19th Century

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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Lysol’s Surprising Sexual History

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I did lots of driving over winter break, often 5-10 hours at a time. In that time, I had the radio on so I listened to lots of ads.

Lots and lots of ads.

In between the car dealership and fast food ads I kept hearing a weight loss ad that guaranteed a flat belly and would empty your gut of tons of toxic sludge. After hearing it a few hundred times, my brain started analyzing what I was hearing; you can’t physically have “tons” of undigested food in your belly, especially not toxic sludge, and someone couldn’t be so bloated it looks like belly fat. Is this legit? If not, why are they allowed to advertise? My brain started thinking about truth in advertising. Then I decided to write a post about one piece of historical non-truth in advertising that rolled around in my head on the drive back, Lysol’s use as a douche.

Let that roll around in your brain for a bit. Lysol. Douche.

A while ago I had stumbled upon old ads for Lysol as an effective douche, its cleansing power capable of saving marriages. I went back into the history of Lysol to figure out how this came about and found another horrifying bit of Lysol trivia. It was also used as birth control.

Now let that thought sink in. Lysol. Birth. Control.

I hadn’t realized that Lysol to was linked to birth control during some of the other research I had done earlier this year concerning the Comstock Act and Margaret Sanger. The Lysol ads preyed on the public’s self-esteem by making them self-conscious enough to purchase their product, as most advertising is wont to do. But these ads have an even scarier undertone, the fears of women living at a time with no reliable or affordable birth control nor the means to educate themselves about what was available to them.

When I went to Lysol’s “Our History” page, I first noticed the tagline “Over a Century of Healthing.” Health? Is this a word? Apparently, it’s not a word but sort of a thing. Thanks to Google for providing me the first search hit that included a woman who referenced Lysol and Healthing. She was part of Lysol’s Healthing initiative and stated that it was, indeed, a word. A word invented for a health initiative is not really a word, especially since it’s not even in the dictionary. It was Lysol’s way of describing that you’re not just cleaning when you disinfect with Lysol, you’re healthing since you are decreasing germs and the spread of infection. But enough of the grammar rant, back to the history.

The Lysol’s history page only mentioned how it has helped families do more for health since 1889 such as ending a cholera epidemic, in 1918 was the first effective means of fighting the flu, and in 1930 was introduced to drug stores and hospitals. No mention of douching but I don’t blame them. Lysol is an effective germ-killing cleaner, one that I use in my own household, and would I imagine they would love to distance themselves from that dubious era in their advertising. Indeed, Lysol was introduced by Dr. Gustav Raupenstrauch to help end a cholera epidemic in Germany and used in 1918 to combat the Spanish Flu pandemic.

The product originated in Germany, migrated to Great Britain then landed in America. A combination of cresol and soap (most likely castor oil soap) made Lysol a powerful cleaner but also a toxic skin irritant that can cause blistering and burns. Despite this, starting in the 1920’s an extensive ad campaign was introduced suggesting diluted Lysol as an essential part of feminine hygiene.

Ads showed women with concerned expressions on their faces and copy that talked about the marital distress caused by lack of proper hygiene. Lysol cured everything from fatigue to foul odor, along with being the answer to your husband’s lack of interest and avoidance of intimacy. Why even the elegant women of Berlin used it! Lysol was the perfect antiseptic for marriage hygiene.

Yep, the ad actually says marriage hygiene.

There was even a booklet available to teach you all about how to use Lysol since “There is so much misinformation about feminine hygiene.” The photo in the ad shows a proper Margaret Dumont-like mother offering the booklet to her attitudinal teen flapper daughter. Over the years the ads were geared towards women struggling with inattentive spouses. They beat on locked doors, were caught in spider webs, and drowning in doubt and misgivings. You could even take a love quiz, but it’s for married folk only. Apparently, women were, and other ad said, ignoring one small intimate physical neglect that could rob them of their husband’s love. Sadly, all these ads put the blame solely on the wife.

Couples therapy was pretty much out of the question during this period, so there was no way to find out if other issues such as depression, being trapped in a loveless marriage, or any other valid reasons for marital troubles were actually at fault. There could be another reason why there wasn’t enough intimacy in a relationship, the fear of getting pregnant. We were still in the midst of the Comstock Act that prevented any information or delivery of contraception to the public. According to historians such as Kristin Hall and Andrea Tone, these ads were also selling contraception. Douching post-coitus was a popular method of birth control. Since it was cheaper and easier to get than condoms or diaphragms, Lysol was the best-selling contraception method for 30 years.

Douching, in general, is bad for vaginal health, using a caustic disinfectant made it an even worse option. In 1952, the makers of Lysol exchanged the cresol for another chemical that made it less toxic, but it was still dangerous to use. Lawsuits were dismissed as allergies. It wasn’t even an effective method of birth control as a 1933 study showed that half the women who used it got pregnant. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and the advent of the pill that Lysol began to fade in popularity. It’s been so long most people had no idea the cleaner we use now (that recommends avoiding contact with eyes, skin, and clothing) was used this way.

And if you weren’t into Lysol, there was also Listerine. But that is another douche story for another time.

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The Myths of Chastity Belts

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When I think of chastity belts, I think of the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. (Go ahead and judge. I liked this much-maligned Mel Brooks movie) In it, the hero not only will have the key to the fair princess’ heart but to her Everlast chastity belt. We’ve seen and read much about the chastity belt being around since the Crusades. It shows up in books and film, most recently in Mad Max Fury Road. These barriers against infidelity and rape were mostly a tale of fiction until the 19th century. There is no evidence they existed or were used during the crusades. The earliest images were in the 16th century. When you look at the evidence, you find stories about chastity belts are more of a smear campaign against an earlier “dark age” blown out of proportion in the moral mire that was the 19th century. There were, in fact, no medieval chastity belts being worn to protect a ladies virtue.

You might be saying to yourself, “But I’ve seen them! They’re in museums!”

Well, yes, they were in museums. Until they found out they were not from an earlier era but the Victorian era. Most of them have been removed from display. A medieval chastity belt on display at the British Museum turned out to be from the 18th or 19th century. Another that was shown in the Musee de Cluny in Paris, and credited as being worn by Catherine De Medici, was tested and proved to be made in the early 1800s. In typical fashion, we became so enamored with the idea of the chastity belt we never actually looked at how improbable their use really was. We fell for the story about knights locking their wives in metal girdles hook, line, and sinker. As several historians who busted the myth of chastity belts have said, we wanted to believe that the dark ages were a barbaric time compared to our enlightened age.

Oddly enough, the enlightened age that comes up with the preposterous idea was the Renaissance era. The Crusades took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, and there is no evidence of chastity belt use during that time. There isn’t mention of its use until the 15th century. According to Albrecht Claussen, the author of The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process, the first textual evidence is in Konrad Kyser’s Bellifortis in 1405. The book is about war machinery. Florentine women used them, as Kyser tell us in his book, and includes a hand drawn illustration. It’s in a chapter with instruments of torture, so its authenticity is in serious doubt. That and Kyser’s book also includes fart jokes.

When historians look at illustrations and writings from the 15th and 16th century, it’s apparent the girdle of Venus was more of a joke, a piece of prurient propaganda, or a way to decry the dark ages as brutal and cruel thus lesser than the current era. Most of the illustrations show the lover hiding somewhere in the shadows with a copy of the key. Meanwhile, the poor sap of a husband leaves town thinking he has protected his wife from straying while he’s gone. One can imagine these images of cuckolded husbands were quite the knee slapper.

It only get’s worse as we approach the Victorian era, they loved the idea of girdles of cruelty. How else do we keep our hands, and other’s hands and… stuff… from our sinful nether regions.

This is when the fakes enter the scene.

The Victorians were so against sex for pleasure they took an era they thought of as being pretty with it in the “no sex unless for procreation” department and went with it. They didn’t care if it was true, this was an age where patents were being issued every day for inventions to stop people from engaging in sexual activity. What they didn’t take into account was how dangerous these things would be to wear if they actually existed.

A “metal bikini” with a small opening for bodily functions worn for an extended time would be lead to debilitating injuries and even death. Even lined or padded iron would still chafe and cause painful abrasions on the skin. It would be extremely uncomfortable to move or sit, and they did not leave enough space for bodily functions. There would risk of infections and sepsis. Even if a Knight wanted his wife to be locked up in a girdle of Venus while was off on the crusades, he would return to a wife that has been severely injured or even dead. Not really what they had planned.

This means that metal padlocked belts adorned with spike-edged openings may have inspired the ones worn by Immortan Joe’s wives but are just as much a product of fiction as the film. The irony is these barriers to pleasure are now used in BDSM. Chastity belts exist today although worn for a limited time in Dominant/submissive play. They are built to deny access to the genitals or to prevent an erection so that the Dominant has complete control of those options. So take that, Victorian prudes! Today chastity belts are not used to prevent sex but to enhance it.

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Margaret Sanger: 100 Years of Planned Parenthood

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“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” – Margaret Sanger

Planned Parenthood celebrates it’s 100 birthday on October 16, 2016. Even though birth control is now more readily available, the battle for reproductive rights and sexual freedom still continues. Let’s look back at the origin of Planned Parenthood, and its founder Margaret Sanger.

Margaret Louise Higgins was born on September 14, 1879, in Corning, New York to Michael Hennessy Higgins and Anne Purcell Higgins, the sixth out of eleven children. Margaret’s father made a meager living carving gravestones. He was an agnostic, an abolitionist, and supported suffrage. From an early age, Margaret and her siblings were encouraged to share their opinions. This was unheard of in a time where children were to be seen and not heard.

Despite Michael being open minded, the family still held to very traditional gender roles. Anne was a devout Catholic. She cooked, cleaned and cared for everyone in the household. On top of that, she went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, with several miscarriages. Two didn’t survive to adulthood. By the time she died at the young age of 49, she had looked much older than her years. Margaret was desperate to get away from the overcrowded house, crushing poverty, and taunting by the other children. Her older sisters pooled their money together to send Margaret to Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in 1896, despite their father’s disapproval. He felt nursing was an inappropriate career for his daughter to pursue She spent three years there then rushed home to take care of her ailing mother. She cared for her family after her mother died.

In 1900, Margaret went to New York City and became a nurse probationer at White Planes Hospital. There she met architect and aspiring artist, William Sanger. Margaret was smitten with Bill, and they married in 1902. Bill shared Margaret’s penchant for socialism and radical thinking. At first, they tried to settle down in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York but the builders of their new house had neglected to put an asbestos covering on the heating pipes causing a fire that destroyed their home. The Sangers moved to New York City in 1911 and became heavily involved in the artist community as well as workers rights and the labor movement.

Margaret worked as a visiting nurse in the slums of the east side during this time. There she saw the same issues she grew up with, large families living in poverty. Many mothers became so desperate they performed self-induced abortions. The curse of the working class, mostly immigrant women, was the lack of information about contraception. There wasn’t any way these women could learn how to stop getting pregnant; it’s was illegal and was considered an obscenity thanks to our old friend Anthony Comstock. Not only was it hard for the families to have so many mouths to feed with so little money coming in but also it took its toll on the women. Frequent pregnancies also meant more miscarriages and the steps they often took to end a pregnancy could be fatal. Margaret decided something had to be done and took on the crusade to give women more control and choice when it came to procreation.

This crusade came at a price. Margaret sought out all the information to could find about contraception. In 1912 she wrote What Every Mother Should Know then What Every Girl Should Know for the socialist magazine New York Call. Some welcomed the open discussion of sex while others were shocked by it. In 1913, she traveled to Scotland and France to do research on birth control. She would not return to the U.S. with Bill. Bill stayed in Paris to continue his work as an artist while Margaret returned to NY to pursue her work. Margaret and Bill’s separation sounds amicable in her autobiography. She did not want to keep him from pursuing his art, and he did not want her to have to stay and give up her mission. They finally divorced in 1921 and Margaret would marry again in 1922 to Noah Slee.

In 1914, Margaret and a group of friends came up with the new term “birth control” when they formed the National Birth Control League. She started a magazine called The Woman Rebel, which was considered obscene and thus illegal to distribute. Margaret found herself looking at jail time. When the judge and lawyers tried to pressure her into pleading guilty then promising not to break the law again in return for dismissal of the charges, Margaret decided to flee the country. This was a difficult decision since she now had two sons and a daughter and had been struggling with tuberculosis for some time.

Margaret spent her time in Europe learning everything she could about family limitation and sex education. She spent a great deal of time with Havelock Ellis, who’s Psychology of Sex was blowing everyone’s mind and the Neo-Malthusians. She traveled to England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands where she learned that other countries had a much more liberal attitude towards birth control, especially the Netherlands. Margaret mailed copies of The Woman Rebel while in Europe and prepared to publish her pamphlet, Family Limitation, upon her return.

Margaret eventually returned to the US. Being apart from her children for so long was difficult, and she was worried about her daughter’s health. Margaret managed to get the charges against her dropped despite Comstock tricking her husband into giving an undercover cop a copy of Family Limitation, which resulted in his arrest and jail time. She needed to offer more than the printed word, so she embarked on a cross-country speaking tour. Upon her return to New York, she set up a clinic to help women one on one. On October 16th, 1916, Margaret, her sister Ethel Byrne, and volunteer Fania Mindell opened the first birth control clinic, The Brownsville Clinic, in the US in Brooklyn. Nine days later they were arrested and put in jail. Their crime was distributing information about contraception, selling obscene books, and being a public nuisance.

In 1917, Margaret started The Birth Control Review, a scientific journal. 1921 saw the first American Birth Control Conference held in New York City. Margaret opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in 1923. She then started the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control to eliminate the Comstock laws. In 1939 the American Birth Control League merged with the Clinical Research Bureau to become the Birth Control Federation of America. Members of the BCFA decided to change the name to something more conservative so, in 1942, Planned Parenthood Federation of America was born.

Margaret lived to see the debut of The Pill in 1960 and birth control legalized for married couples in 1965 before she passed away on September 6th, 1966.

Want to read more about Margaret Sanger? Buy The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger.
(affiliate link)

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History of Birth Control – The Female Condom

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September 16th is Global Female Condom Day, a day to celebrate and educate the world about the female condom. The idea of a female or internal condom has been around longer than you may expect. It’s not something you often hear talked about in the United States since we’re kind of fixated on the “over the penis” style condom. The internal condom is used worldwide and is quite popular. The appeal is that it puts the power of contraception and STI protection in women’s hands. It also can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse and can be used for receptive anal sex. Some people find it easier to use and report that it feels better than male condoms. The portion that covers the external genitals can provide additional help with STI prevention. Let’s travel back and look at the origins and development of this style of condom.

I’ve read the female condom was used as far back as Ancient Greece. There are stories of King Minos (you’ve heard of him; labyrinth, Minotaur, Theseus) killing his mistresses with his serpent and scorpion ejaculate and the use of a goat’s bladder to save them. This myth is not exactly proof of the early use of an internal condom since the story of Minos resides mainly in myth. When you look into it further, it is possible there was a real king of Knossos but the name Minos may have been a title, not a name. There seems to be no definitive link to a particular person, just lots of stories and speculation.

The two stories I read about Minos are that his wife, Pasiphae the immortal daughter of the god Helios, bewitched her adulterous husband so that he ejaculated deadly centipedes, serpents, and scorpions thus killing his mistresses. Pasiphae was immune to Minos’ ejaculation but a woman he seduces, Procris, uses an herbal mixture to protect herself from the deadly creatures Minos ejaculated so they can get it on. Another story says Procris comes up with an idea to help Minos who is childless due to his poisonous issue. She inserted a goat’s bladder into one of the women so he could ejaculate his mistress-killing creatures into the bladder. He then had sex with his wife prompting her to conceive. In both stories, Minos rewards Procris with a javelin and dog that never missed their target which leads to her tragic end in another myth. (Sorry, spoilers.)

I’ve seen so many variations of this story, including one where Pasiphae is not immune and needs the bladder to save her own life. Minos and Pasiphae had many children, so I can’t imagine the goat’s bladder was a life-saving necessity but would be a barrier to conception and infection. Was his serpent-laden seed an allegory for impregnating semen or infectious disease? We don’t know, but it makes a great story. While there are many versions of this story, they are often based on real people or events. It is possible the goat’s bladder was already in use for contraception, STI prevention or both in ancient times. The idea of the bladder being inserted into the woman first rather than applied to the penis makes it a strong candidate for an early female condom.

Between this ancient myth and the late 19th century, there isn’t much evidence of internal condom use. Birth control was used but not talked about publicly, at least not in much of the surviving texts. I’m sure some type of internal condom similar to that handy dandy goat’s bladder was in use during that stretch of time. The invention of vulcanized rubber in the mid-1800s started the mass production of condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms. You can find quite a few patents and products from the mid to late 19th century for pessaries, cervical caps, and the “womb veil.”

Finding a reference to a female condom in the 19th century proved to be impossible. I only managed to find many references to and one photo of a female condom dated 1937. I couldn’t find a primary resource for the image. I dug deeper and found an article on mosaicscience.com that cited another undated picture I discovered as coming from the book “Contraception” by Marie Stopes. The female condom in this photo was very similar to the one dated 1937. Intrigued, I went in search of the book.

“Contraception (birth control) its Theory, History and Practice” by Marie Stopes was originally published in 1923. Stopes was a pioneer in birth control and sexuality during the late 19th to early 20th century. She wrote many books on the subject including the controversial “Married Love” published in 1918. I finally found a digital copy of the second edition from 1927. There is a photo in the book of a collection of contraception devices that are “Various forms of feminine caps for wear in the vagina.” Among a variety of cervical caps and occlusive caps is one “feminine sheath or Capote Anglaise” that looks like it’s made of rubber. In the book she describes it as “Large membranous or rubber sheaths, the ” Capote Anglais,” calculated to cover the in­ternal female organs completely, acting like the male sheath in preventing contact of the seminal fluid with the vaginal surface.” She goes on to say. “All have an oval inflated rim with a long condom-like sheath of thinner rubber attached. In theory they resemble the condom, being merely in one way a reversed condom applied as a lining for the vagina instead of a covering for the penis.” I may not have found the 1937 female condom, but I found one from a book published in 1923, over ten years earlier.

As I was digging around for the Marie Stopes book, I found another mention of a similar contraceptive item. There was a listing for a “Capote Anglais or Ladies Sheath” in an “S. Seymour” Seymour Surgical Stores catalogue. I couldn’t find a date for the catalog but looking at the publishing dates of the “sane sex books” they had for sale, it’s most likely from the late 1920’s. I was surprised to find more evidence of female condoms marketed for sale in the 1920’s along with lots of other items I don’t usually see in print. You couldn’t advertise or mail anything containing sexual content due to the Comstock law, so I was quite surprised to find this catalog, even though it’s advertised as medical supplies.

I didn’t find much else other than the Marie Stopes book and S. Seymour’s catalogue until I got to Lasse Hessel. The Danish doctor, author, and inventor first developed his version of the female condom in 1984. It wasn’t until 1987 that Mary Ann Leeper from the Wisconsin Pharmacal Co visited Hessel in Copenhagen to see his product. It was polyurethane loose fitting sheath with a flexible ring at each end, unlike the previous feminine sheath options. The closed end of the sheath has a ring that is not only used to hold it in place but helps with insertion. At the open end, the other ring remains outside so that the rest of the sheath covers part of the external genitalia. All of this makes for a more reliable and comfortable internal condom.

Lepper and Hessel applied for a patent and Leeper created the Female Health Company as a new division of Wisconsin Pharmacal. They started the process of FDA approval and hoped to distribute in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Around this time you start seeing other patents for the female condom, all vying for FDA applications. I found a patent for a female condom that was applied for in 1989 by Harvey Lash. Dr. Harvey Lash was a plastic surgeon. Also inspired to action due to the HIV/AIDS crisis, he developed his own version of the female condom along with his son, Dr. Bob Lash, an engineer and entrepreneur who develops medical devices. According to Bob Lash’s website, it was well into clinical trials when a woman’s group protested and required testing against birth control pills and not a standard condom. That changed it from a Class II to a Class III. They disbanded the company when they couldn’t afford to start over on clinical trials. This woman’s group, the National Woman’s Health Network, also slowed things down for Hessel and Leeper.

While Wisconsin Pharmacal raised funds to cover the extended studies, Hessel decided to sell the world rights to a Dutch investor who created the company Chartrex Resources Ltd. The combination of the investor and a Dutch non-profit foundation made it possible to produce and distribute the female condom worldwide. Wisconsin Pharmacal went public in 1991, but the FDA did not officially approve the female condom until 1993. The FC1 was official in the US. Much to everyone’s surprise, it did not gain popularity right away.

There were complaints about the distracting crinkling sound the polyurethane condom made, as well as the steeper price even though studies proved the polyurethane could be washed, sterilized and reused. The FHC decided to use nitrile instead. Nitrile is also latex free, durable and resistant to oils. The material change reduced the production costs and retail price, although still more expensive than a male condom. The FC2 debuted in 2007 and was FDA approved in 2009.

Since then it’s become more popular around the world and is accepted as part of the World Health Organization’s national programming. Acceptance is still slow in the US, but the FHC, sex shops, and sex educators are working raise awareness and acceptance of this versatile condom. You can find a variety of female condoms now, and more coming that are either in development or undergoing clinical trials. We’ve come a long way from goat’s bladders and conical ladies sheaths made of rubber.

 

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Early History of the Prostate

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The word prostate has its roots in the Greek word prostates which means “one who stands before,” “protector,” or “guardian.” This may be due to its position to the front of the gallbladder. The Greek word was not used for the organ we now know as the prostate. In fact, it wasn’t a medical term but may have been the origin of the words “President” and “principal.” It would take centuries before a form of this word would be used for a part of the body. Use of the term “prostate” may have been used earlier than we thought, predating written evidence we have today.

Niccolo Massa was the first to make notations about the prostate while performing anatomy dissections in 1532. Massa published his observations in the book Liber Introductorius Anatomiae, an anatomy textbook. In it, he describes in the inner workings of the human body in great detail. Massa makes a very brief reference to the prostate but does not call it by that name.

Andreas Vesalius’s book, De Humani Corporis Fabrica published in 1543, has a more detailed description of the prostate. These early writings did not accurately portray how the prostate worked nor its actual purpose. They recorded merely speculation at this point, with some interesting ideas of how the prostate worked.

1600 may have been when the first actual use of the word prostate is found in a document. French physician Andre Du Laurens used a version of the word, “prostatae” in his book Historia Anatomica Humani Corporis. This is the wrong gender ending to the word, but it was used that way due to an error in interpreting the prostates composition and function. They were trying to find a name that identified it as doubled. It would take centuries before this error would be considered incorrect and a consistent term is adopted.

I found surprisingly little information about the prostate between the 17th century and the 19th. It’s not until the 19th century that you start to see more written evidence. Jean Cruveilhier, a French physician and anatomist who has several diseases to his name, wrote about the prostate in the early 19th century. Later in the century, Leo Testut would also write about the prostate. They seem convinced the prostate consisted of several lobes. Jean Cloquet and Marie Philibert Constant Sappey described it as a unique zone.

When we get into the 20th century, Joaquin Albarran described the sub-urethral glands in 1902. Bernard Joseph Cuneo wrote about the prostate in 1911, Oswald S Lowsley in 1912, Gil Vernet in 1953 then LM Franks, in 1954. John McNeal wrote about the prostate in 1968 and 1978. He had established that the prostate is histologically and anatomically heterogeneous. It has three zones, transitional, central and peripheral ones. McNeal not only mapped the structure of the prostate he is also known for pioneering prostate cancer pathology.

One big issue I found while trying to look up the origin of the term prostate is that it’s hard to say exactly when the term got its start. Most write-ups about the word credit du Laurens as the first to use the term as prostatae. Another abstract refutes this and says that other anatomists and physicians knew of the prostate’s existence as early as Herophilus of Alexandria in the 300s BC. Herophilus is credited as being the first anatomist, so it is possible he was the earliest person to write about the prostate. Often the prostate was described as a glandular assistant. Despite being looked at in cadavers for centuries, it was only until the mid 20th century that prostate cancer was fully mapped out, and ways to improve prostate health became a priority.

It’s interesting to see how long it took for doctors to uncover the mystery of “guardian” of the gall bladder. Now we have a whole month devoted to the prostate as September designated as National Prostate Health Month. Not bad for a walnut-sized gland that does more for your health than just provide an alkaline fluid for sperm.

 

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The Birth of the Butt Plug

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Humans have been carving and using many different devices for pleasure since the beginning of time. We not only learned how to use tools to create shelter, clothing, works of art, and weapons as we evolved but used those tools to make sex toys. The dildo is as old as, well, dirt but I was surprised to find that other sex toys weren’t fully fleshed out until the 19th century. One such item is the butt plug.

I was hard pressed to find much evidence of butt plugs before the 1800s. I’m surprised because I can’t imagine the concept of toys for anal play just sprung into someone’s mind a little over a century ago. Anal pleasure seems to have been limited to manual, genital, and dildo penetration. A flanged base was nowhere to be seen as far as I could tell. The only prehistory I could find was the practice of “Figging” which is the practice of peeling ginger into a butt plug shape then inserted vaginally or anally. Figging was a form of punishment or torture. Today it is used in consensual BDSM play.

Just to be clear, a butt plug is a device that has a cone shaped or anatomically correct shaped end that is inserted into the anus. It has a flanged base to keep it from slipping further inside thus rendering it irretrievable by any means not requiring a trip to the emergency room. The area between the flanged base and the central part of the plug curves in sharply to prevent the butt plug from slipping out. A butt plug is different than an anal plug for medical use. A medical anal plug does not have a cone shape but a disc or plug shape to prevent fecal incontinence. A butt plug can be worn for added pleasure during sex, during masturbation or even worn during the course of the day for continual sexual stimulation. Modern butt plugs vary in width, length, and shape. They also come in a rainbow of colors and a variety of materials. But where are the butt plugs of the past?

The earliest example of a butt plug I could find were rectal dilators used to help with constipation and hemorrhoids, also known as piles. The most famous dilators were a set sold as Dr. Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators from 1893 to 1940. Dr. Frank E. Young of Canton, Ohio patented his rectal dilators in 1892. Advertisement for Dr. Young’s patented rectal dilators can be seen by 1893. The package includes several dilators of increasing sizes in a somewhat familiar butt plug shape of today; olive-shaped tip with a straight shaft and flanged end. They were originally made of rubber, and the instructions suggested they be used with either Dr. Young’s Piloment lubrication or vaseline. One would gradually insert the dilator then as one adjusted to the size, would move up to the bigger size. The dilator relaxed and stretched the rectum to either relieve constipation or to allow hemorrhoids to heal. This treatment is still used today. One surprising recommendation for use back in the late 19th century was to prevent or treat insanity. Thankfully something the dilators are not used for today.

Dr. Young was not the only person to recommend the use of rectal dilators. There were others who came up with their own versions.

George Starr White used a method he called The Finer Forces of Nature to “… diagnose and treat all manner of unhealth.” He started his research on his particular form of medical treatments as early as 1881. One of the devices he sold was the Valens Bio-Dynamo Prostatic and Rectal Normalizer around 1928. White wrote many books about his cures and methods of diagnosis, many of which rely on natural remedies. 1931. His theories about chromotherapy and “The Golden Planet” of his true origin, remind me of an early L. Ron Hubbard. The Federal Trade Commission forced him to discontinue advertising his prostate treatment in 1931.

The Recto Rotor looks longer than most of the rectal dilators I’ve seen but was marketed for the same conditions; piles, constipation, and prostate trouble. Its extended length gave it access to the prostate, and it bills itself as “… the only device that reaches the Vital Spot effectively.” This product may be trying to do too many things at once since it also has vent holes to apply lubrication, or as the ad description says, “… through which the undulant inserted in the chamber below may be forced out by turning the knurled cap.” Everything about the Recto Rotor makes Young’s dilators look tame. The “knurled cap” doesn’t look like it’s flanged in any way so I can’t tell if this is supposed to be left in or just held by the user.

Some products were variations on Dr. Young’s rectal dilators such as Whitehead’s Dilator from the 1870’s and Thebaud’s sphincter-ani dilator from the 1880’s. Curvlite made glass rectal dilators and were around until about 1950’s. These look a bit more like the spawn of a standard butt plug and a chandelier light bulb than the straight-sided bulb tipped Dr. Young version. The bulbous main body of the plug has an extension at the tip that makes it look a bit gentler than Young’s. Just like Young’s dilators, these come in various widths so you can “gradually” increase the girth. I saw a set similar to the Curvilite glass set but made out of bakelite. It was on an online auction site, so there wasn’t much info but they seemed to have many early 20th to mid-century dilators mostly culled from eBay. I even found a company called Klystra (an enema supply company) that had a self-proclaimed takeoff on Young’s dilators complete with replica packaging. Unfortunately, Klystra has gone out of business so you can’t actually order one.

I found only one device that had a unique shape. The box is labeled The Talisman and has an entirely different shape that the ones I previously mentioned. It has a curved shape before ending at the olive-shaped tip. The auction house that was advertising it labeled it as a 19th-century medical vulcanite rectal dilator but the narrow shaft and curved angle looks more like it’s intent is to put pressure on the prostate. It looks more built for pleasure than for medical purposes, but since companies couldn’t advertise their products as pleasurable until relatively recently, we may never know the creators intent. It’s difficult to determine when these dilators turned from medicinal to pleasurable. While I’m sure someone had to look at them and think “oooh, that looks like fun,” no one was going to put that publicly in a catalog or advertisement for quite some time.

There had to be someone to who sold butt plugs for pleasure, but I have yet to find who that is. The first official brick and mortar sex shop, Beate Uhse’s Specialty Store for Marital Hygiene, was opened up in Germany in the 1960’s. Before that, Beate sold her products along with contraception advice through a catalog. I’m hoping to find some surviving examples of early catalogs like Beate Uhse’s to the first distributor. I look forward to having more info for the next Anal August

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Mughal Painting: Dildos, Sex Doll and Anal Sex

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In my travels around the internet to find interesting (well at least to me) pieces of sexual history, I’ve come across some things that I don’t seem to be able to fit in anywhere else. They just need to stand alone and be admired, discussed or pondered over. One such thing is one particular photo I found while researching sex dolls. The painting shows a copulating couple using some sort of improvised sex toy or machine. The first thing I notice is the two dildos are attached to a board, and one of them is being used for anal sex. Upon closer inspection, I see that the woman is headless. I find the same thing every time I search for more info about this painting, an article using it as evidence of sex doll use in early Persian culture. But is it really a sex doll? Is it really from early Persian culture? This painting was a mystery I just had to solve.

I’ve done some investigating but so far haven’t found out anything that relates to this particular artwork. Not even Wellcome Library in London which houses the actual manuscript page in its collections has any more information other than a possible date. Wellcome has it dated as 19th century, which means it’s not a painting from the heydays of Mughal paintings. It would have to be from the 15th-17th centuries. The piece looks to be part of a manuscript, and there are several other pages done in a style that appear to be part of a series. The other pages have similar looking backgrounds and the same man playing a reoccurring role in them. The manuscript pages seem more like a catalog of sins than a sex manual like the Kama Sutra. The other paintings show the same man copulating with a deer, having anal sex with what looks like a demon or the devil, a crocodile performing cunnilingus on a female demon, women masturbating with vegetables, and more. It’s possible that the subject matter is influenced by the time period. The 19th century found India becoming much more conservative about sex.

There have been several centuries of evolution in Mughal painting before we get to the time of this painting. The Mughal’s Muslim Persianate empire started in the 16th century. The Empire peaked in the mid 17th century, which was a golden age for architecture that included the Taj Mahal. By the mid 18th century, the Mughal’s influence started to decline and was given over entirely to the British Empire by the mid 19th century. During that time, the empire was known not only for its art and architecture but also for science and technology. Mughal paintings were often about the lives of royalty, including their sex lives. The sex portrayed in these paintings is quite explicit, even if the body positioning is painfully unrealistic. Erotic Hindu art greatly influenced Mughal art. Sex was shown as natural and commonplace, even if those practicing it are Mughal kings with their large harems or gods and goddesses. The tone of this painting and the others that seem to be from the same manuscript is entirely different than the ones from the three centuries before it. The sex depicted here is distinctly taboo. It has 19th-century Victorian moral hangups written all over it.

Knowing that this painting is from the 19th century also means that it’s not proof of the early use of sex dolls. I also find that the “headless model,” as Wellcome refers to the figure the man is copulating with, doesn’t look much like a doll. It has pubic hair, and henna on the hands and feet. Perhaps it’s more of a depiction of a headless woman, a way of further dehumanizing the already extremely dehumanized women of the Mughal dynasty. Another possibility is that the figure is a headless goddess, something not uncommon among Hindu deities. The most notable is the tantric goddess, Chinnamasta. She is often shown holding her head while blood gushes in three streams from her neck. This makes it unlikely that the figure in this painting is her specifically. It could be just a random headless goddess. And as if having sex with a headless goddess/doll wasn’t edgy enough, there is the double dildo contraption behind him.

The two realistic dildos, including hair covered scrotum, appear to be attached to a swinging board. I’d bet you dollars to donuts that he can push back on the bottom of that board and have the top part push forward to penetrate himself anally. He may not have all the cast members for an official threesome present, but he’s MacGyvered a sex doll and dildo board for a DIY threeway. We’re talking major maker innovation here.

I still can’t quite figure out where that second dildo is going. Perhaps he borrowed this from someone who uses it for double penetration. Or maybe there’s another painting where headless goddess sex doll is going airtight.

Perhaps I have thought way too long about this painting.

I can’t tell what was the purpose behind these manuscript pages. Were they part of someone’s kinky manuscript of sexy perversions that were meant to titillate or Victorian Christian propaganda trying to make this Mughal king look like the host of a satanically influenced sex party that includes demons, root vegetable dildos, crocodiles, and vagina birds? Yes, vagina birds.

Most of these paintings have some writing at the top, as this one does. I couldn’t find any translations and an email to Wellcome about the text has yet to yield an answer. The writing is in Urdu, which I would love to get translated at some point. I didn’t want to wait until I got a translation to write about this painting. Lakeside anal dildo sex seemed the perfect thing to share with you before Anal August is over. I’m going to continue looking into the mystery of 19th-century pseudo-erotic Mughal paintings. Look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with you.

Here is the full image:

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org

 

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Victoria Woodhull: Free Love and Feminism (Part 2)

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Read Part 1 here.

Victoria moved with her second husband, her children from her first marriage, her first husband who had become so ill and destitute they took him in, along with her sister to New York City in 1869. Victoria and Tennessee’s clairvoyance skills secured them a friendship with Commodore Vanderbilt. In exchange for their stock market prediction that landed him millions, he gave them a sum of money with which they opened their own brokerage firm on Wall Street. The firm did quite well despite having to deal with blatant discrimination. They also started a newspaper, The Woodhull & Claflin Weekly, which continued publishing a variety of subversive and radical ideas for six years. The journal even published Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” along with articles by Colonel Blood and Stephen Pearle Andrews. Victoria, Blood, Tennessee, and their family moved to a mansion in Murray Hill. Victoria was supporting her household yet again but this time not as an abused child or desperate wife with a dissolute husband but as a powerful independent woman.

Victoria had become a strong advocate for women’s rights. She wrote a letter to the congressional committee and secured an invitation to read it to the House Judiciary Committee thanks to her friendship with Benjamin Butler. There Victoria argued that women already have the right to vote because the 14th amendment which grants citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the US and the 15th amendment in which states the government cannot deny a citizen the right to vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude. She argued that women were citizens and could not be deprived of the right to vote just like the recently emancipated slaves. She likened a wife’s obligations to sexual servitude and involuntary motherhood to slavery. In her opinion, a prostitute is a free woman compared to a wife.

Victoria’s speech got the attention of other suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They invited her to the National Women’s Suffrage Convention. Her petition to the Judiciary committee was voted down and her request to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives was denied. Prior to her speaking in DC, Victoria had announced her intent to run for president by publishing it in the New York Herald in 1870. By 1872, the Equal Rights Party officially nominated her for the presidency. They even chose her running mate, Frederick Douglass, without him even being present. It’s unknown if he denied it or was even aware of his nomination as vice president. Victoria spoke publicly during her campaign not only about women’s rights and feminism, but free love, sex education, and even birth control. These subversive ideas made some women in the suffragist movement uncomfortable. While the usual election mudslinging was even more fiercely thrown at Victoria, public opinion began to turn.

In response to criticism about her free love ideals, Victoria published a tell-all story accusing Harry Ward Beecher, a renowned preacher and brother of suffragist Harriet Beecher Stow, of cheating on his wife. Victoria knew Beecher was having an affair with Theodore Tilton’s wife, Elizabeth. She hated the idea that he was “preaching morality in public while practicing adultery in private.” Anthony Comstock himself arrange for her arrest with the charge of “publishing an obscene paper” according to the Comstock Law. The Beecher cheating story cited as the obscene paper. She and her sister were held in the Ludlow Street Jail, usually reserved for more harsh offenses, for six months. Victoria missed Election Day and couldn’t even vote for herself. In the end, she didn’t get a single electoral vote, although her actual vote count is unknown. She couldn’t have been elected anyway as her inauguration would have been several months before her 35th birthday.

In response to her accusation of Harry Ward Beecher, she was accused of adultery with Theodore Tilton, a close friend of hers who even wrote her biography. It was most likely in retaliation by Beecher’s sister Harriet. The suffragists decided to distance themselves from Victoria’s radical free love feminism. Thomas Nast even characterized her as “Mrs. Satan” in Harper’s Weekly. Victoria and Tennessee dealt with several arrests, lengthy and expensive trials, and Beecher’s refusal to admit his betrayal. They found their brokerage firm closed, and their newspaper shut down. There were accusations of prostitution and infidelity. They lost everything. Victoria and her family were evicted and couldn’t find a single person willing to rent to them.

Commodore Vanderbilt died in 1877 and his children quibbled over his estate. It’s rumored that to ensure that Victoria and Tennessee did not testify the Commodore’s son William paid them off. The year before Victoria and Colonel Blood had divorced and gone their separate ways. I don’t know how they got divorced since they were never legally married in the first place. Victoria and her sister took the Vanderbilt money and moved to England. I can’t tell if they were asked by William Vanderbilt to leave the country or they just took the money and left to start anew. The tumultuous post-nomination years left them in shambles. In England, Victoria met and married banker John Biddulph Martin of the Martin Bank family. Now known as Victoria Woodhull Martin, Victoria entertained the upper class of London. She started a magazine with her daughter Zula Maud called “The Humanitarian” that ran from 1892-1901. Tennesse would marry Sir Francis Cook, Viscount of Monserrate, who would later become a 1st baronet making her Lady Cook. After Victoria’s third husband died in 1901, Victoria retired from society and lived a quiet life in the English countryside until she died of heart failure in her sleep in 1927.

Victoria was an irrepressible force in her lifetime. She sought to nominate herself for president two more times, in 1883 and 1893, but she couldn’t escape her reputation. Victoria was quite an enigmatic speaker and continued to lecture until 1893. You can find some of Victoria Woodhull’s speeches online. In her own words, she was “… too many years ahead of this age.” Still, she managed to do amazing things in a time where women had no rights and were treated like property. She fought for the right to be able to exercise free will. When it came to relationships, Victoria felt she had “… an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please.” Her ideas of free love, sexual freedom, sex workers rights and the rights of the individual are as important today as they were 150 years ago.

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