Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman

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The nineteenth-century eccentric Ida C. Craddock was by turns a secular freethinker, a religious visionary, a civil-liberties advocate, and a resolute defender of belly-dancing. Arrested and tried repeatedly on obscenity charges, she was deemed a danger to public morality for her candor about sexuality. By the end of her life Craddock, the nemesis of the notorious vice crusader Anthony Comstock, had become a favorite of free-speech defenders and women’s rights activists. She soon became as well the case-history darling of one of America’s earliest and most determined Freudians.

In Heaven’s Bride, prize-winning historian Leigh Eric Schmidt offers a rich biography of this forgotten mystic, who occupied the seemingly incongruous roles of yoga priestess, suppressed sexologist, and suspected madwoman. In Schmidt’s evocative telling, Craddock’s story reveals the beginning of the end of Christian America, a harbinger of spiritual variety and sexual revolution.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Schmidt (Restless Souls), a Harvard University specialist in American religious history, illuminates the darkened life of Ida Craddock by aiming a spotlight at each subtitled role. Craddock (b. 1857) was a clairaudient of a husband who appeared to her only in spirit; a self-taught scholar (Schmidt calls her "a dedicated egghead"); an unmarried sexologist who specialized in studying phallic worship and in reforming marriage; a martyr hounded to suicide in 1902; and a maniac, at least according to her embarrassed mother. In telling Craddock's story, Schmidt ably crisscrosses time lines, beginning with Craddock's defense of belly dancing as foreplay at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and ending with a rundown of her loves. His erudite-lite style turns a bit purple only in the last paragraph ("the paired wings of eros and Divine love"). Mostly, he lets sources speak for themselves--not easy with Craddock herself, given how much of her writing was destroyed by her mother and censorious nemesis Anthony Comstock. When the words are Schmidt's, he writes with sobriety, reaching for double entendres only occasionally. (Dec. 7)
From the Publisher

Ann Taves, Professor of Religious Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara
“Leigh Schmidt offers us a compulsively readable account of the tragic, fantastic, and utterly idiosyncratic life of Ira Craddock, self-taught scholar, mystic, sex reformer, and psychoanalytic subject.  Sympathetic toward Craddock, yet even-handed in his treatment of both her admirers and her vehemently critical detractors, Schmidt opens a window on the fierce ideological cross-currents at the intersection of sexuality, psychology, and religion at the turn of the last century. This is serious scholarship in a form that everyone can enjoy.”

Kathi Kern, author of Mrs. Stanton’s Bible
“With a novelist’s grace, Leigh Schmidt tells the absorbing, astonishing, and long-forgotten story of Ida C. Craddock, religious seeker and sex radical. Through Craddock’s life, Schmidt restores the spiritual pulse to the sexual revolution of the early twentieth-century. Heaven’s Bride is a masterful contribution to the entwined history of religion, sexuality and American reform.”

Richard Fox, Professor of History, University of Southern California, and author of Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession
“No other scholar of American culture ranges as widely and deeply across so many thematic frontiers as Leigh Eric Schmidt.  In this gripping tale of Ida C. Craddock’s edgy frontier crossings he shows his mastery of the borderlands between science and religion, secularity and faith.  Readers will blink in wonder at the worldly inventiveness and mystical vision of this long forgotten American original.”

Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies, Rice University, and author of Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred
“The life and work of Ida C. Craddock show all the signs of a genuine erotic mysticism, as profound as any in the history of religions.  Her attempts to express the full measure of this love—from secularism and religious liberalism, through psychical research, British occultism, and Indian Tantra, to marriage reform, sexology, and women’s rights—were as diverse and as passionate as the censorship campaigns, familial condemnations, criminal prosecutions, and mental pathologizing that finally silenced her.  Leigh Eric Schmidt, with his trademark erudition, balance, and humor, has effectively resurrected Ida for us from all of this cruelty.  She speaks again.  This is historical scholarship at its most liberating and most redeeming.”

Nancy F. Cott, Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University
“The mix of madness and method in Ida Craddock’s extraordinary life makes for a rollicking read, amplified by exactingly researched context. Was she a century ahead of her time? You decide.”

Martin Garbus, First Amendment lawyer and author of The Next Twenty Five Years
“In Heaven’s Bride Leigh Eric Schmidt has done an admirable job of rescuing the remarkable Ida C. Craddock from the ashes of history and places her before us in her full glory: a brilliant autodidact, a sexual researcher, writer of sex manuals, and wife of an angel named Soph. Craddock is a classic American iconoclast in the spirit of Walt Whitman and her fascinating story is far-reaching, touching on abuses of free speech, early feminism, and America’s still-ongoing obsession with sex and purity.”

Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and professor of history at Georgetown University
“Leigh Eric Schmidt has written not just an enthralling biography of a remarkable woman who both defied and honored Victorian sexual conventions. In delicious prose, he lays bare the search for spiritual fulfillment that gripped millions of Americans in the Gilded Age.”

Courtney Bender, Associate Professor of Religion at Columbia University
“Schmidt’s lyrical, compelling, and captivating story of a truly unique American religious experimenter is a rare gift. In Heaven’s Bride, Craddock’s sometimes amusing, often tragic interactions with bellydancers, vice informants, the police, asylums, freethinkers, scholars, mystics (and even a disapproving mother and a range of spirit friends) come to life, and provide a window into the unsettledness of American religious life one century ago. Yet Craddock’s story is much more than an entertaining and tragic narrative. In Schmidt’s story, Craddock’s refusal to live within the social boundaries taking shape around her and the consequences that she suffered expose the enormous and often violent efforts that have been required to solidify the distinctions that modern Americans take to be self evident. For all those readers think they know the difference between science and religion, mysticism and sexuality, amateurs and experts, psychosis and devotion, Craddock’s life – and Schmidt’s analysis – presents perspicuous challenges. This enormously fascinating book inspires and unsettles, prompting ‘curiosities and hopes and suspicions all in equal measure.’ Miss Ida C. Craddock would be pleased.”

Robert Orsi, Professor of Religious Studies and History at Northwestern University
“In this compelling and exciting biography of an extraordinary woman, Leigh Eric Schmidt shows that liberal religion was fundamental to the making of modern American sexuality. Ida C. Craddock battled fiercely and paid dearly for her vision that sexuality and spirituality, pleasure and piety, were intimately connected, both in ancient religions and in contemporary experience. The story Schmidt tells has striking contemporary resonance—the struggle for a more open and inclusive sexual ethic has always been a religious one in American culture. This elegantly written, deeply researched book is a great and timely contribution to current public debates and to the history of American sexuality by one of America’s leading religious historians.”

Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America
Heaven’s Bride is a lucid and moving account of a woman whose vision—of sacred sex and gender equality—exposed the fault lines of American liberalism. It’s also a poignant reminder that our constitutionally guaranteed division of church and state has needed constant and energetic defense.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Schmidt illuminates the darkened life of Ida Craddock by aiming a spotlight at each subtitled role.”

Kirkus Reviews
“The compelling life of a turn-of-the-century free spirit and free-speech activist who was silenced by the evangelical zeal of the vice squad. . . . A colorful contextual study of Craddock and her teeming era.”

Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating.... Craddock is reanimated by Mr. Schmidt's biography.”

“Schmidt deals sentences just as lapidary as his subtitle (The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman) leads us to expect.... [His] research is extensive, the details he includes are delicious.”

Heaven’s Bride paints a vivid portrait of an idealistic reformer whose idiosyncrasies reflected the hopes and anxieties of turn-of-the-century America...fascinating.”

American Historical Review
“Schmidt has mined every possible archive to find evidence of Craddock’s life, and despite the obstructions of censorship, he has unearthed much new information.... Schmidt’s book, beautifully written and imaginatively wrought, lures readers into Craddock’s world where being a heavenly bride to a spirit husband seems almost reasonable.”

Library Journal
In a scholarly work with a misleading, hyped-up title, Schmidt (American religious history, Harvard Univ.; Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality—from Emerson to Oprah) explores the life and intellectual evolution of the activist Ira C. Craddock (1857–1902). Born when American women were denied a voice in society, she fought courageously for universal gender equality—but gained little of it for herself. In thematically arranged chapters, each with its own internal chronology, Schmidt shows Craddock's failed efforts as the notorious Anthony Comstock (of the "Comstock Laws") harried her tenaciously, bringing criminal charges against her (she went to jail once for a brief time), confiscating her pamphlets on sex and love, and pursuing her from city to city. Moreover, her highly conventional mother, convinced that her daughter was insane, kept trying to commit her to an asylum. When Comstock succeeded in another criminal case against her, Craddock committed suicide rather than go to jail again. VERDICT Schmidt's arrangement results in much repetition and backtracking, but his book is a piece of thorough scholarship, best as a research tool for those studying social, cultural, and activist movements of the late 19th century.—James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA
Kirkus Reviews

The compelling life of a turn-of-the-century free spirit and free-speech activist who was silenced by the evangelical zeal of the vice squad.

Schmidt (American Religious History/Harvard Univ.;Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, 2005, etc.) delineates the life of Philadelphia-born self-styled religion scholar and sexologist Ida Craddock (1857–1902), who navigated two important currents in late-19th-century America: the campaign for "moral purity" waged by a righteous Protestant majority, and a spirit of liberalism and spiritualism as advocated by women's-rights activists, intellectuals and free-thinkers. Hounded throughout her life by Anthony Comstock and his zealous New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in her attempts to publish her books on various controversial topics such as phallic worship and marital sex counseling, she was tried by jury and locked up, ultimately taking her own life at age 45 to avoid another humiliating incarceration. Craddock's father died in her infancy, leaving her in the care of her overbearing mother, and she attended the Quaker schools and demonstrated early on her marvelously nimble intelligence and "peculiarities of character." She hoped to attend college, but her entrance to the all-male University of Pennsylvania was denied. She supported herself by teaching a form of shorthand called phonography, then working as secretary at the American Secular Union. Her forays into folklore and comparative mythology led her into the study of sex worship, and she dreamed of establishing a Church of Yoga, in which all brands of religious messengers—monks, New Thought leaders, Theosophists, mediums, occultists, etc.—would be welcome. Her claims to have a "spiritual husband" named Soph especially alarmed her mother, who instigated her institutionalization, prompting Craddock to flee to England. Championed by editors William T. Stead and Moses Harman, she set up shop in New York City as a marital counselor. Her frank-speaking pamphlets, including "Letter to a Prospective Bride" and "The Wedding Night," were swiftly snatched up in Comstock's anti-pornography crusade, spelling Craddock's untimely demise.

A colorful contextual study of Craddock and her teeming era.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465002986
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 12/7/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Leigh Eric Schmidt is Charles Warren Professor of American Religious History at Harvard University, and the author of numerous books, including Restless Souls and Consumer Rites. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 1, 2013

    A sad but compelling story. Craddock was anything but normal--sh

    A sad but compelling story. Craddock was anything but normal--she was brilliant--but the persecution she suffered was enough to drive her mad. Anyone interested in women's roles in society at the turn oft the 20th century will find this book fascinating. Craddock has never had the fame of Lucy Stone or the other fighters for women's freedom from female slavery, but Schmidt has brought her to the fore. Moreover, Schmidt has put another hail into the coffin of Anthony Comstock, one man who should live in infamy. Well-written, well researched.

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