Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America: A Critical Edition of the "Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum" (Symphony of the Harmon / Edition 1

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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 as Anthony 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 p
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brodie describes the information on abortion and contraception that was publicly available during the last century so clearly and documents it so well that her work should become a basic reference. . . . The final chapter deals with the criminalization, primarily by means of the notorious Comstock laws, of contraception and abortion information and devices during the last quarter of the nineteenth century."—Booklist

"In addition to describing changes in contraceptive methods, the author intriguingly attempts to trace the diffusion of knowledge and attitudes concerning sexuality and gender relationships."—Library Journal

"Brodie argues mid-nineteenth-century women and men, rural and urban, working-class and middle-class, had access to a wealth of information about a variety of contraceptive methods. With scrupulous attention to detail, she analyzes the practices she believes were most widely used. . . . One of Brodie's many achievements is to denaturalize our sense of reproductive control by setting it firmly in historical context. Her insights into nineteenth-century meanings of contraception and abortion, however, are not without significance for current struggles."—Women's Review of Books

"Brodie has broken important new ground and given provocative, convincing depictions of contraceptive techniques and knowledge."—American Historical Review

"Those who imagine that birth-control techniques were the brain child of Margaret Sanger will be staggered by the vast array of methods and contraptions that Brodie has unearthed from medical journals, private papers, and, of special note to other researchers, business records."—Bulletin of the History of Medicine

Library Journal
``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 attitudes, technology, and medical knowledge that led to a 49 percent decrease in the number of children born to white native-born women during the 19th century. She examines an impressive range of original sources, including advertisements, an amazing array of advice books and pamphlets, and a fascinating diary in which Mary Poor, a New England woman, maintained an encoded record of her sexual activity over 23 years of marriage. In addition to describing changes in contraceptive methods, the author intriguingly attempts to trace the diffusion of knowledge and attitudes concerning sexuality and gender relationships. A concluding chapter discusses the ``Comstock laws'' of the 1880s (effective in some areas until 1965), which discouraged and even criminalized birth control. Highly recommended for libraries wishing to supplement John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman's excellent Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America ( LJ 5/1/88).-- Kathy Arsenault, Univ. of South Florida-St. Petersburg Lib.
Drawing from a wide range of private and public sources, examines how American families gradually found access to taboo information and products for controlling the size of their families from the 1830s to the 1890s when a puritan backlash made most of it illegal. Emphasizes the importance of two shadowy networks, medical practitioners known as Thomsonians and water-curists, and iconoclastic freethinkers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801484339
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments and Sources
Introduction 1
1 A Story of Love and Family Limitation: "x" for Sexual Intercourse 9
2 Strategies in Colonial America 38
3 The "New" Reproductive Control 57
4 The Private Debate Goes Public 87
5 The Antebellum Public Audience: Who Were They and How Did They Find Out? 136
6 The Boom in Self-Help Literature after 1850 180
7 The "Most Fashionable" Contraceptive Devices 204
8 Criminalizing Reproductive Control: The End-of-Century Campaigns to Disempower Women 253
Epilogue 289
Notes 295
Selected Bibliography of Literature of Reproductive Control Advice, 1830-1880 357
Index 367
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