March, 2017 Archive

The Controversial Sex Manuals of Ida Craddock

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A while back, I did an article listing early sex manuals. Inspired by Women’s History Month and a desire to delve deeper into a book off the list, I decided to look into the work of Ida Craddock.

Born in Philadelphia in 1857, Ida Craddock turns out to be quite a fascinating woman. Her work is an interesting amalgamation of free speech, religious eroticism, and Onanism. Ida not only talked frankly about sex but also advocated sex for pleasure and seeing to a woman’s needs first, at least among married couples. She even gave detailed instructions to women on how to move during sex to make it more pleasurable. Ida not only offered her advice via written pamphlets but had an office on Dearborn Street in Chicago where she offered in-person consultations for married couples.

Anthony Comstock was not having any of it, especially since she distributed her pamphlets through the mail. Comstock’s war against corruption and obscenity managed to make the distribution of written material of a sexual nature illegal. Comstock and Craddock clashed early on after her editorials defending the belly dancer “Little Egypt” whom many conservative Victorians, Comstock included, thought an obscene addition to the World’s Columbian Exposition. It was Ida’s writing as a sexologist that would bring Comstock and his obscenity police after her again and again.

Ida did not start out as a sex educator. She was denied entrance to the University of Pennsylvania’s Liberal Arts program in 1882 due to her sex, even though she passed the rigorous entrance exams. Instead, Ida taught herself shorthand then went on to publish a textbook on the subject and teach stenography at Girard College. It was in her 30’s that she started writing about spirituality and sex.

Bought up in the Quaker faith, she abandoned it after developing an interest in a more alternative view of religion. Ida discovered the Theosophical Society, joined the Unitarian church, became secretary of the American Secular Union then dubbed herself a Priestess and Pastor of the Church of Yoga.

In contrast to her strict evangelical upbringing, Ida developed ideas about sex that she felt were an absolute necessity for men and women to enjoy marital bliss. She felt the lack of education about sex as cruel and abusive. Many women arrived on the wedding night not even knowing intercourse was on the menu much less how to do it. This ignorance leads to many a newlywed to have not only a horrific wedding night but would continue to hurt couples long after their honeymoon.

Despite being a free thinker, Ida’s desire for open and honest sex education commingled with the moral reform of the social purist. She then added a strong dose of Tantric techniques and teachings. This mixed cocktail of ideas made her booklets, The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living, fascinating to read as they were groundbreaking yet mired in oppressive Victorian mores. Both these texts not only contain the conservative Victorian views of female sexuality such as an abhorrence of contraception and the mistaken view that masturbation was a self-polluting act but also communicated ideas about sex that were revolutionary in their time like seeing to a woman’s pleasure first and educating people about sex before marriage.

It was not only unusual to get advice about sex but even more so from an unmarried woman. Perpetually single Ida told people she was married to an angel named Soph, and their lovemaking was spectacular. Her “Heavenly Bridegroom” may have been a convenient way to cover up having relations without being married but we’ll never know for sure. We do know she wrote extensively about spiritual sex.

The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living contain detailed instruction and information about sex that was rare for the time. Ida believed that lack of education was a terrible social ill and that women were being used as a vessel for their husband’s desires to the detriment of their health. She had heard stories of women who were given no instruction about their wedding night only to find themselves traumatized both mentally and physically. Ida surprisingly suggests in The Wedding Night, “In the majority of cases, no genital union at all should be attempted or even suggested, upon that night.” She recommends the bride and groom not attempt any sex on their wedding night but “go straight to sleep like two tired children.” This may have been unrealistic advice but her concern the couple having a satisfying sexual experience after a long and exhausting wedding day.

A positive mutual sexual experience lies at the core of both these texts. In The Wedding Night, a bride is required to be “aroused amorously, before that organ, in its state of activity, can become attractive.” Ida told her readers that women wouldn’t find a man’s erection desirable if she is not aroused yet also states that women don’t have any innate sexual desire. Ida asks the bridegroom to wait for sex until the bride shows desire, very unusual for the Victorian era. She tells the man to make sure to satisfy her passion first, but at the same time, she says woman’s passion is for affection and maternal love. She as times seems conflicted between women wanting to mother their husbands and sexually desire them.

Some advice in The Wedding Night is disconcerting but only to modern sensibilities. Ida tells her readers to not, under any circumstances, use the hand for sexual excitation on the women’s genitals. As she puts it, “There is but one lawful finger of love… and this is the male organ.” Ida also writes that the clitoris is to be “simply saluted” in passing. It needs to be ignored since it’s a “rudimentary male organ” and will pervert the sex act. Apparently, she is convinced that all sexual pleasure is derived from vaginal penetration only and any stimulation of the clitoris is to be avoided.

Ida thankfully states that a woman’s orgasm is just as important to her health as a man’s but doesn’t see clitoral stimulation as healthy since it is linked to male magnetism. She also thinks that a hooded clitoris is an unnatural condition and recommends circumcision. She even recommends having the hymen snipped if it is too tough. I would hope women did not take this advice.

In both texts, Ida believes the use of semen only for begetting a child. She sees withdrawal as unhealthy, and a man will show signs of ill health if he practices it. She goes on at length in Right Marital Living about the perils of preventing conception by any means. Men should not excrete semen in any way that does not result in the creation of a child and sites some “experts” such as Dr. W. Xavier Sudduth and Dr. Brown-Sequard. Dr. Brown-Sequard, a neurologist known for his groundbreaking discoveries about hormones and spinal cord injuries, supported the idea that seminal fluid needed to be reabsorbed into the body for men to maintain good health and virility. Dr. Sudduth was primarily an oral surgeon who later became a professor of experimental psychology. Ida quotes his “Psycho-Physics of Masturbation” in which Sudduth writes about the perils of masturbation and sex merely for the “means of sedation.”

Right Marital Living contains steps to attain orgasm without ejaculation. Ida calls upon a variety of deities for men to call upon to take his mind off of the bodily plane to stave off orgasm. Ida may at times come off as a good Christian woman in her writing, but she based her instructions on tantric sex, the practice of coitus reservatus or sexual continence, and even the nude embrace rooted in the Tantric practice of Maithuna.

After having moved from Chicago to New York, Ida’s persecution continued relentlessly. On October 16, 1902, Ida took her own life when faced with five years in a Federal prison for distributing her pamphlets. She had already done three months in a workhouse. Ida wrote a long letter to her mother and another to the public which denounced Comstock’s unrelenting censorship. Ida wrote she would rather die as she lived, a free woman.

To read the complete text of Ida Craddock, check out the following books.

4 Book Collection: Heavenly Bridegrooms, Psychic Wedlock, The Heaven of the Bible, The Wedding Night, Right Marital Living, and Other Papers on Marriage and Sex (Kindle Edition)

Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock by Vere Chappell

Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman by Leigh Eric Schmidt

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Bloomers, Dress Reform, and Women’s Rights

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When you think of the word “Bloomers,” I’m sure the first thought that comes into your head is oversized granny panties or maybe a little girl’s long cotton pantalets seen beneath 19th-century dresses. “Bloomers” originated in the mid 19th century, not as a word for underwear but a type of dress reform. Amelia Bloomer’s name became linked to this new clothing style, but she did not originate it. The outfit that people started calling Bloomers was an attempt by women to gain some freedom from the highly restrictive women’s clothing of the time. They wanted to wear “gasp” something that resembled pants!

A new concept in women’s dress rose up out of the new water cure movement in the mid 19th century. In the late 1840’s, people were flocking to “restorative” water cure resorts to cure themselves of a variety of ills or just to get healthy. Hydrotherapy used water in various ways, both internally and externally, to improve one’s health. They also ate a meager diet and were encouraged to enjoy the outdoors, as well as, exercise as part of their health regimen. It was so popular that a publication The Water-Cure Journal was created as a forum for people to expand upon the benefits of the water cure and its lifestyle. In this journal we find more than just articles about health and fitness, we find women fighting for dress reform as a way to improve their health.

Women’s fashion at this time consisted of a voluminous skirt with many starched petticoats underneath to maintain the enormous bell shape. Skirts had been getting bigger and waists getting smaller since the 1820’s. Skirt hems would get muddy and dirty as they dragged on the floor. The petticoats were heavy and the cut of the bodice restrictive. Often women couldn’t fully raise their arm due to the cut of the sleeve and small armseye that left little room for movement. Under all this was a tight corset and layers of undergarments. Women wore dresses or skirts even while working around the house, in the garden, working on a farm or even in a factory. Trousers were for men only.

This type of dress was not conducive to taking the waters, nor did it help women to pursue the kinds of activity offered at the water cure facilities It was suggested to adopt the ” Turkish dress,” a full pant gathered in at the ankles as worn by Persian women under a shortened dress. By 1849, articles were showing up in the Water-Cure Journal touting the health benefits of the Turkish dress and dress reform in general.

The idea of reform dress was not born in the water cure world, but it certainly found a place to bloom there. The link between the water cure movement and dress reform may also have been fueled by the fact that many abolitionists and suffragists enjoyed taking the cure. The fight against women’s dress of the day was already a matter of concern to those women fighting for equal rights. The Water-Cure Journal was a sounding board to amplify the message that was already out these.

There were others outside of the water cure culture that advocated dress reform along with wearing Turkish dress like Dr. Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck, Lucy Stone, and Elizabeth Smith Miller. Elizabeth Smith Miller was the first to promote the new style of dress among members of the early women’s rights movement. She was one of the first to adopt Turkish dress in public. She was not only inspired by the eastern style of dress but also by the raised hems and pants worn by women at the Oneida community.

In 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller wore the outfit while visiting her cousin Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, NY. Stanton loved the idea so much she started also wearing it. Her new outfit caught the attention of her friend Amelia Bloomer. Stanton told her it made her feel like a captive set free. Amelia published a journal called The Lily, a perfect vehicle for articles about this “freedom suit” that helped her feel unfettered like Stanton and Miller. Once she published a woodcut of herself in Turkish dress, the idea caught on like wildfire. Now dubbed “Bloomer Dress,” it became a popular garment among those in the feminist and temperance movement. No longer was it confined to utopian communities and hydrotherapy spas, it was out in public.

Then came the backlash.

It was hard to change Victorian minds about women’s dress, even among women. The newspapers had a field day making fun of “Bloomer Girls” and fashion magazines that at first thought of the outfit as tasteful denounced the fad. Men, especially the clergy, didn’t like how much this looked like wearing pants and found it a threat to their authority. Women in pants were shown in cartoons as smoking cigars, proposing marriage, and putting doubt into men’s minds as to “who wears the pants” in the family. Churches turned away women arriving in bloomers. Even other women found it offensive and immoral. Some women who tried wearing it stopped because they felt uncomfortable in public. It brought far too much unwanted attention upon them. There were too many generations conditioned to think that women’s legs were never seen nor her natural form revealed. In a time where women were supposed to be frail and subservient, this new style of rational dress showed a shockingly strong and active woman. It was a concept difficult to accept.

Unfortunately, the negative images of manly women in pants became linked to women’s rights events. Suddenly suffragists weren’t too thrilled with the look, nor with the Bloomer name, and tried to distance themselves from it. Even Amelia herself went back to regular dresses, stating that the new skirts were lighter weight thus more comfortable to wear. The water cure movement also wanted to disassociate themselves from the Bloomer dress indicating that it was ruining the positive benefit of wearing the outfit at their resorts. Even though the women’s right movement started moving away from the Bloomer dress soon after adopting it, the dress reform movement didn’t. The dress reformers were more than happy to have the suffragists walk away and take their bad press with them.

Bloomers lost their appeal to the masses, but there were others who felt they needed to continue the fight for less confining and debilitating forms of dress. Members of the Dress Reform Association continued to wear bloomers. Women working during the civil war found it a much easier form of dress to attend to injured soldiers, such as Dr. Mary Walker and Dorothea Dix. Harriet Austin created her own version called “American Costume” with a shorter skirt and narrower pants in the hopes of drawing people away from the bad press connected to the Bloomer name and renew interest in dress reform. Mary Tillotson, an early adopter of Turkish dress, continued to write and talk about the subject into the 1860s in various newspapers and the dress reform journal, Sybil. Mary decided to revitalize the stalled dress reform movement in the 1870s and started the American Free Dress League.

It would take nearly 50 years since the first spark of interest in reformed dress for the Bloomer style to be reborn. The late 1890s saw bicycling rise in interest as a form of fun and exercise thanks to the new chain system and a redesigned frame. Women in the 1890s were still wearing long skirts, full petticoats, tight bodices, and restrictive corsets. Women’s bicycles were designed without the center bar to make room for their skirts (that’s why there’s “boys” bikes and “girls” bikes) and to make sure they didn’t have to raise a leg thus revealing limbs or other areas while mounting. As bicycles became all the rage, the bicycle dress evolved from a split skirt with a center panel into wide poufy pants with gaiters or knee socks. Not a skirt in sight. At this point, the women’s movement was gaining strength. More and more women were no longer content to fall under the weak and delicate label forced on them for ages.

Revealing the female form during the Victorian era was a struggle for power and independence. Willingness to give a woman ownership to her body and desires was one of the hurdles for the dress reform movement. If women have freedom of movement, then they might not be easily tethered to the home where they toiled for husband and children. The water cure movement was embraced so quickly because it offered women a chance to take care of themselves for a change. Often this was the only time they were allowed to function separately from the hearth and home. Wearing “Bloomers” or “Turkish Dress” in public was a great risk for these women. The harsh criticism and resistance to change may have temporarily derailed the movement, but thankfully there were those who would not be bullied out of their bloomers.

Want to know more about dress reform and the early women’s rights movement?  Here is some suggested reading. (I make a commission on purchases made through the following affiliate links.)

Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer by D.C. Bloomer

Reforming Women’s Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art by Patricia Cunningham

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally McMillen

 

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