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Mental Health and Masturbation: A Centuries Old Misdiagnosis

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I’ve always found it interesting that May is an awareness month for both mental health and masturbation. I’m not sure if the people who scheduled this knew the connection between the two other than they both start with “M.”

Today, we know that masturbation has mental health benefits but that was not always so. Masturbation’s reputation has had its ups and downs over the course of human existence. Depending on the time period and the culture, it can be either a positive or negative thing. Unfortunately, Western society had many periods with an unfavorable opinion of masturbation mostly spurred by religious fervor. I first touched on the problems thought to have stemmed from self-pleasure with articles about Onanism, Sylvester Graham, John Harvey Kellogg, and anti-masturbation devices.

Onanism is the belief rooted in a bible story about Onan. Onan wasted his seed upon the ground instead of impregnating his late brother’s wife, as he was ordered to do. This myth was distorted over time to include not only the use of the withdrawal method as birth control but any emission including masturbation. Books like Onania: or the Heinous Sin of Self Pollution (1710) by Anonymous, Onania: Examined and Detected (1723) by Philo-Castitatus, and L’Onanisme, a Treatise Upon the Disorder Produced By Masturbation (1758) by Samuel-August Tissot, touch on this imagined health crisis.

The authors used their limited knowledge of how the body and mind react to masturbation, and limited understanding of the body and mind in general, to link a wide array of illnesses to masturbation. They thought that the excessive stimulation from masturbation affected mental health causing insanity. This idea grew in popularity during the 19th century. In 1816, Jean-Etienne Dominique Esquirol mentioned in his Maladies Mentales “Masturbation is recognized in all countries as a common cause of insanity.” In 1845, RJ Brodie and Co. released their ridiculously long titled book commonly truncated down to The Secret Companion, A Medical Work on Onanism or Self-Pollution which states due to “the loss of too much semen from masturbation… the ideas are confused and frequently insanity is the result.”

In 1842, Dr. Alfred Hitchcock, not the rotund director but the 19th Century doctor, wrote about his conclusions in the Boston Surgical Journal titled Insanity and Death From Masturbation. Hitchcock states, “Within ten years a number of fatal cases have fallen under my observation, where death was clearly traceable to that cause alone.” He describes meeting a man who had taken ill and recently had an epileptic episode. He then started exhibiting symptoms of insanity. Upon their meeting, Dr. Hitchcock describes a long list of maladies. Since Dr. Hitchcock found his pulse wasn’t sharp, his chest gave health sounds, and no “viscous” was seriously affected that he could easily conclude that masturbation was the cause.

By the mid-1800s, most doctors and psychiatrists were on the masturbation leads to insanity bandwagon. Professor Henry Maudsley coined the phrase “Masturbatory Insanity” in 1868 and wrote, “Self-abuse is the cause of a particular disagreeable form of insanity.” He wrote in his book Physiology and Pathology of the Mind (1880) “Self Abuse is a cause of insanity which appears more frequent or more effective in men than in women.” The book lists many people with maladies, a few of which include self-abuse.

Joseph W Howe published Excessive Venery, Masturbation, and Continence in 1887. He wrote, “Insanity, however, is liable to occur, as a direct result of onanism or sexual excess, without the development of either of the above mentioned affections.” (Epilepsy and pathophobia were those affections he mentioned) Howe also relates a story about a man who masturbated himself into insanity and an early grave.

Dr. David Skae lists “Insanity of Masturbation” in his A Rational and Practical Classification of Insanity (1863). Skae defines Masturbatory Insanity as “A separate nosological disease caused exclusively by masturbation with characteristic features.” Even John Harvey Kellogg of Corn Flakes fame wrote in his Plain Facts For Old and Young (1881) that “The solitary vice is one of the most common cause of insanity is a fact too well established to need demonstration here.”

Many books and articles dedicated to the subject in the last half of the 1800s. Ellen White, along with other authors, had their opinions published in 1870 as A Solemn Appeal. Relative to a Solitary Vice, and Abuses and Excesses of the Marriage Relation (so many long winded titles!) edited by Ellen’s husband, James Springer White. Dr. Allen Hagenbach wrote, Masturbation as a Cause of Insanity published in 1879. In 1887, Edward Spitzka published Cases of Masturbation (Masturbation Insanity) He wrote, “Excessive venery and masturbation have from time immemorial been supposed to exert a deleterious influence on the nervous system and may provoke insanity partly through their weakening effect on the moral nutrition.”

There are medical reports from mental hospitals in Europe and US that list masturbation as a symptom or note having seen patients masturbate openly. The 1890 annual report for the Dunning Asylum in Chicago listed masturbation as a common cause of insanity in male patients. Early medical professionals were quick to believe that people who were masturbating and having similar symptoms that masturbation was the cause.

The list of symptoms their patients exhibited could have been diagnosed today as a wide variety of illnesses from schizophrenia to diabetes to cancer. The masturbatory habits of the mentally ill housed in these horrific asylums were not the end result of the path to venereal sin. It was more likely that some of these patients lacked impulse control or were merely the frustratingly institutionalized enjoying one of the few outlets of pleasure they had.

Unfortunately, the mental health link to masturbation meant that lots of time and energy were taken to dissuade people from practicing self-pleasure. Many of the books and guest lectures recommended ways to keep people’s hands off themselves. It helped fuel health-related industries like Sylvester Graham’s cracker, John Harvey Kellogg’s Sanatorium, and those scary anti-masturbation products. When people didn’t respond to the threat of enfeeblement, disease, or death, they could be subjected to cruel anti-masturbation techniques such as suturing the foreskin, penile cauterization, and clitorectomies.

The masturbation/insanity connection waned after the turn of the century. You could still find doctors writing about it, like Dr. William Malamud who published the article The Role of Masturbation in the Causation of Mental Disturbances in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 1932. By the mid 20th century, the medical community learned much more about the mind and body. There was also a greater understanding of human sexuality thanks to the works of people like Alfred Kinsey, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson.

We also became more honest and open about sex. When you find a majority of people masturbates, and that it’s perfectly normal, the idea that it can cause illness loses its grip. If everyone who masturbates went insane, there wouldn’t be enough asylums to house them. While there are factions that still think masturbation is bad for you, modern science has helped to eradicate the idea from mainstream thought.

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History of Valentine’s Day – Saints and Sinners

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There is quite a bit of mystery about the origins of Valentine’s Day. Everything from its namesake to its pagan beginnings can’t be definitively proven and seems loosely drawn together. Lots of speculation and conjecture, a few possible leads but nothing that hands down proves how it started. I find the stories behind this holiday fascinating since it draws together stories of multiple martyrs, fertility rites, and medieval poets.

Let’s start with the mysterious martyr, St. Valentine. First, the name was not Valentine but Valentinus, or Valentino in Italian, but we’ll keep the anglicized name that’s most familiar. There are stories attributed to three different men; St. Valentine of Rome, St. Valentine of Terni, and St. Valentine who died in North Africa. They all apparently died on February 14th. There is hardly any information about North Africa Valentine other than he was killed with a bunch of other people in North Africa, so we’ll just stick to the first two stories.

St Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni could be two different people or the same person. Valentine of Rome might have been a former bishop of Terni. There are several different years attributed to his date of death which may be why there’s confusion as to how many Valentines there actually were. Some say he died during the reign of Emperor Gallienus and others Emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II). Most research states he died either in 269 or 270 AD, which leaves out Gallienus was assassinated in 268.

Valentine’s execution could have been for performing Christian marriages or performing marriages for soldiers. Claudius II forbid soldiers to get married. He thought single men made better soldiers than married men who didn’t want to leave their wives and families to go to war. Many Catholic and religious sites believe he was simply persecuted for being Christian and trying to convert others.

Some stories have him converting a judge by curing his daughter of blindness. Others have him befriending a jailer’s blind daughter then leaving a note behind that read “From your Valentine.” One story has him leave the note for a woman he either became enamored with or befriended while incarcerated.

Other accounts say he charmed Claudius II, but when instead of renouncing his faith he tried to convince Claudius to convert, Claudius became irate and condemned him to death. In all of these stories, he’s beaten and beheaded then buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14th. Today, several locations claim to have pieces of St Valentine’s remains as relics on display. Most notably, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome displays his flower adorned skull.

In most of the stories I read about Valentine’s Day, Pope Gelasius I declared February 14th the feast of St. Valentine in 496 and listed him amongst the saints “whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.”  He may still be the patron saint of love and happy marriages, but he was taken out of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 because so little was known about him. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, plague, travelers, and young people

Pope Gelasius I worked hard to make Rome the seat of Catholicism. He also did his best to pin that pesky pagan festival, Lupercalia, to the mat after centuries of popularity. Some claim that Pope Gelasius used Valentine’s Day to supplant Lupercalia, and many believe he succeeded. Others argue that Lupercalia’s end came not with St. Valentine’s Day but with a letter to Senator Andromachus. There is very little evidence to support these claims other than a rather stern letter to the senator.

Lupercalia was a Roman fertility festival that is so ancient little is known of its origin. The festival was in honor of Rome’s founders, the twins Romulus and Remus, who were saved by a she-wolf when left for dead. After they had returned home to take back their stolen throne, they turned the wolf den of their youth into a sacred site. From then on, two men representing Romulus and Remus would sacrifice a dog and a goat (the defender of the herd and the herding animal) and clothe themselves in goat skins (which makes me think of the goat leggings in the 1980’s version of Dragnet).

After the post-sacrificial ritual, a feast would ensue, then the two men would run around the town slapping or touching people with goat strips/thongs for purification. Women thought it would ensure fertility and ease childbirth, which explains why they would want to get slapped with a possibly bloody strap of goatskin. And we’re talking strips of goat skin, not thick leather, so think of it as light, festive slaps and not getting beaten.

Lupercalia’s history includes stories that single women/young girls put their names in a pot then single men/young boys drew the names out of women who would then be their companions for the night, or a day, or a year depending on who’s telling the story. Companion is translated in many ways but often to sexual partners, but I can’t find any proof that happened. Some make it sound like it was speed dating, and if you hit it off, you got a life partner.

The earliest writing about this activity dates as early as 1756 and is most likely made up. Lupercalia probably had just fallen out of favor as some ancient festivals do. I’m sure the church thinks it hoodwinked the pagans with its new Catholic approved saint festival but that may not have been the case. It just may have run its course.

But Lupercalia was the reason for the season in its time and not the reason why we give notes of affection on the 14th today. That evolved over time from as early as the medieval era when Feb 14th was thought of as the day birds start mating. This made it was the perfect time for thoughts and words of love. The first documented writing about Valentine’s day is a medieval poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Parlement of Foules (also known as the Parliament of Birds) was penned in the 14th century and contains a stanza that about Valentine’s Day, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day when every fowl comes there his mate to take.” There is even mention of Valentine’s Day in Hamlet.

By the 18th century, the passing of elaborate cards on Feb 14th was all the rage. By the 1840’s, Esther Howland created mass-produced cards to sell to the public since many people didn’t have time to make elaborate ribbon and lace laden notes anymore. In 1913, Hallmark started selling mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards ushering in the holiday we know today.

Now we can pass along e-cards to our lovebirds. And while we grumble about commercialization or that it’s just a manufactured holiday (which it is), at least no one in goat leggings is slapping you with strips of bloody goat skin. And if you are, who am I to yuck your yum. Enjoy the holiday in any consensual way you like.

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Origins of the Gay Pride Movement and Pride Parades

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The sixties were a time when many groups started to fight for their rights. Everything from the civil rights movement, women’s feminist movement, and the anti-war movement polarized Americans and got everyone out to organize, march, protest, and campaign. It was a time for big strides in social change on a variety of fronts. It saw the rise of the gay pride movement and the beginning of the now worldwide celebration of Pride parades.

The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were working towards uniting and providing support for the gay and lesbian community since the 1950’s. After the riots at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, it was no longer enough to protest quietly or disguise your identity in a vaguely named organization. The gay rights movement became much more vocal and confrontational. The Gay Liberation Front was created barely a month after Stonewall. Six months later, members of the GLF splintered off to help form The Gay Activists Alliance. Stonewall had become a rallying cry that gained momentum over the year that followed.

Members of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations decided at their meeting in Philadelphia to have a march in New York on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall. Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody, and Linda Rhodes were pivotal figures in getting the referendum passed. Back in New York, Rodwell hosted meetings in his apartment and at his bookstore, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. Brenda Howard attended these meetings and would eventually become a driving force not only for the first march but many more Pride events that followed.

The Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place on Sunday, June 28th along 51 city blocks from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Those attending the first march worried they would not even make it from Christopher Street to Central Park. There was lots of hostility from a largely homophobic public. Despite the fear of being attacked, the march grew in number and jubilance as it made it’s way to Central Park. They chanted and carried signs, making sure to tell the public they were no longer going to stay quiet about their cause. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago also had a march that year. The following year saw more marches around the US, then the first international marches began.

In time, Pride would grow in attendance and host cities worldwide. The 1970s and 1980s were difficult times as the LGBT community had to fight hard against discrimination and also some hard fights within their own communities. Despite this, the passion to change politics and public opinion never waned. Gay Freedom Marches, Gay Liberation Day and Gay Freedom Day continued to be events to bring LGBT issues to the forefront and to make its causes known to a wider audience. The community and burgeoning rights groups would see many challenges in those early decades, from the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978 to the struggle against increased fear and homophobia during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s.

Pride events quickly evolved from the one-day march to weekend and weeklong festivals. The tone was more political in those early years but even as Pride celebrations became more festive, the undertone of politics and advocacy never went away. By the 1980s, the events changed from “freedom” and “liberation” titled events to the term “Gay Pride.”

Pride would be celebrated around the world, London in July of 1972, Stockholm in 1979, and Berlin in 1979. The ’80s saw an increase in world Pride events with cities like Paris, Dublin, Winnipeg, and Hamburg. Many Gay and Lesbian film festivals started in the US and internationally around this time. Pride events saw a great expansion around the world in the ’90s with the addition of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Thailand, Austria, Iceland, many Eastern European countries, and the start of EuroPride which changes the hosting European city every year.

The largest celebration is in Sao Paolo, Brazil with 3,000,000 participants and was named the largest pride parade in the world by the Guinness World Records in 2006. EuroPride has the next largest participants while San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have the largest numbers in the US. Taiwan is the largest in Asia, Tel Aviv is the largest in the Middle East and Toronto is the largest in Canada. The smallest had 100 participants in Sligo, Ireland.

You can now find Pride events in almost every country, from the largest cities to smallest islands, and the numbers continue to grow. Check with your local LGBT organizations, LGBT Community Center or online resources for lists of Pride events near you.

 

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Sex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators

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An interesting part of vibrator history is that they were often not manufactured nor marketed for masturbation. Many products used as sex toys were advertised as therapeutic massagers of the non-sexual kind. Household items sold with the word “vibrator” on the box were meant for relaxing muscles but often purchased as a “pervertable” (an everyday object used for sexual pleasure) rather than their original advertised use. Even the original Hitachi Magic Wand’s public relations department argued for decades that it was just to massage the kinks out of your shoulders and back, and not for use on more intimate parts of the body.

When you’re researching vintage vibrators, you usually find a parade of the usual suspects. In between the late Victorian hand crank massagers and the mid-century power tools, I found a couple that teetered on the sex toy edge. While I can’t find proof that they were used for solo sexy time (then again we can’t prove vibrators marketed for health care were all sex toys anyway) there’s something about them that just screams pervertable to me.

Vibra Bed may not be a conventional vibrator but the image on the box of a woman enjoying her “relaxing” time in bed made me wonder about the Vibra Bed’s intended use. I found two versions; the first has a late 60’s illustration then another with an early 70’s photo. In the box, you find a mid-sized square device you can attach to the bed to replicate those vibrating “magic finger” motel beds. Because everyone goes home from that no-tell motel going “Gosh I wish I had that vibrating bed action at home!” (Well, maybe a few did. Who am I to yuck somebody’s yum)

Vibra Bed made its first appearance in 1970. The good and services part of the trademark document lists it as a “vibrator for attachment to a bed or sofa for causing vibration of parts of the human body.” An ad in the Pittsburgh Press says it can be used with a sofa or chair. How well this small box works to make your entire bed, sofa, or chair into a vibrator is a question for the ages. Might be a nice full body massage after a long day or it could be about as effective as my cell phone going off repeatedly. Dynamic Classics Ltd., which went bankrupt in 1996 after losing a government lawsuit, had several items under trademark that were either fitness or travel oriented but nothing quite like Vibra Bed.

Sex Toy History: Unusual VibratorsAnother interesting find is the Filter Queen Vibrator by Health-Mor Inc. Filter Queen is known for its canister style vacuum cleaners. They carry a wide assortment of accessories including an attachment that turns your vacuum into a vibrator. The box shows how the hose vibrates and recommended use on various parts of the body. The attachment was invented by Eugene F. Martinec, vice president of manufacturing and inventor of many accessories for Health-Mor, and patented in 1962. At $14.50, this accessory is quite expensive, about $115 today. This price makes it more than twice the price of a Magic Wand and not as exciting. It looks like it came as part of an entire filter queen kit sold door to door, so may not have been purchased separately very often. Filter Queen is still in existence today, but no longer sells the attachment. Although an authorized dealer in Canada still offers the vibrator on their website.

An item that just screams sex toy to me is the Vibra-Finger gum massager. The vibrating end of thisSex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators massager comes shaped like a rather realistic looking finger. Apparently, dentists highly recommended gum massage to combat Pyorrhea or soft irritated gums. It cost $6.95, had a 30-day money back guarantee, and a one year warranty. The instruction booklet recommends a 60-second massage after brushing your teeth and lets you know you can purchase replacement fingers for a $1 each. I’m not sure why these fingers had to look so disturbingly life-like, it doesn’t seem necessary to perform the cleansing and refreshing massage

Vibra-Finger advertised in several newspapers from what looks to be the 1950s. I couldn’t find any information about either the Dentagene Company or Atlas Industries, both listed as the parent company on the ads. Nor could I find a patent for it. When it was invented and first distributed, is a mystery.

I was surprised to find all of these items for sale on eBay, Etsy and online stores specializing in collectibles. Their distributors may be long gone, but the product is still lingering about.

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Sex Toy History: The Hitachi Magic Wand

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My first introduction to the Hitachi Magic Wand was in the movie Bachelor Party (1984). I was enjoying this delightfully awful Tom Hanks vehicle on HBO when the scene came up where two sex workers who get rerouted from a raucous bachelor party to a demure bridal shower. When the women arrive, they pull out a giant vibrator and a whip then casually ask, “Is there an empty outlet in here?” before sinking out of frame in a heated embrace. I had never seen the large wand like sex toy before, only the plastic oblong shaped vibrators sold at Spencer Gifts. It didn’t make me run out and get one, nor did I even think about it much after that scene. Little did I know but it was one of the most popular vibrators of all time.

I would later find out the name of this toy, the Hitachi Magic Wand. I would also discover that nearly everyone I know finds it an indispensable part of their sex toy arsenal. The Magic Wand is so popular it should have a fan club. So popular it’s even referred to as the Cadillac of sex toys. What’s also interesting is this popular sex toy is not really a sex toy but a muscle massager. At least, that was it’s original intent when it was first distributed back in 1968.

In May of 1968, Hitachi Sales Corporation filed to trademark the phrase, Magic Wand. In that document, the Magic Wand’s first use and first use in commerce as an electric massager are listed as April 25, 1968. The original packaging did not have the words Magic Wand on it, simply Hitachi massager. The packaging added the phrase Magic Wand in about 1969. Early packaging was plain with only the product name and logo. Packaging from the mid to late 1970’s shows it’s recommended use as a massager with photos of a model showcasing various parts of the body you would use it on like shoulders, legs, and feet. The instructions also suggested points of the body like neck, shoulders, and back.

The massager hasn’t changed much since 1968, a wand handle with the cylindrical shaped head and flexible neck. Early versions of the head are more cylindrical in shape and have a padded vinyl black or red quilted covering. The quilted head appears ribbed for her pleasure, even though it would not gain that status for a couple of years. The original massager only came in one speed, and the handle was fluted (like long grooves on a Greek column) and wasn’t tapered. They also came in three different colors like white, pink, and red. Hitachi initially included a vinyl bag but discontinued it in the mid 70’s.

Later versions, around the mid 70’s, do away with the more blunt cylinder shaped head with the quilted padding and feature the more rounded smooth head with the single groove you see today. The ones that were officially labeled Magic Wand seemed to debut a short time after the trademark was officially registered in 1969. The Magic Wand had two speed settings and the more familiar tapered body. One of my favorite versions is “The Workout” with its 70’s color scheme and uber macho dude replacing the woman in the usual packaging. I’m sure this made it appealing as a post workout massage as opposed to supplying relief to tired women’s shoulders and feet. There were subtle variations over time like changing the color of the power switch and the handle becoming more tapered. By the late 70’s, Hitachi stopped offering the wand in different colors and white became the standard. By the late 90’s, they added the now classic blue trim.

It’s popularity as a sex toy did not happen right away. Hitachi always maintained that this was a body massage device meant for health care and not a sex toy. Body massagers were often co-opted to be vibrators, but the Magic Wand got lots of great press by the mid 70’s, mostly initiated by Betty Dodson. Dodson initially preferred the Panasonic Panabrator but switched over to the Magic Wand. She was known to use the device in her Bodysex workshops then recommended the Magic Wand in her book “Liberating Masturbation” published in 1974. The news spread, and soon it became a sex shop staple. It’s been a best seller at Good Vibrations in San Francisco since they opened in 1977.

Since it was technically a body massager, it could be sold in regular stores. Dodson said she could get it in Macy’s small appliance section. Hitachi at times seemed none too thrilled their therapeutic massage device was usurped as a sex toy then oddly supportive of it. In 1992, they commissioned chocolate versions in honor of the 15th anniversary of Good Vibrations. Then in 1999, they issued a statement asserting that the wand’s only use was for health care. I guess you could consider using it for masturbation as health care, but I get the feeling that is not what they intended.

In 2000, they had a falling out with their US distributor, American Appliance Corporation. Coupled with their unease that their product was now famous as the ultimate masturbation accessory, Hitachi decided to cease production. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror. After a couple of months without a distributor, and prices of Magic Wands starting to skyrocket on eBay, they inked a deal with Vibratex as their new distributor.

Wait. Vibratex is a sex toy distributor, yet Hitachi denies it’s a sex toy. Hmmm…

In 2002, Magic Wands were flying off the shelves after a similar looking massager showed up in an episode of Sex and the City. Despite all this, in 2013 Hitachi decided again that it didn’t want to sell a sex toy and wanted to pull the plug on the product. Vibratex convinced them to remove the Hitachi name and sell them as the Original Magic Wand, or Magic Wand Original as was advertised in the rebranding debut in 2014. Manufacturing had changed slightly, which caused many to complain it is not as well build or long lasting, but it remains highly recommended.

While the wand has always recommended stopping use after 25 minutes to avoid overheating, many say the device can go much longer. Its eco-friendly cord means you don’t go through tons of batteries to use it. Getting its power from an outlet rather than batteries is a key to its power. Despite all the newfangled sex toys, including the recently debuted rechargeable Magic Wand Original, this time-tested workhorse will never go out of style or popularity.

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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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Bundling: A Curious Colonial Custom

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When you think of the word “bundling,” I’m sure you think of several layers of clothing to protect yourself from the cold. Or, more likely nowadays, getting your internet, cable and cell phone all under one contract. In Colonial America, Bundling was the practice of putting a courting couple together in bed for the night, fully clothed, to get better acquainted before marriage. It was considered an acceptable way for two young people to spend the night.

A theory for this respectability comes from the story of Ruth and Boaz from the Bible. According to most articles and books I’ve read about bundling, Ruth and Boaz spent the night together on the threshing room floor. The story as written in the Bible has Ruth sneaking in after Boaz has fallen asleep then sleeping at his feet. Her mother-in-law told her this was the way to get Boaz to marry her. Boaz even states that he doesn’t want anyone to know that a woman has entered the threshing room. Not sure why this makes bundling acceptable, but people are known to very loosely interpret the bible when it’s convenient.

The practice of bundling came over to the states with the first colonists. There are some writings still around that talk about the use of bundling in the UK and Holland. The earliest mention in the states goes back to 1634. Bundling, also called Tarrying, gave a young couple the opportunity to spend time together in an intimate setting. Something that NEVER happened in the 17th and 18th century. Keep in mind that during this time you didn’t get to choose who you married, your parents did. You married to align families, to access other resources like land or livestock, or just to make sure you married into a family with wealth, prestige, or adequate resources. Back in the UK and Europe, this was the way everyone approached marriage unless you were dirt poor and had nothing to exchange.

In the new world, you had the added pressure of extremely limited resources. Marriage was more about survival. Couples needed to have children to increase the workforce and build up their wealth and property. This survival culture is most likely why bundling is mentioned more in the prosperous 1700’s than the struggling 1600s. The more people had to offer, the more they had to bargain in exchange for marriage. It was all about coupling finances and property, and the woman was also considered property.

Despite the limited resources, Puritan’s practiced this tradition more than the Virginia settlers. More families settled in New England than in Virginia, which mostly consisted of single men for the first couple of years. This difference meant that while Puritan settlers didn’t have much when they arrived in the new world, they were more apt to keep their marriage traditions from back home. Marriage was decided between fathers and involved discussions of dowry and inheritance, even if there wasn’t much with which to negotiate.

A man with resources (or a man from a family with resources) was able to meet his intended beforehand instead of just meeting each other on the altar. This meeting often meant a long trip requiring an overnight stay. Needing to spend the night gave young couple an opportunity to spend it together with the intention of getting to know each other through late night conversation. To ensure there wouldn’t be any hanky panky, they would not only be clothed but have a barrier between them. Sometimes it was a board that went down the length of the bed (bundling board) or a large pillow (bundling bolster) down the middle, or put in a sack (bundling bag) that could be sewn or tied shut to prevent them from removing it. The rest of the family went to bed, and the young folk were left alone if there was room enough in the house to be left alone.

This practice seemed to be more common in New England. Puritan’s weren’t as conservative as you would think, at least as compared to their Catholic counterparts of the time. Yes, life and work were all for the glory of God, all rules came from the Bible, and sex was not allowed outside the confines of marriage. A significant difference was the Puritan’s belief that sex should be enjoyable to insure pregnancy. If a couple was not having sex or if the husband could not perform his duties, the marriage was annulled. Perhaps this is why bundling seemed like a good idea rather than being thought of as immoral. By giving the couple a chance to warm up to each other, they could ensure a prosperous marriage not only in wealth and property but also in progeny.

Early Americans even thought the practice was practical. Travelers were allowed to bundle with their daughters as a way to save money. This way expensive fuel wasn’t wasted to warm another room, or the room they were in for that matter. Not only could the soon to be betrothed whisper in the dark to save candles, but the traveling salesman could also bundle up with someone to conserve expensive firewood. This economic necessity is most likely why the practice seems to be limited to rural areas.

Despite all its practicalities, things did not always go as planned. There were times when the young lovers crossed the bundling board, or they managed to get free of the sack. When comparing marriage records with birth records, by the late 18th century at least 30 to 40 percent of colonial brides were already pregnant on their wedding day. Surprisingly, as long as they were getting married it didn’t seem to matter. It’s even suspected that if the bride was pregnant before marriage that bit of bundling could prove the paternity of the child as indisputable. The bundling young man had to be the father, making any accusations or need for proof unnecessary. Just marry the girl, and all is forgiven.

Not everyone was cool with bundling. There have been published rants from the clergy. Jonathan Edwards preached against it in the early 1730’s.  In 1781, Reverend Jason Haven even outed some people in the congregation while preaching against the practice. In 1809, Washington Irving mentioned it in his Knickerbocker’s History of New York as a “superstitious rite practiced by the young people of both sexes.” and points out “…that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats annual born unto the state.” Bundling stayed around much longer than most clergy and sophisticated city dwellers liked. The custom spread from New England to New York and Pennsylvania then across the Midwest. There is some evidence that the Amish and Mennonites also practiced the custom for some time.

The custom fell out of favor quicker than you think. It stuck around for a long time but wasn’t very popular after the early colonies became prosperous. By the 19th century, it was still around but rare. You can find people talking about it as late as the 1930’s with stories about bundling “among the plain people.” Being thought of as only practiced by “plain” people will hurt any custom’s popularity.

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Today in Sex History: January 31st – The London Lock Hospital Opens

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The London Lock Hospital, which opened today in 1747, is known as the first VD clinic.

Lock was not a person’s name but a hold over from lock hospitals, also known at lazar hospitals, which housed those who suffered from leprosy. The first hospital for leprosy to use the Lock name, Southwark Lock Hospital, opened in the 12th century. The term “lock” doesn’t have a concrete definition. Some say it referred to the French word, la loque, for the rags or strips of linen used to cover afflicted areas of the leper’s body. Another possible origin is from an early Anglo-Saxon word, loc, that means “that by which anything is closed, an enclosed place, enclosure, fold.

Leprosy was on the decline by the 17th century, so there wasn’t much use for the lazar/lock hospital system anymore. Sexually transmitted infection was a much bigger problem. Several lazar hospitals, such the Southwark Lock Hospital and the Kingsland Lock Hospital, switched to treating syphilis and gonorrhea. Surgeon William Bromfeild (The correct spelling of his surname, not Bromfield) saw the need for a hospital in London dedicated to the treatment of venereal disease. He formed a committee and started work on The London Lock Hospital. They purchased a house near Hyde Park Corner to convert into the new hospital.

London Lock Hospital opened on January 31st with 30 beds, a staff of surgeons, physicians, nurses, apothecaries, a chaplain, and Bromfeild as a staff surgeon. The hospital treated 300 people in the first year. Unfortunately, the treatment of sexually transmitted infections used by the hospital was ineffectual. Mercury in a variety of forms was the most common treatment. It never worked and came with horrible side effects like tooth loss, increased sweating and salivation, bone loss, gum ulcers, and neurological damage. Mercury was more likely to kill you than cure you.

The National Health Service took over the London Lock Hospital in 1948, then closed it in 1952.

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Roe v. Wade: A Quick History

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As I write this, Roe v. Wade is celebrating its 44th anniversary just a day after the Women’s March on Washington. I wanted to share a quick history of this Supreme Court decision since not even I knew all the details other than the date and the resulting outcome. This post is not going to go into all the details, though. Roe v. Wade has a complicated and controversial history that is fraught with emotion, especial in these times. So this will be a “just the fact, ma’am” kind of post*.

Lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee would meet Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) in December of 1969 through adoption lawyer Henry McClaskey. Norma was pregnant with her third child and could not legally get an abortion in the state of Texas. She went to McClaskey to see if he knew how she could get an abortion locally. He couldn’t help her with the abortion, but he contacted Coffee knowing she was working to file suit to change the abortion laws. Current laws only allowed a legal abortion if the mother’s life was in danger. Women wanted an abortion had to travel to another state or out of the country to get one.

Even though the case wouldn’t be settled in time to change her condition, Norma became the plaintiff in Weddington and Coffee’s lawsuit. It was filed as a class action lawsuit so that it included not only Norma but also any woman in the present or future. The suit argued that women were had a right to an abortion under the 14th amendment, as it was a right to privacy issue. It also challenged that this was an unenumerated right protected by the 9th amendment, unenumerated rights were implied but not explicitly referenced in the constitution.

Weddington and Coffee also put together another case involving a married couple, John and Mary Doe v. Wade. Since Mary Doe had medical issues and her doctor recommended she not get pregnant. Coffee thought having a couple instead of a single mother seemed like a better plaintiff for a case. Dr. James Hallford was also added to the case since he was facing criminal prosecution for performing abortions in the state.

They filed the lawsuit on March 3, 1970.

“Wade” was Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. He was district attorney from 1951 to 1987. Wade was known for being the prosecuting attorney in both the Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby cases. Wade appointed John Tolle, one of his staff attorneys, to defend the suit instead of doing it himself. The state also appointed their attorney, Jay Floyd, to work on the case alongside Tolle.

The first district trial hearing was on May 22, 1970 before a panel of three judges of the Fifth Circuit Court; Judge Sarah Hughes, Judge William Taylor, and Judge Irving Goldberg. It got off to a rocky start when Judge Goldberg asked some hard-hitting questions and both Coffee and Tolle having trouble during their arguments. On June 17, 1970, the court dismissed Dr. Hallford’s intervention and the Doe’s lawsuit. They ruled in favor of Roe, finding the law unconstitutional as a right of privacy issue under the ninth amendment, through the 14th amendment.

Unfortunately, while the ruling stated it was unconstitutional to prohibit abortion, it did nothing to stop the courts from prosecuting. The ruling lacked the essential injunction against Texas that would prevent the state from prosecuting anyone who violated the law, even if it was deemed unconstitutional. The omission turned out to be in their favor as it gave Weddington and Coffee a chance to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On December 13, 1972, Weddington and Coffee argued before the Supreme Court. Jay Floyd returned to defend. The justices presiding over this case were Justices Harry Blackmun, Byron White, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Warren Burger, and William Douglas. They are down two justices due to Justices Hugo Black and John Harlan having just retired due to illness. After much debate and several arguments, the justices decided to reargue the case.

They returned to court on October 11, 1972, this time with Judges William Rehnquist and Lewis Powel. Rehnquist and Powel replaced Hugo Black and John Harlan but had not been sworn in until after the first hearing. Texas Assistant Attorney General Robert Flowers replaced Jay Floyd after a poor performance, and a terrible opening joke, at the trial but to no avail.

On January 22, 1973, the justices delivered a 7-2 decision in favor of Roe by right to privacy accorded by the 14th amendment. In the words of Justice Blackmun, “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy”

*I’m quoting Dan Ackroyd as Joe Friday, not Jack Webb. Historically, Jack Webb never used that exact phrase even though it’s attributed to him

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