Tag Archives: Birth Control

Block Twenty-Six: Ladies’ Wreath

Perhaps my post from earlier this week regarding my great-grandmother was more timely than I knew.  Louise was mother to a step-son, fifteen biological children, and one foster daughter.

By coincidence, this week’s block in the Fight For Women’s Rights quilt project is Ladies’ Wreath, in remembrance of all the women who destroyed their health, or worse, died, by overburdening their bodies through childbirth.

Ladies' Wreath Barbara Brackman Fight For Womens Rights Quilt Grandmother's Choice

It was called the social purity movement

In the late 1800’s a form of thinking took root in middle-class American and European homes.  A movement was born that became known as the social purity movement (social was a euphemism for sexual).  This movement fought to abolish prostitution, pornography and other immoral sexual practices.  Additionally, the movement sought to outlaw any form of contraception between married, consenting adults.

Here in the US, birth control in whatever form you practiced was legal up until the passage of the social purity movement backed Comstock Act in 1873.  After that point in history, any form of contraception was not only morally but legally condemned.

Here’s a tasty little factoid for you: After the Comstock Laws were passed, it was illegal for a physician to discuss birth control or even suggest contraceptives to a patient.

And Then Margaret Sanger Stepped Forward

Birth control in the early to mid-20th century was still a risky proposition, but a few drug stores sold condoms as “rubber goods” and diaphragms as “womb supporters”.  Pamphlets were discretely passed around, but a few radicals, free speechers, bohemians, libertarians and utopians among whom Margaret Sanger numbered herself, took a stronger approach as demonstrated in this 1926 advertisement:

1926 US advertisement. "Birth Control"

Beginning in 1916, Sanger not only wrote and openly published periodicals discussing birth control, but founded birth control clinics, which inevitably led to her arrest, conviction, and imprisonment in a workhouse for distributing information on contraceptives. Sanger continued to openly campaign against the Comstock Laws, which she felt contributed to premature death in women and the dangerous practice of self-induced and back-alley abortions.

Major changes were effected less than fifty years ago when in 1965 the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to prohibit a married couple from practicing birth control.

Margaret Sanger died in 1966, but she lived to see the Comstock Laws abolished, safe contraceptives made available, and a small portion of women’s personal rights restored.

Small progress, I know, but there is still the fight for women’s rights going on, world-wide, and we’re still swinging away.

Note: If you’re money minded, contraceptive use saves almost $19 billion US in direct medical costs each year.

Sources that I found interesting:

Ladies’ Wreath

Margaret Sanger

Birth Control In The United States

Comstock Laws

Social Purity Movement