer, safer, and more effective contraceptive and abortion methods. Brodie's findings in druggists' catalogs, patent records, advertisements, "vice society" documents, business manuscripts, and gynecological advice literature explain how information spread and often taboo matters were made commercial. She retraces the links among obscure individuals, from itinerant lecturers, to book publishers, to contraceptive goods manufacturers and explains the important contributions of two nascent networks - medical practitioners known as Thomsonians and water-curists, and iconoclastic freethinkers. Brodie takes her narrative to the backlash at the end of the century, when American ambivalence toward abortion and contraception led to federal and state legislative restrictions, the rise of special "purity legions", the influence of powerful reformers such asAnthony Comstock, and the vehement opposition of medical professionals. "Reproductive control became illegal not only because of the fanaticism of a few zealots", writes Brodie, "but because of its troubling implications for a broad spectrum of women and men, many of whom wanted and practiced reproductive control in the privacy of their bedrooms but failed to support it publicly when it was under attack". In this balanced and timely book Brodie shows a keen sensitivity to the complex factors behind today's politically, emotionally, and intellectually charged battles over reproductive rights.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - wealhtheowwylfing - LibraryThing

This is a comprehensive, detailed analysis of family planning in nineteenth-century America. Sadly, I found it just too detailed for me--I managed to read less than 1/3rd over a *month*. The book is ... Read full review

Contraception and abortion in nineteenth-century America

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

"Sexual intercourse began," wrote Philip Larkin, "in nineteen sixty-three.'' Larkin's hyperbole is here thoroughly confounded. Brodie (history, Claremont Graduate Sch.) examines the changes in ... Read full review


x for Sexual
Strategies in Colonial America
The New Reproductive Control

9 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1994)

Janet Farrell Brodie is Department Chair of History at ClareJanet Farrell Brodie is Department Chair of History at Claremont Graduate University and author of "Contraception and Abmont Graduate University and author of "Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America "(1994). Marc Redfield ortion in Nineteenth-Century America "(1994). Marc Redfield is Department Chair and Professor of English at Claremont Gris Department Chair and Professor of English at Claremont Graduate University. He is the author of "The Politics of Aestaduate University. He is the author of "The Politics of Aesthetics: Nationalism, Gender, Romanticism "(2002) and "Phantohetics: Nationalism, Gender, Romanticism "(2002) and "Phantom Formations: Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman "(199m Formations: Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman "(1996). 6).

Bibliographic information