19thC birth control:


after 1830s, books & pamphlets

"Now it is her privilege and duty to preserve her health and to pass through confinement only at such intervals as is advantageous to her health, circumstances, and family."


public lectures - Philly freethought advocate Russel Canfield lectured 1830s on "sexual physiology".

1850s NY lecturer John Wieting - six life-size French mannequins.

1840s Frederick Hollick - rhythm method.


"prevention of conception," "limitation of offspring," "preventives," "regulating reproduction," "limitation of the family," "regulators," "checks," "controlling the female system".


á      "marital continence".    

á      coitus interruptus ("minded my pullbacks") "The method of retraction," "incomplete coition." 

1830 pamphlet Moral Physiology utopian socialist Robert Dale Owen - Malthus' economic theory.  Withdrawal "in all cases effectual" and only a "trifling restraint" to sexual pleasure - but warned that only "partial withdrawal is by no means an infallible preventive."

á      rhythm method ("the agenetic period," "periodical continence," "the physiological rule of abstinence," and the "sterile period.")

1840s European research that eggs matured & were discharged periodically - "ovular theory of menstruation".

11 of 45 women Mosher questionnaire using rhythm method.

á      douches -water, soap, vinegar, baking soda, herbs.

á      1832 The Fruits of Philosophy physician Charles Knowlton;

 "female syringes" "irrigators" "injections" "carbolic purifying powders" "sanative washes." 

 1871 NY company 53 different syringes;

1830s common medical theory that absorbent vessels in vaginal lining carried sperm to uterus.

1856 pamphlet Science of Reproduction and Reproductive Control - douching with tannin, iodine, strychnine, prussic acid, or powdered opium dissolved in water to destroy "animalcules", to kill sperm.

commercial preparations - "prevention powders" "defertilizing solution" "infecundating powders" "anti-conception compounds."

1884 Kansas City Medical Record, "So common has the art become that we are safe in saying a respectable minority of the society ladies, while providing for their wedding, also provide themselves with a perfectly adjusted syringe, which is at once kept within reach."

á      physical devices (condoms, diaphragms, sponges).

Condom around since at least 1600s - animal skins, animal intestines, oiled silk, & later rubber.

1870s one dollar a dozen.

"baudruche", "French rubber goods,". "French male safes" "The French secret" "cundrums" "caps" "skins" "apex envelopes" "gentlemen's protectors".

8 out of 45 women in Mosher survey condoms.

   1840s vaginal sponge increasingly accessible - "Mediterranean toilet sponges".

cervical caps or diaphragm ("womb veils," "female preventatives,' "female protectors," "Victoria's protectors." the "French pessary" or "FP").

á      Abortion always around - after 1830s, increase; "menstrual regulation," "ladies' relief,", "curing irregularities" and "ridding oneself of an obstruction."

   Advertisements for popular remedies.


- Result - women progressively bore fewer & fewer children over 1800s.

 Birth rate for white women fell almost by half, average number born to a white woman surviving to menopause dropped from 7.04 children in 1800 to 3.56 in 1900.

By 1900 only France had lower birth rate in Western world. 

Most dramatic decline in birth rates among US-born white married couples.


coitus reservatus -

John Humphrey Noyes, "male continence."

"After our last disappointment, I pledged my word to my wife that I would never again expose her to such fruitless suffering."

19th C utopian Oneida community, NY 1848-mid 1870s.

"absolute & indefensible right to determine when she will & will not be exposed to pregnancy."  

Ideal of fewer but better children.

Boston Gynecological Society 1871 condemned "the pathological results of conjugal fraud as practiced in so disgusting a manner at the so-called Oneida Community."


1870s women's rights movement -"voluntary motherhood".


Later 1800s medical campaign against birth control & abortion. coitus interruptus "general debility of brain and brawn" in men, hysteria and degeneration of the womb in women.

1876 doctor Nicholas Cooke, Satan in Society: A Plea for Social Purity - withdrawal as "a deeply rooted vice, a national curse, a reason for the widespread moral degradation."

Univ. Penn prof of gynecology William Goodell;

1890s Sigmund Freud;

David Storer, first prof obstetrics Harvard Med Sch 1855 abortion and contraception causes of uterine disease - blamed women as selfish.

Edward Clarke - efforts of women to "regulate the size of their families" "praiseworthy" - "the endeavor to regulat the birth of children, with the object of producing the most perfect offspring is as commendable in the case of man as in that of the lower animals."


PA & NC "destruction of the infant" before quickening crime.  Eight states (CA, CN, IN, NH, NY, WI, WY, Dakota Territory) abortion-seeking woman criminally liable. 

Eight states banned advertisement of abortion-inducing drugs.


1873 Comstock law "Act for the Suppression of Trade in and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use" Anthony Comstock head New York Society for the Suppression of Vice

"WhoeverÉ shall sellÉ lendÉ give awayÉ publishÉ or have in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, advertisementÉ or any medicine or any article whatsoever for the prevention of conception or for causing unlawful abortionÉ shall be imprisoned at hard laborÉ not less than six monthsÉ or fined not less than $100."


1875 Comstock alone 47 arests, 28 convictions, and 9100 fines.  NY Society for Suppression of Vice seized 1200 pounds of books and destroyed more than 29,000 sexually explicit photos, leaflets, and condoms.

states "little Comstock laws" - 14 states (incl. IA) banned verbal info about contraception or abortion,  11 states (incl IA) criminal to possess instructions for contraception, IA authorized search for & seizure of contraceptive instructions. CN outlawed the act itself of controlling conception.




late 1800s, labor unrest, fears of socialism & anarchy. 

     Racism seemingly justified by science.  Belief in superiority of white protestants over blacks and over immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. 

Eugenics "good in birth" - 'science" of improving human pop'n by promoting spread of strongest strains & cutting off weakest. 1910s Eugenic Record Office

"positive eugenics" and "negative eugenics"

"menace of the feebleminded"

Kallikak & Jukes family.

President Teddy Roosevelt - warnings "race suicide"

Early 1900s 24 states laws allowing authorities to forcibly sterilize inmates of mental institutions or jails,

By 1930s, 20,000 sterilizations in US.

1924-1972, over 7500 sterilized in Virginia alone,

Supreme Court 1927 "Buck vs Bell" - Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."


WWI rise of birth control movement

socialists, anarchist Emma Goldman deported 1919. 


Margaret Sanger, (1883-1966).

nurse - New York's Lower East Side

1912 "What Every Girl Should Know"

"What Every Girl Should Know - Nothing, by Order of the US Post Office."

The Woman Rebel. "I believe that woman is enslaved by sex conventions, by motherhood, by middle-class morality."

Family Limitation,

"Birth control must not be set back by the false cry of obscenity.  Women must learn to know their own bodies."

100,000 copies.

"Thousands of women bearing 12 to 16 children request me to send them this pamphlet.  300,000 mothers who lose their babies every year from poverty and neglect.  Are the old archaic laws to be respected above womanhood?  The women of America answer, no!"

Brooklyn clinic 1916

"Mothers!  Can you afford to have a large family?  Do you want any more children?  If not, do not kill or take life, but prevent."

almost 500 women in 9 days. 

1921 American Birth Control League,

"those parents who are least fit to reproduce the race are having the largest number of children; while people of wealth, leisure and education are having small families."

purpose of ABCL was "first to stop the multiplication of the unfit."

1920s surveys of middle-class married women showed vast majority had used or were using contraceptives.

ABCL 37,000 members. 

940, Eleanor Roosevelt favored "planned families"


India, Tokyo


1930s Comstock Law rarely enforced - Sears Roebuck catalog selling "preventives".

1936 Supreme Court decision

1937, AN Medical Assoc legitimate medical service, taught in med schools.

1942 AN Birth Control League officially Planned Parenthood