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Reproductive Physiology and Birth Control: The Writings of Charles and Annie Besant

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"I say that this is a dirty, filthy book, and the test of it is that no human being would allow that book on his table, no decently educated English husband would allow even his wife to have ità." Such was the uncompromising pronouncement of Sir Hardinge Gifford, Her Majesty's Solicitor General, who in 1877 prosecuted Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant for publishing Dr. Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy.

Knowlton's work was the first American medical handbook on contraception. It had become an incredibly popular book among Britons who believed the neo-Malthusian dictum that the only solution to poverty in Britain was a limit on the growth of its population. They saw effective birth control measures as a way to make such a limit practicable. In 1877, its publisher was hauled into court and pleaded guilty to printing obscene material. Bradlaugh and Besant tested the right of official harassment by bringing out an edition of the Fruits of Philosophy that bore an introduction explaining their motives. The pair was arrested and charged with violating the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

Their arrest, trial, conviction, and eventual acquittal constitute a landmark in the history of the world birth control movement. The enormous publicity accorded the principals and their cause brought the subject of family planning into the homes of nearly every Briton who read the newspapers' sensational coverage. What followed thereafter is telling: a dramatic, steady decline in the English birthrate. By their simple act of publishing Knowlton's short book, Bradlaugh and Besant helped establish England's pioneering role in the dissemination, democratization, and implementation of birth control information.

Sripati Chandrasekhar is an internationally respected demographer and social scientist. He is a former minister of health and family planning in India and was vice-chancellor of Annamalai University in South India. He is the author of numerous books and articles on population and family planning.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
In 1877, Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were prosecuted for publishing Dr. Charles Knowlton's , the first American medical handbook on contraception. Their arrest, trial, conviction, and eventual acquittal were pivotal in the history of the world birth control movement. This work contains the writings of Knowlton and Besant on reproductive physiology and birth control and an account of the Bradlaugh-Besant trial. Included also are two of Besant's pamphlets on birth control, and an introductory background essay. Chandrasekhar was minister of health and family planning in India and vice-chancellor of Annamalai University in South India. This work was originally published in 1981 by University of California Press, under the title . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765809049
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/25/2002
  • Edition description: PAPERBK. E
  • Pages: 218
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Malthus and the Rose of Neo-Malthusianism 2
Francis Place and the "Diabolical Hand Bills" 14
The Life and Work of Knowlton and His Fruits of Philosophy 21
The Bradlaugh-Besant Trial, 1877-1878 26
Charles Bradlaugh, 1833-1891 26
Annie Wood Besant, 1847-1933 29
The Trial 36
The Trial and the English Press 41
The Impact of the Trial on the British Birth Rate 45
The Malthusian League (1877-1927) 49
The Writings of Annie Besant 55
The Law of Population 55
Recantation and Theosophy and the Law of Population 59
Appendix: Notes on Individuals and Terms 65
Bibliography 79
The Texts
Fruits of Philosophy: An Essay on the Population Question 87
The Law of Population: Its Consequences, and Its Bearing upon Human Conduct and Morals 149
Theosophy and the Law of Population 203
Index of Names 213
Index of Subjects 216
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