Focus on one of the chapters I uploaded and state the chapter you focused on. Answer the question I uploaded as a word document.

6

32. While the coiltto:Vel’Sy ov:br higher ,ec:lµC..
tion for .women in the late. ninet~th cent1,1’ry
focused on the damage of study to the reproduc­
tive system, this p11.mphlet sensationalized the
effect of c<>lll:Je on female morals, .

33-34. In one illustration from white, slavery tracts, 19W, a dark, predatory d,agon
symboli:ted the. darigef;that young worn~·faced iri the ~ig city:~lri the othe.r ,.a pandere!,
entice$ a he5it8nt woman t(> enter a dance hall.•The sign for· Hotll ~)Oms l)y Day
suggests the proximity of9J1p0rturiitlesfor illi(:jt sex. (<;:ourtesy of Special Collection'­ Univer~ity of North Cai;oliml--Orj:en~ro.). · CHAPTER Outside the Family IN 1885, twenty-seven-year-old Frederick Ryman lived alone in Catskill, New York, where he wrote poetry and letters to the editor, lived off a small inheri­ tance, and fancied himself a latter-day Byron. Although Ryman's poetry earned neither fame nor fortune, he left a rich historical legacy in his extensive diaries, which provide a rare personal account of male sexual experience during the nineteenth century. Ryman was by no means a typical American man. An atheist, he espoused free-love doctrines, passionately loved the poetry of Walt Whitman, and championed women's rights to equal education and employment. Nonetheless, the adventures he recorded at length in his diaries disclose a sexual subculture that Ryman shared with other single men and women of his era.· One crisp Sunday morning in February 1885, Fred Ryman set out for the nearby city of Hudson to visit Claude Macy, a close male friend about whom he wrote, "I can tni}y say I love." But on this visit, a man's love was not his object. "I told Claude plump and plain that I had come up to Hudson.for some horizontal happiness," Ryman later recorded hi bis diary. In the past the young writer had sought sexual pleasure with one of the "mistresses" he courted; at least once he had invited a young woman he did not know to his room for the night and was shocked when she expected him to pay for her company. But this excursion, Ryman reminisced, was "the first time in my life that I ever took a Vigil of Venus in a regular Villa of Venus and it is the second time I ever gave any woman money as a direct payment for pleasure." He later justified this violation of his free-love principles in economic terms: I was simply suffering for something and I felt as if I should go crazy if I did not get it soon & I don't know but it is cheaper and more fun to pay a professional than 110 111 INTIMATE MATTERS it is to fool around with these d--d nonentities who cackle so much about virtue. This only cost me $2.00 & I had $5.00 worth of fun I can swear. Ryman eased his remaining doubts about the propriety of going to a prostitute by referring to a physiological need to ejaculate. In contemporary slang, he revealed a number of methods men might use to achieve this goal, implying a hierarchy among them. Perbaps I was wrong to go but "a stiff prick has no conscience" as the proverb says, & I believe I would have gone crazy almost if I had not gone to her or to some other similar lady. It is one of four things suck shuck buck or fuck & I'll be G--d d--d ifl don't propose to fuck as long as I feel such a pressing of my vital fluid as I do now & d--n a man who will do either of the other three things [i.e., fellatio, masturbation, or sodomy]. When Fred and Claude arrived at Sue Best's brothel on this Sunday morning, "a lovely little blonde" who looked about eighteen years old greetecJ them "in a very cordial manner." Soon Ryman was "upstairs and in bed with the same little charmer and enjoying a vigil of Venus with her." He described her as a physical object and rated her sexual skills highly, despite behavior t~t he found unusual: She had the plumpest & firmest legs and arms I ever saw on any woman I think. Her breasts were rather flabby but her arms & legs were as solid almost as a horse's four legs are next to the body. She played her part well though I usually prefer to have a woman lie perfectly quiet when l am enjoying a vigil. This "playing up" is not agreeable to me but she was truly one of the finest little armfulls of feminine voluptuousness I ever yet laid on the top of. She was not splendidly formed but she was voluptuous & quite gracious & being a blond was the kind of girl I could love I think to a certain extent. Later that night, alone in his room, Ryman wrote a lengthy poem to the young prostitute, who called herself Lillie Costello. Aside from describing tlie sexual acts of the day, the verses emphasized Ryman's respect for the woman he had hired and so enjoyed: My Dear Little Lillie Costello I met you and crammed you today. And I would I might be your bl;st fellow So I with you often could play Today for the first time I met you And played with your pussy so cute Outside the Family And Lillie if e'er I forget you Then I am a crank & galoot. But Lillie you treated me kindly Your price I paid freely & more I'll say that I will not now blindly Forget this & call you a "whore" You're but like myself you need money For food & for fun & for clothes Ryma.n went on to recall the "gush" of his orgasms, his postcoital bliss, and the kisses he placed on "lips covered with hair." He concluded by pledging his intentions toward Lillie: both "To Cram you again" and "to remain your true friend ... 1 Whether Fred Ryman fulfilled his promise is not known, but he did con­ tinue to enjoy a variety of erotic pleasures with women until he married several years biter. As with other single men of his era, his sexual relations had begun neither in courtship nor in marriage, but in the growing opportunities for sex outside the family. In colonial society, marriage had provided the only appropriate locus for sexual activity, and throughout the nineteenth century it remained the most common and acceptable sexual relationship. But as young men like Frederick Ryman discovered, opportunities for sexual expression gradually expanded. For one, small groups of individuals openly chaJlenged marital sexuality when they eSpoused free lov~ or joined utopian comihunitieg that offered alternatives to monogamous sexual relations ranging from celibacy to polygamy and group marriage. For some men and women, same-sex relationships developed outside the family, often mirroring patterns of romantic union in marriage. Sexuality also moved into the world of commerce. Expanding upon the limited sexual commerce of late-eighteenth-century cities, American entrepreneurs began to trade in sexual fantasy and sexual experience. They found a small market for their wares among men of all classes, especially single men who lived apart from families. At the same time, a growing class of working women found that the "wages of sin" paid more highly than did other forms of labor. At first, these expanding arenas for sexual expression enjoyed a degree of tolerance, for they were protected by the laissez-faire attitude toward monltity and· com­ merce. By the end of the century, however, sex outside the family had come to loom as a significant threat to the primacy of marital, reproductive sexuality, a threat that would not go unchallenged. 112 113 INTIMATE MATTERS Utopian Alternatives The utopian communities that sprang up from the late eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries embOdied both an older AD1erlcan quest for perfection and a more recerit longing to recreate small-scaJe, homogeneous communities at a time of rapid urban and com~cial growth. Many of these groups, including the free lovers: Shakers, ·Mormons, and Oneidans, experi­ mented with alternative sexual systems. The sexual. views of t.ftese utopians varied widely, but they shared a central concern about the proper way to regulatt; sexual impulses. In the more mobile and. heterogeneous social world of the nineteenth century, the surveillance of individual sinners was no longer p0ssible, nor could the ritual of confession, repentance, and reintegration illto the community take place. For moat Americans, the family had to suffice to train the young in sexual self~ontrol. MothCl'S, aided by an ext¢dsive advice:: literature, taught their children moral valµes. U:topians, however, did not fb1d thesefatnilial mechanisms sufficient. Fro~ .the U20s through the 1860s, th~ sexuill dissidents created elabOrate; alternatives to the family. Although some free lovers found inspiration in the political legacy of the Revolutionary er~ which empha8ized individual rights and the pursuit of happiness, most utopi~ ans developed their sexual alternatives w~thin the context ofareligioµs move~ men,t for moral ~rfectionisJI); • . · · The perfectionist spirit . that sw~pt American religious life in the early nineteenVi century strongly influenced utopian sexual alternatives. A revival movement knqwn as the Second Great Awakening incorpqrated into Ameri~ can c11lt~rea mjllenarian theology that encouraged men and women to approx­ im~ie spirituai perfection. The· revival inspired' not only numerous ref0rm movements-:-from ~perance to abc?litionism-but . also. the formation of separatist . communities, or. "l:>;lckwopc:Is utopias.” ‘.fhousands of men . aqd
women left their homes t() j()in these communitarian experin,J.ents. Some.came
in q1,1est ()f spiritual Perfection. Others •. di$58tisfied wit)) the social order of
industrializing America, sought alternatives to the burgeoning capitalist econ­
omy, rejecting private ownership for comJJ1unitarian systenis, and sometimes
reviving agriculture or crafts in pl~ of industrial labor.

Just as they sought alternatives to the religious and economic organization
of Allterican society, niany utopians practiced forms of sexJ,Jal perfectionism.
Free lovers, Shalt.ers, Mormons, .and Oneidat}s each elaborated alternatives. to
the. nuclear’ family_ and monogamous marital sexuality. Free 1.ove.rs ~b~ced
the idea.of individualism, extending it to: its logical extreme and eleVAting.lpve
and desire, rather than reproduction, as the basis for sexual ·Union, Mormons,

Outside the Family

in contrast, turned back to biblical models of the patriarchal family, reproduc­
tive sexuali~y; and strict community regulation. Shakers and Oneidans grap­
pled. with the· troubling potential of the erotic by demanding extreme self­
control along with community surveillance of sexuality. Thus, at its borders,
utopians•illuminated the teqsions that pervaded the nineteenth-century seiual
landscape: What was the place of intimacy and the erotic, when reproduction
became less important as a goal of sexual relations? And who should regulate
sexuality, the individual or the society?

Free love referred not to promiscuity-or sex with .multiple partners-but
to the belief that love, rather than marriage, should be the precondition for
sexual relations. With intellectual origins in . eighteenth-century li~rtarian
views, .its first American proponent, Frances Wright” was an ardent freethinker ·
who opposed organized religion, slavery, and marriage, A ScQ~tish orphan
with independent wealth, close frieµd of Lafayette an.d of the utopiiµt 11ocialist
Robert Owen, Wright emigrated to the United States in the .1si0s. She first
aroused controversy_ when, after visiting Owen’s New l:larmony. utopia, she
decided to establish her: own,,interra~ial, cofflmunity. To encourage the eman­
cipation of slaves. by. pr0vingJhat tl}ey C()uld become free laborers and equal
citizens; .Wright bought several blacks and set them to work alongside whites
at. Nashoba, Te1messee.. An interracial.abolitionist community would itself
have offended the majority of Americans, northern or southern, but Wright
had even.more radical intentions.She had come to the c0t1clusio11 that only
the amalgamation of the races would resolve .the conflicts inherent in a biracial
$0Ciety. As her sister explained to ~ashoba’s slavC!J, “we .consider the proper
basis of the. sexual intercou1’$.C to be the_ unconstrained and unrestrained choice
of.both parties!’ Therefore, the Nashof)a community permitted interracial
sexual relations; regardless of marital ties, and such unions occasionally
formed.

When orthodox aboUtionists learned of these practices, they.dissociated
themselves from Wright and CQ.Odemned h”‘ in their publications. In response,
Wright formulated;.one of the earliest defenses !)f free love to appear in Amer­
ica.. She based:her th«>ry on the belief that indiviciua11.1 who mutually desired
sexual union should be constrained neit_her by marital status nor by race. In
her vision, sex. could be a key to human happiness, but society kept it from
becoming so. Writing in 1827, wh~ the middle class had .begun to embrace
female purity, Wright affirmed sexual pas1.1ion as “the best source of human
happiness” and. criticized public opinio,n and social institutiQJll> -for warping
th~s. naturally “noble” instinct. In. reaction to the growing public reticence
about se:xuality, Wright initiatenclildes by anticipating the blending of the black
and white population; as the social millenium. ” 3 At a time when women simply
did not speak at public gatherings; Wright defied the ideology of the separate
spheres and drew large crowds to her lectures. In response, angry mobs threat•
ened to disrupt the meetings; during an 1838 speaking tour, violent riots
followed her talks. No matter which reform Wright supported, whether uni•
versal public education or a deeentralized banking system, .the charge of free
lovewas invoked to discredit her, andfor years,when women spoke in public,
critics hurled the accusation of “Fanny.Wrightism,” intimating sexual· immor­
ality.

Her political opponents could not silence France8 Wright, but the weight
of public opinion took a huge toll .on. her personal life. Despite her libertarian
views, . Wright could not bring herself to bear a child out of wedlock, and so
she compromised her principles and in 1831 married the man who had impreg­
nated her. As a result, until her death in 1852, Wright spent much of her
energy struggling in private against the very marital constraints that she had
publicly opposed. These efforts drained Wright, who had no political allies to
support her. She soon deteriorated foto a lonely and inelfective figure.

Ironically, at the time of her death, a free-love movement that might have
championed Frances Wright was emerging within anarchist and utopiari;cir­
cles. Anarchists opi)osed till’ principle any state regulation of personal lit’e. In
contrast to middle-class culture, and unlike members of th:~ ‘reeently estab­
lished women’s rights movement, the anarchists did not shy away from the
public discus8ion of sexuality.• Elaborating on the romantic·ideal that linked
sexuality to love, anarchist writers· such as Marx Edgeworth ·Lazarus and
Stephen Pearl ·Andrews· attacked the “sexual slavery” of women who were
forced’ to bear children in “loveless marriages.” The title of Lai:arus’s 1·852
tract>Love vs. Marriage embodied thefree”lovemessage that emerged at mid~
century. Just as the state thwarted theindividual, so did the “legalized prosti­
tution” of marriage oppress womell and suppress love, Anarchists believed

Outside the Family llS

that a just society had to be based upon freely chosen personal relationships.·
In. the ·words of one free lover””””later jailed for putting his beliefs .into prac­
tice-,-marriage was i.’the htiad •and cometstone of the temple of injustice,
darkness,· disease,·. dell.th, and all the countless ills that aftlict. us.”s •Free love
was ·the·first step to their·cure. ·.

During the l8SOs, small· groups of men and women who shared the belief
that”passional attraction” rather than legalmarriage should bind individuals
together gathered to discuss or practice free love; Some met in NewYorkCity
at Stephen Pearl Andrews’s Broadway salon; known as “The Grand Order of
Recreation.” In 18SS, however, sensationalist newspaper accounts of the salon
compared it to a brothel and accused the members of practicing “barbarism;”
As a result, police raided the club and· arrested ‘its members, who. were later
acquitted. In the meantime, ‘Andrews and other anarchists practiced free love
at two short”lived utopian communities: Modem Times, on Long’ Island, and
Berlin Heights, near Cleveland; Ohio.’

Two Modem Times participants, Mary Gove· Nichols and· Thomas Low
Nichols,.· carried . the ;free•love message; even further than these separatist ex.
periments, championing the free.Jove critique of b<>th marriage and of uncon”
trolled sexuality. The author of anti-masturbation and women’s health tracts
in the 1840s, Mary Gove had once run a’>”Grahamite” boardinghouse that
incorporated the health reformer•s dietary principles. She also embraced dress
reform, opposing the tight·laced corsets then in vogue for womeri. ·Gove be­
came personally interested in free love when she herselfleft an abusive husband
and later formed free unions with more congenial men: Eventually she married
Thomas Low Nichols, a• hydropathic physician. The couple ran a water-cure
institute and published journals sympathetic to free love. Their popular books
Esoteric Anthropology (l853)and Marriage: Its History: Charoctet ami Results
(1854) elaborated the free-love claim that marriage was a·form of>prostitution
that encouraged libertinism. They also founded their.own free-love commu~
nity, Memnonia,.nearYellow Springs, Ohio, which Iastedforayear.Although
the pair ultimately toned down their sexual advice, cimverted to Catholicism,
and embraced middle”Class respectability, at midcentury they tried to popular­
ize the free-love alternative to marriage. 7

The Nicholses marriage guides •called for free choice of sexual partners,
insisted on a woman’s right to choose when to have children, and advocated
birth control. In addition,’they stressedtwo points that would recur through­
out late-nineteenth-century free-love literature. First, they employed eugenic
arguments to justify free-love praeti~. Echoing the · hereditarian ideas of
nineteenth-century science, they claimed that children born of freely chosen
unions would have biological advantages over those conceived by force; the
latter, they believed, would be more susceptible to the “diseases” of masturba­

116 117 INTIMATE MATTERS

tion, insanity, and criminality .. Second, like other utopians,··. the Nicholses
sought to ha.lance their belief in individual sexuaHreedOm with the need for; .
individual restraint. Defending freeJovers.from the charges of promiscuity so.’ ‘
often leveled againsuhem, they insisted that SCJ!.Ual union should take place.
only when love was present and. procreation desired. ·Mary Qove Nichols, ”
embracing. a romantic ,ideal· of sexuality as spiritual union;.· wrote that ·most
women ·desired ·sex. only under. these· circumstances. Thomas Low ·Nichols
suggested that women had the capacity for greater sexual pleasure than did·
men; nonetheless, he recommended only,monthly intercourse, for pr~tive
purposes, between monogamous free-love partners.•

By midcentury, freeJove had emerged as a radical means of resolving the
conflict between the sexual freedom demanded by the ideal of individualism
and .. the self-,control thought.to.be required by the necessities of social orqer.
While free-love advocates placed sexuality at the center of their political
discourse, other utopian groups, founded primarily upc>n religious. or economic
principles, also str1.1ggled with the dilemmll$ posed by the, transformation of
sexuality in the nineteenth century. Of.the dozens of communitarian experi·
ments established in the· United States, threegroup$-‘.;”‘the Shakers, the Mor­
mons, and the· Qneidan~ff’er ·an espeeially revealing pe~tive. on· the
sexual discontents of Americafi·.society. Each sect established a distinctive
alternative to the .nortn of monogamous, marital sexuality. ·Shakers chose
celibacy; Mormons practiced polygamy, and the followers of 1ohn Humphrey
Noyes at the. Qn¢ida.community engaged·in “complex marriage.” In each
experiment, these utopians .sought a new balance between the erotic a.nd repro­
ductive meanings of sexuality and between individual and community regula~
tion. of both.~~ ,and reproduction.

The Shal<.er religion had· been founded in the eightee11th .century by Ann Lee, an. English Quaker whose four children all died in infancy. In addition to. her traumatic reproductive history, a series of .. religious visions helped convince Ann Lee thatsexualrelations were the.basisofall.evil. Between ,her arrival in,America in 1774 and her death in 1784. she preached celibacy .to her follow~. who gathered in rural communitarian, settlements based on plain living. In the 1790s, her successors drew new members into several Shaker "families," and during the religiotls revivals of the Second Great Awakening, membership expanded. By 1860, six thousand Sbak,ers lived in eighteen .. vil· lages in upstate New York and the old Northwest.' The Shakers adopted the Christian view that the shameful curse of sexual­ ity resulted when Eve yielded to. the .serpent, who "infused into her mind the filthy passion·. of lust. " Like Christian monastics, Shakers believed in .tran­ scending physical lust in order to. live the life ofthe spirit. Unlike the monas· tics, however, Shakers resided in sexually integrated communities. Although Outside the Family men and women had separate quarters and were forbidden to spe.ak.or walk· together, they nonetheless saw .each other regularly at work, ,meaJs, ..,and wor1': shipi To averc;ome the temptation of carnal desire, the Shakel'S d.eman&ed extreme·self-controh·~~A;J1dwhen ye ate together, and in any,way begin to feel your natures excited.'' their rules.explained, "withdraw immediately from each other's presence, and war against that filthy spirit/'; Significantly,,Shakers supplemented individual .. restraints. with community controls. During .the 1840s, for example, Shakers established minute regulations for monitoring, physical behavior. Children could not bathe unattended;. "lest they te~pteach· other"; animals could not be kept1as pets, lest their copulations invite imitation or participation; brothers arid sister8 in the extended Shaker family could not even pass. OJ1 the stairs, so women stepped aside to. let men procee(LThrough careful surveillance, members .attempted to. prevent masturbation, homosexu­ ality, bestiality, and; indeed, any· physical touching.between men and women.'0 The Shakers abolished reproductive sexuality by.instituting celibacy, but they did not neeessarily eliminate eroticism from their midst. In fact, the Shaker way of life-including the elaborate rules concerning sexual propri­ ety--may well have focused attention upon the erotic. Shaker religious prac· tices spiritualized physical desire. through rituals such .as individual trances and group dances. Women, especially ,.enjoyed physical release during spiritual visions, when they rolled and fellon the ground as if p<>SSessed. Although men
and women could not touch during the ritual dance, they could be·”moved by
the spirit” to ,step, jump, clap1 cry out, and twirl convulsively. One ·observer
thought. that . the. dancing “neutralized the desire for coition.’·’ In contrast;.· it
may .have served. as an acceptable· form of erotic release, experienced by the
indiviqual but in the presence of the community andin the name .of the spirit.’,’

While the Shakers proscribed reproduction; the Monnons glorified pro”
creation as. the sole aim· of sexuality. Mormon Jout1der Joseph Smith had
introduced plural marriage in 1843, and his [email protected],, Brigham Young, pub­
licly revealed polygamy as a Mormon principlein 1852. Polyganiy allowed
men to take additional,wives .. but strictly forbade women,toengage in any pre­
ot extramarital relations. In practice, only a small proportion of the male
leadership-,.-perhaps under one-fourth-could afford.to keep more than one
wife. u Nevertheless,ctheAmerican public perceived the already unpopular sect
as, above all, composed of sexual infidels. Concerned Protestant missionaries
and women writers attempted to emancipate plural wives from their alleged
sexualslavery. The author· of Apples o/Sodom, one ofdozens ofantipolygamy
novels written;by Protestant women, claimed that the “accursed system” made
“brutes and tyrants of men.” “This vile doctrine,” claimed another expose of
.polygamy, “has destr9yed Jhe peace of happy, inoffensive neighborhoods, and
seduced many.a.virtuous and respectable woman into vices from which there

http:afford.to

mailto:[email protected]

http:spe.ak.or

http:Shal<.er http:thought.to.be 118 119 INTIMATE MATTERS is no redemption.'' From the 1860s through the 1880s, the federalcgovemment prosecuted Mormons who engaged in polygamy.U Despite the Mormons' publicimage of sexual depravity, they were, in fact,· sexually. conservative. Their ·ideas •reached back, to: preindustrial times and,, · drew as well· up<>n biblical notions of. patriarchy; Polygamy;· in essence, ex•/·
tended the traditional”Jiiltriarchal family beyond the boundaries of one house.
hold. Just as southern men· took slave mistresses and northern men visited· :
prostitutes, Mortm;m men affirmed male dominance when they took additional
mates, a privilege unavailable to wometvUnlike the northern middle classes,
for. whom; marital intimacy and reproductive control became increasingly
important during the nineteenth century, the Mormons rejected romantic love,
intense courtship, and contraception. Sexuality had one purposo-procreation,, ·
Polygamy maximized opportunities for reproduction by using every available­
woman in ·the primary role of childbearer. Equally important, Mormon theol•
ogy required earthly· bodies in order to .baptize the souls of one’s ancestors
in absentia. The man who fathered many children gained prestige because he
enabled past ·relatives to be saved; 1•

l4o1’tnons recognized sexual desire ·’in both men and women, but they _.
opposed its expression· outside of reproductive sex. ·The leadership forbade
masturbation and premarital sex, as well as contraception. As in the seven•
teenth century, adultery was a: capital oft’ense; The colonies had ceased to ·
enforce this punishment, but among Mormons, some .men and women were ..
in fact executed for adultery, Miscegenation, bestiality; and incest were als<>
capital crimes. In· 1857, Henry Jones, who ••had previously been emasculated
on a charge of bestiality,” was accused of incest, a crime for which both he
and his mother died’;·To prevent these illicit practices and to achieve spiritual
perfection, the Mormons demanded that ·men mas.ter their own flesh. They
believed that women lacked the ability to control their passions, so men had
to supervise them, channeling women toward ,reproductive sexual relations ·
within single .or plural marriages. Despite women’s elforts to subvert it, this
system.of male control proved’extremely effective. Premarital pregnancies did·
occur, but less frequently than in what Mormons calle1Nhe .. gentile” world;
wives did attempt to space births by late weaning, but reproductive rate$
remained high. The community as a whole valuemaiiCeS and•pressured women to
~t certain pattners. ‘J’o.;avoid irecjdental pregruin:cies, the eomrnunity.en­
coutagedcyoung men ·who:were not yet ex.penenced in coitus·resenatu&.• to mate. ,.·
with postmenopausal women. Tbr-00gh a sysUm•of:eugenic•breeding called
stitj)ieultdre, Noyes and the elders of the oommunity determined which mat-‘
ings· cauld· include propllptive’.SCX. Likd sexuality;. ‘childrearing· WBS COmmU•
~..i· ,..,;· …… ” …. “‘”·

Compared to the dozens of·short.;lived. utopias, the Oneida community•
persisted for-an impressive thirty-one years, with ovet’th~huooted:mem•·
residing thendn:· the 1870s: Iii that decade, however;• the yo1lnger generation
b!gan to lose interest in Noyes’s system, and the strains of communal sex and
childrearing took their toll on older mentbers.’ln 1879; a conflict over complex
marriage.sent ··Noyes into exile.and· the remaining members of the· community
restol’ed.·lllonogilmous ·marriage; ‘· · · .· • · ·’ · ·

;~J1ite·his·los$ofpower at·Oneida; Noyes remained influential.:His theory
of.eoitU&erl!semltus captured the·imagination·.of the next.generation of radical
sexllal•iheorists; who would elaborate: variations on his system of erotic pleas.;
ure-combined with control over orgasm and reproduction• NoyeS’s vision bad.
an impact beyond this sexual fringe, as well. In 1872~forexainple;;a respectable

. newspaper editor; influenced by, •Noyes,;. articulated ·ia. new sexuar ethic that
revei’Sed;the.eanier emphasis .. on reprOduetive;sexuality;-As’ David .~nwr
Croly ,explained, .•,•it .is the brutal and. inferior ,morality whK:h simply alloW&
the sexes to come together ,for purposes,of propagation; :and the highet,.1the
hum•’civilized morality.which allows·in~newithout reference to;ptopil~
gation;’!!• · Bxtreme’at “the time, the· elevation of sexual• refations; apart· from
reproduction, w(>UJ.d,be incorporated during·the twentieth century into tbC’
su~·jdeals of.:.American::society. ;,· ,…

“‘Free lov~; ShakerS;”:Mb~ons; and Oneidans stood.apartfrom the domi~
na1tt society., yeUhey mirrored its. sexual>concerns when:..$.ey sought alterna;
tive .resolutions: to the :tensions betWeeri erotic and procr.eative iex~lity •and’
between· individual and social control over sexuality. ,Free lovers· exalted indi”
vidual moral responsibility andjustified sex on the basis oflove. Other utopianfi
emphasized, s.elf~trol but· instituted extensive. community controls•as· welt
Close surveillance kept Shakers in·line;· Oneidans·employed .mutual criticism ·’
and stirpiCldture; ·and Mormons elevated polygamy to. a social dut)’· and
achieved.soane eugenic control by requiring church approval· for menrs choice
of wivCs. In these. ways the utopians attemptedto·keep sexuality~ communal
issue, as· it had been: during· an earlier histOrieal era. At the ,same time; :the
utopialls’ ·ideas. revealed ·the fears.shared:rby other nineteenth'”8elltury:;Ameri•
cans im.t the pursuit of pure erotic pleasure•would place the’individual beyoDd

the®ntrolof the eommunity.;For;~e, communitarian alternatives provided·
a·m~sto·allaythose:fears.1MQ11~1Ammea~ howevet.,’chose.to·remainwithin’
tht;: d()Qlina:rlt~·~; <.wb~::OilP<>rtunities f’o.rJndiYidual ch<>ice .and·. 19ual
pleaslil’it«CJ!:panc:kld;;.'” · ,, ‘·”· · · -···” · “- .. · ..,~”. ,.. . ..

·· . The altematives;c.proposed by. utOpiaris .expanded· the range of,acceptable
sexual,practices beyond familial,· reproductive relationships.·But·utopians; like

· the society” from. which’ they came, condemned as unnatural or imllloral any
sexualn;latiQnstba:UQOk.placebetween members:oftb~~ gendcm; Despite
this universal .d~pproval, several ‘kinds.of ..sa:me-sex··retatl~psi.ome of
them sexual, flourished in tbe,ninet•tb·’*1tury• .The unique ~J.~wodds
inhabited ~Y middl~l.. men andwomen.en¢our-aged intimai-e re1ati~hips,
especially ~ween. w~. who were S()Cialized, to· view tberpselve$’ .-s·,more
spiritual than men•and.~o value theseparale fem.alesp~;20.:For:ooth:W~en
and::,;11eQ. a cult offriendship f~~.rrunantie:fcelings’AAtlma.y;have sheltered
iexual fj~~;·()utside of thiS-largely middle-classarena•of ~tic·friend•
ship, a variety of sam~sell’ relationships formed where men· or women·lived
in isolatjon from the oppOsite seX, iri mining.or eow~y,.towns. for•exampl~
or: in. feriiale 8Cac:lemies. Within. these ·Settings, romantic fri~hips·~isted’
with· soliuat: relationships,· overl8i)i>ing.,;ai times. Alfh8ugh)tbey ditrdreci•iin
formal, strUCtUre from cOurtshlp•and marriage, intimaterelatiooshlps between
members .of the same sex Often mirrored the underlying themes itfnineteenth< centliry.family:life; In:1theni; women and ,nen·expfCSSed·1>8S$ionate- longings
f®emotional,spiritual; and.physical intimacy, Witliouttbe ftaditiomll associa­
tion of·iexu!Iity«and-<...roduetion. ·.. · ., The overlap of the l'Oftl3Jlti~· erotic•. and'1>hysieal:’has made it diJlicuJt, to
define th~ re,bltionships; espeeially ·in· light·of·the~way;S,Cxual meanings have
changed ·in, the;twendeth.,century; The· .mOdetn ,term&• hQ~ualitp·•nd
hetel’OSexUl.Jlity do n~kapply; to an CQi’.,that ;Jiat:Lnot’}’et 0artk:1ilated. these
distinctions;:Ohly in the late.nineteenth cimtury didd~uropea!Ji and A.merjcan
medical writers apply these categories and stiptizuome-sarn&’SCx· relation•
shipa an•forni of·.·seXual · perveBion; Until ihe 1’&80s, in6st’ romantic fi:iend­
ships .wefe’thought.:tobe·devoidof sexual·!COlltent• Thus a Voman or man could
write of·aft”eetionate desire for a loved one of the same gender without causing
an eyebr<>W to.;IJe. taisecfi . · “‘ ” . :, . ·

Just~as cQDt~porary observers asaumed these relationships to:be:asexuaI.
so have· many historians. Given· •the. ‘Stigma attachl!d to’saiOHelf .love ill’ the
twentieth .. century; ,some·. writers’ have taken great pains ·to -deny even, the
possibility ofJwmosex,ual ·CC:lritaeHn”nincteenth~tury ·friendships.. The .de­

http:mining.or

http:kinds.of

http:the�imagination�.of

http:eomrnunity.en

122 123 INTIMATE MATTERS

scendants and biographers of well~known figures, such as Emily Dickinson ot
Walt Whitman, insist that the terms of loving endearment expressed by these
writers .for their same-sex. friends by no means implied ~xuaJJonging.21 ‘Fbe
dearth of direct evidence ab9ut all sexual relations compounds the problem,of.
definition. Even though letters and diaries only rarely mention genital contac~
the birth of children provides a confirmation of heterose~ual int~urse· The
absence of procreative evidence, and the fact that few people .left direct recordS
of homosexual acts. could mean either that the acts did not occur or simply
that they were not recorded. The condemnation of the practice at the end of
the century provides a clue that it indeed existed. At the same time, however,
this ·censure may ·have· silenced the mention of samwex intimacy within
sources of the. past.

However difficult it may be to know whether sexual-that is, genital­
relations characterized particular same-sex friendships, it is clear that. the
meaning of same-sex love gradually changed over the course of the nineteenth
century.. Colonial Americans.had no concept of homosexuality as .a persorual
condition or identity.,. Rather, ‘individual acts of sodomy (anal sex between
men) or buggery (sex with allimals) were considered sins to be punished and
for which a man could repent. The laws. alm<>St always applied to men, not
women• because they typically referred to the unnatu,al spilling of seed, the
biblical sin ofOnan. Nineteenth-century Americans continued to ,condemn
sodomy, a tei’ili which they used to refer not only to anal sex between men but
also to various nonprocreative sexual acts, including masturbation and oral
sex. Over the course qfi the century, new meanings were attached to these
terms. At .first, the language of religion remained prominent in discu8$ions of
sodomy. For example, an 1810 Maryland court indictment for.sodomy· stated
that the defendant had been “moved and seduced by the instigation.1ofthe
Devit” But gradually legal concerns replaced religious ones. After the Ameri­
can Revolution,. the phrase ·~crimes against ·nature” increasingly appeared in
statutes, implying that acts of sodomy oft’ended a natural order rather than the
wi!l of God..By the end of the century, physicians employed a medical Jan.
guage, referring ti> sodomy not·as a sin or a spiritual failing, but rather as, a
disease,and a manifesta~ion of a bodily or mental condition. During the 1880s,
the labels’ “congenital inversion” and “perversion” were applied not only to
male.sexual acts, but to sexual or romantic unibns between women, as well as
those between men. 22

Underlying these redefinitions were growing possibilities for sexual reJa.
tions between members of the same gender.. Within the workingclass,·men and
women,who·lived outside of traditional families formed same-sex partnerships
for economic or sexual reasons, or for both. Within the middle class,,tomantic
friendShips fostered both spiritual and physical•· intimacy that might become

Outside the Family

sexual•.·For men, more than. for women, same-sex relationships often crossed
class boundaries.· For bOtli sexes, these relatioDships formed unselfconsciously ..
Not until the .last·qU$Ftet of the century did ·those who ·engaged· in same-sex
relationships find it neceiiary to hide or deny their passionate attaehments.

The flnl modelof same-sex relatiOJIShip; that of sexual or romantic part­
nerships outside the· f8milial model, was most readily available to white wage­
eaming mep; For them, the industrializing•econotnY oft’ered.opportunities to
explore sexuality outside of niarriage, whether on city streets or in the separate
sphere of all male activity• The ability to pui’ChaSe goods and services allowed
men tO live beyond familial controls, while the city provided anonymity for
theit actions. Wqe-ellmins men who lived in ~n boaJrdingholUes ci>Uld
bring other men ti> thelr··to’oms fOr the night or longer. In 1846; two New York
men who had met iii church lived together for three months, engaging in
nightly “carnal ‘intercoUrse•”” During the·t860s, poet Walt Whitman :fl’.e­
quelitly brought home youn; working-class men whom·.he met in· New York,
Brooklyn, aild Washbiiton. D.C. •’City of ()rgies, walks and joyS.” he called
Manhattan. The city’s “frequent and swift flash of eyes oft’ering me love”
repaid the poet’s eft’ort: ·

. – .
Saturday Jiight Mike Elljs •.. took him home~ 150, 37th Sti:eet .•. Dan’I Spencer
•.. ele,pt with me Sept 3d … Th~ .M. CW’ … ca~e ,tQ the house with m,e
.•. ~vfd w;1so,,.;..night of Oct i I; ’62, walki0g up .from Mid~-slept witli
me • · •• 9c~ 9i 1863, JerrY Taylor.: : . .iept ’11,ith me tast nisht weather sofi,
cool enoogh, warm enough, heavenly~Z< ' .·. . . . - , . . .i·. :... . ~ '', .',· Another. writer also benefited from urban anonymity. In 1866, Horatio Alger was run out of his pµlpit: in a small Mas$achusetts town. for .the "re,volting crime of unnatural f~iliarity with b0r~
wounded, sick· and dying men love each other,” he wrote. Before he left at
night he kissed the “p>0r boys.” Of a nineteen-year-old southern captain, he
declared ”our aft’ection is quite an,affair, quite romantic-sometimes when I
lean over to say I am going, he puts his arm round my neck, draws my face
down, &c.” Similarly, .a Confederate general developed a strong attachment
to his adjutant, a young man who shared the officer’s “labollfS during the daY
and bis blankets at night.” In the navy, accounts of tl~gging for homosexual
activity attest to the opportunities f~r sex on board ships. After the 1820s. the
growth of the American prison system created further possibilities for situa­
tional homosexuality. Convicts testified ~hat strong attachments often devel­
oped between older and younger prisoners, who shared their possessions, their
meals, and ~heir beds. Other prisoners recalled being forced. to engage in sex
against their will. i 1

The West provided extensive opportunities for male-Jntlle intimacy. Some
men were drawn to the frontier because of their attractions. to men. All men
were thought to have strong innate lusts, and the absence of women may havf
channeled· these desire8 to other men. Cowboy lore suggests that both long­
term attachments and temporary sexual unions could form in the wild West.
Upon the death of his partner, for exam’ple~ one cowbOy wrote a poem declar­
ing that the two had loved “in the way men do,” that is, an unspoken love truer
than “any woman’s kiss could be.” A limerick jokingly insinuated that older
cowboys occasionally initiated younger men sexually: “Young .cowboys had a
great fear I That old studs once filled with beer I Completely addle’ I They’d
throw on a saddle, And ride them on the rear.”At least one territorial court
case reveals that cowboys attempted to hire younger men to spend the night
with them •. In the frontier army, where soldiers often purchased the services
oHemale prostitutes; some men clearly sought male partners as well. At Fort
Meade, in the Dakota Territory, a Mrs. Nash first married one soldier, and
when her husband was transferred, she married another man. After her death,
“Mrs.” Nash’s identity as a man was discovereq.21

Working-class women also found that adopting the identity of the opposite
gender could expand their sexual opportunities. Most women did not share
men!s ability to support themselves outside of the family. Thus when wor:king­
class WQmen sought to establish same-sex relationships, they often did so by
adopting men’s clothing and ~·pwing”‘ as men in order to earn wages· and
marry other women. In the 1850s, for example, Lucy Ann Lobdell left her
husband in upstate New York and passed as a man in order to support herself.
“I made up my mind to dress in men’s attire to seek labor,” she explained, and

Outside the Family

to earn “men’s wages.” Later, she became the Reverend Joseph Lobdell and
set up house with· Maria· Perry,· living for ten years as. man and wife. In .the
1870s, a French· immigrant, Jeanne Bonnet; was frequently arrested by San
Francisco police for’wearing men’s clothing. Reporters called her a ‘!man­
hater” and described’ her as having “sbort cropped hair, a:n unwomanly· voice,
and a masculine face which harmonized excellently with .her customary suit
of boy~· clothes.” Bonnet visiteq brothels as a~I~ customer and fell in love
with prostitu~ Blanche Buneau, whom she convinced to leave her trade, In
1876, an angry pimp murdered Bonnet while she lay in Buneau’s ~;Across
the country in New York City, a woman took the name Murray Hall and
began to dress as a man. She. opened an employment bureau, settled down with
the first of her twp wives, and later adopt~ a daughter. H~ll ~me influential
in the Tammany Hall.Democratic political machine and earned a reputation
for drinking, playing poker, !lnd being “sweet on women.” Other stories of
passipg women appc;.red i~ newspapers.thro.ughout.the country. The account
of”Bill,” a Missouri laborer who became secretary ofthefoternational Broth­
erhood of Boilermakers, typified the successful passing woman, who lived as
men did and loved_ other women: “She drank … she swore:she courted girls,
she worked hard as her fellows, she fished and camped, she even chewed
tobacco. ” 29 ·

Within the middle class, a different kind of same-sex relationship formed
in the separate spheres of men and women; where romantic friendship was an
acceptable part of social life. In their- own realm, for example, many women
formed close attachments that could rival marital relationships in their per­
sonal inten~ity. White _middle-class wo~enfound it particularly easy to form
such ties, given the empb~sis placed on their sul>erior spirjtuai and nurturing
qualities. Women’s socialization, at home or in boa~dingschools, encouraged
th~m to fprm bonds with other worpen, and many chose a special female friend
in whol!l to confide. These youthful friendships often turned into lifelong
relationships that survived .both marriage and geographical separation. The
friendship of Sarah Butler and J~nriie Field ripened at boarding school in the
1850s. After Sarah married they corresponded 1md visited each other. “Dear
darling Sarah!” Jeannie wrote after a meeting, “How I love you and how happy
I have been! You are the joy of my life.” To send “a thousand kisses” did not
seem strange for these lifelong friends. 10

Within what historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has called the .;female
world of love and ritual,” intensely emotional and even physical relationships
could forrn. A woman novelist captured this unique female ardor in 1859 when
she wrote:

Women often love each other with as much fervor and excitement as they do men.
When this is the case … the emotions awakened Jteave and swell through the whole

http:discovereq.21

126 127 INTIMATE MATTERS

being as the tides swell the ocean. Freed from all the grosser elements of passion,
as it exists between the sexes,. it retainsifa energy,cits abandonments, its ftush, its
eagerne$S, its palpitation. and its J”aPture•… ne electricity or the one ftashes and
~ms tllroµgh the other, to be retwned not only i~ degree. as between man and
woman. but.in ‘(cind as between precisely·similar organizati~. ‘

Although the author, Margaret J.M. Sweat, contrasted same-sex love with the
“grosser elements” of sexuhl relations in ~rriage. bet main ~hlracter de”
scribed bet relationship! with women m extremely physical terms. ··t hllve had
my palisionate attachments among womell,” she confesSed, “which swept like
whirlwinds over me, sometimes scorching me with a furnace-blast; … I hllve
loted so mtensely thllt the daily and nightly cOrmriuni())i’ I hllve held with my
bel<>Ved ones has not sufliCed to slake my thirst for them, nor the lavishness
of their love for me been able to satisfy the demands of my exacting nattitC.”11

1’his fictioiial c<>nfession echoes. the histori~. experiences of women. In
1852, for example, poet Emily Dickinson wrote to her absent beloved friend
(and ‘•er sister-in~18w) Sue Gilbert:

Susie, will you.ind~ come home.next S.turday, ~be.my own again, and kiss
me as you used to? … I hope for you so mµcll, and. feel so eager for you, feel that
I cannot wait, feel that now I must have you-that the expectation once mOJ’.C! to
see your face again, makes me feel hot and feverish, and my heart beats so fast:._’2

Among women who attended college in the 1860s and 1870s, many formed
intensely romantic relationships thllt paralleled heterosexual courtship. An
1873 letter described this process as “slDashing”: ·

When a Vassar gtdtakes a shine to another, she straig~tw,ay en.ten upon a regµlar
course ofbouqu~tsendings, interspersed with tinted notes, mysterious patikages of
“Ridley’s ~ed Ciu:idies,” locks of.hair perhaps, llnd many other tender tokens,
until at last the object of her atterttions .is captured, the two become inseparable,
and the agjressor is considered by her Circle of acquaintances a&-&inoShii/;”

. .
Physical mtimacy-though not genital. stjmulation-aJ!long women was.

to an extent, normative within Victorian culture. An 1860 advice bOok ac­
cepted the customs of girls holding hands, kissing, and caressing, explaining
that these practices should be reserved for . “hours of privacy, and never ·in­
dulged in before gentlemen.” In the early ninet=th century, few Americans
associated women’s physical closeness with sexuality, because female sexuality
was at thllt time so closely ~ked with reproduction. Gradually, however, ,the
sep8ration of sexuality and.·reproduction made Americans more CQilscious of
the erotic element of these friendships. In 187S, the anonymous author of
Satan in Society decried the “enormous” extent of female masturbation and
claimed thllt at schools for young·ladies “the most intimate liaisons are formed
under this specious pretext; the same bed Often receives two friends. ” 34

Outside the Family

Women themselves clearly discovered the .erotic. possibilities between lov­
ing friends. Evidence from letters and diarieneveals that some friends longed
for •physical expressions of intimacy and spoke the language of courtship. In
1865, for· example; a married woman wrote to her friend, the feminist orator
Anna Dickinson:

I want to look into your eyes and sq~e your “lily white hand,;, and pinch your
ears all. for love of you darling. Four sweet letters I rec’d a day or two since and
it made me very happy; oh! you do love me! … I have an irresistible desire all
through this letter• to riiake love· to you. · ·

In the language of the day, “to make love” implied a desire to .court. not
necessarily to touch, her beloved. Dickinson inspired this sentiment in other
“suitors” as well. Over the next few years suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony
wrote to Dickinson in a similar vein:

Darling Ieari’t teU you any where,but s{lecially can’t on paperbow my spirityearn~
·ror your safe and sure growth. into· all that is true and beautiful and noble and
heroic….Now wh~n are you coming to New York~<> let it be soon-I have
plain quartetS–at 44 bond St..,….double bed-and big enough and good enough to
take you in- . . . I do so long forthe scolding and pinched c;ilfS and every thing
I kno~ awai~ ltl~What worlds of expc:rience since I h.s,i snuggled the wee child
in my long arms…. Your loving friend Susan..” .

Such intense and erotic relationships could foflll between men. as ‘Yell,
althougllfewer sources record their existence, In t~e antebellum period, writ~
ers ~d ~rti$~S of .the Transce,ndentalist movemcm,i foonulllled !ln ideal of
romantic friendships in which two kindred spirits might develop d~ and
lasting attachments. Ralph Waldo Emenion’s essay “On Friendship” idealized
such relationships, and men exposed to these ideas emulated’his model. Emer­
son himself had experienced a romantfo attraction to a: fellow student at
Harvard.· in· the 1820s. Herman Melville wa$ another member of this literary
circle who explored homoerotic themes. Melville dedicated Moby Dick. with
its depiction of male “Bosom Friends,” to his own dear friend, Nathaniel
Hawthorne. But Walt Whitman served as the most important reference point
for· men who aspired to the ideals· of “manly affection” and comradeship.
Whitman used the phrenological term adhesiveness .to describe the attraction
of one man for another and the spiritual connection they could ·establish.
“Adhesive love,” or· ~~fervid comradeship,” he believed, was necessary to coun­
terbalance and spiritualize “our materialistic and vulgar American democ­
racy.” In Democratic Vistas Whitman called for “threads of manly friendship,
fond and loving; pure and sweet, strong and lifelong; carried to degrees·hith•
erto·.·unknown-~’36

Whitman provides a good example of the filtering of middle-class romantic

128 129 I N T I M A T E M .~ T T E ..lt S

friendahip across class lines. The poet-shared much of his life with a series of
YOU.Oger. working-class companions. For several years he lived with Fred
Vaughan, .of whom ,he. wrote; ”l have found him· who loves .me, I as- I him,,
in· perfect love. .. In 1860, Vaughan heard Emerson lecture on friendship, and
in a letter to Whitman he reported on the theme of the talk, “that a man whose
heart was filled with a warm, ever enduring not to be shaken by anything
Friendship wu. one to be set on one side •Part from other ~en, and alm0$t .
to be wor5hipped as a saint … ,, · · · · · ·

Whitman described his love idl’airs .with other young working men in highiy
spiritual terms. To a fol’IJler soldier named.Tom Sawyer he wrote: “Dear
comrade, you must not forget me, for I .never shall you. My love you have in
life or death forever …. [M)y soul could never be entirdy happy; even in the
world to come, without ·YOU.• dear comrade.” Similarly, Whitman wrote to
Peter. Doyle; a young. streetcar conductor he met· in 1866,. “Dear comrade, I
think of you very ot)en. ~y love for ,you i$ indestructible•. ~ since that J.ligbt
& morning has returned. ptore than before!’ I)~yJe rec~I!~ die monient of
their initial attracti~n. ~n. ~. streetc&i i.n_. WashiDgt<)n;, D..c::· · · He was the only paisenger,'. it was a lonely night, so I thought I would go in and talk with him. 'Anyway; I went into the car. We were familiar at once-I put my hand on his l(~we understood. He did not get out at die end of the trip-in fact went all the way back with me. Tiie pair spent• long· hour8 together exploring the· city,. and wheii; they were apart they exchanged mtimate letters. In 1869, wh~ Doyle was despandent from fear that he Jiad c'ontracted Syphilis, WhitJnan Wrote in'tOneis aS maternal as they ;.,ere paternal: · ' · . · ; " 'h· Itaeemed indecid 19.me, (for I will talk out plain to.you, 4ea*.t· comrade;) that ,the ~e I lov~•. ~nd w~o had always been so.manly.·IPMf sensible, was .gone. . , .. My darliq, if you are nohyell when I ~me.back I will get a good room.or two in some qlllet place ~ . '. .and we will live •her, and devote ourselves to the job of CUrift$ you.,.. Whitman's life embodied the tension between romantic and. sexual. love among same-sex friends in the ~neteenth century,.He championed manly love as a form ofintense, romantic friendship; yet at times, he.struggled to suppress his erotic ·desires for men. "Depress ·the adhesive nature., he wrote ~n .liis notebook ·in 1870. ••it is in excess-making life a torment/ All this diseased, feverish disproportionate adhesiveness." Toward the end of his .life, Whitman replied to qU'1Stionsfrom,the British homosexual writer John Addington Sy­ monds .about .the c.Iamus. ~ in LeaNS of Grass, whicfu~ontain highly h00.oerotic passages. Whitman insisted that he spoke only of tbe " iadhesive. Outside the Family ness' of comradeship'' and .not of. "the 'amativeness' of sexual love," and he resented the "morbid inferences" Symonds had drawn about homoaexuality. Yet a Cdnfidant reported that Whitman had contemplated Symond's questions: "Perhaps it means more' orless. than what l thoughi myself . . . [P)erhaps l don't know what it ·au mearis--perhaps never did know;·~,, By the 188~· when he wrote to Symonds, Whitman's reluc:itance' to be identified as a' hdmosexual may have been due to the growing importance of the medical model of sexual disease; Previously, romantic friendships could be erotic in part because they were assumed to be sexually innocent. However, loving friends had begun to question whether their physical intimacies mark~ them as deviant. In 1886, for example, young Frederick Ryman described in his diary a night spent With a clOSe male friend; After talking about their lives and loves, the two men: w~t to bed; and Ryrbllil'driertd "put his arms around me & lay his head down by my right shoulder in the ihost;loving way." In the mornirtg'they "kissed each other gOOd bye:" Rynwf'felttM need to make a significant distinctidrNJetween these acts and'''5ex," adding that· '!there wig. tto sexual 1entimelit on the part of either Ofus;'' As· ifto reassure himselftthatthey had not crossed an unnamed boundary, he continued: · I .llJD certain that the though~ of the least. demo.ns~tion oLun~anly &:. •bn~al passi9n 'Y<>U!d ~have 1>ee11.a5 ~olti~gJo ~~ as it is & ever has ~ to, m~, & yet
I do. love .him & loved to hug &. kiss Jiirri beca.. of the goo4ness 4, g~ius l fin~
in his mirid;”Ciirist ·~~· & ~l>racCcl tJiose whom he loved I belieVe &: why sh~il
I fear to do the same’14” .

Yet Ryman did fear being labeled $CX1Jally abnormal, as men and .WE>meil
of an earlier period did not. -In ‘.the decade in· which he wrote, American
doctors; following the lead, of Europeans, began to define same-Rx relation­
ships as perverse; and they debated methods for treating. hom0$Cxuality :as a
diseased mental’~”Thi$•shift in attitudes.iS evident in the case of Lucy Ann
Lobdell, the• passing woman from upstate ‘New York., In. 1855 Lobdell had
safely published a brief narrative of her life as “the female hunter.” By 1883,
however, she had become the subject of a medical account of “sexual perver­
sion.” Lobdell spent the last decade of her life in an-insane asylum; where· Dr.
P. M. Wise categorized her as a “Lesbian” and described her “paroxysmal
attacks of erotomania.” According to Wise, ”It is reasonable to consider true
sexual perversion as always a pathological condition and.a peculiar manifesta­
tion of .insanity;”41

When the medical discourse on sexual perversion emerged at the end·ofthe
century, the po&sibilities for same-sex love had already eXpandedgreatly. Wage
labor, the ability to live apart from families, and the sociability of the separate
sexual spheres had fostered romantic, spiritual, bomoerotic, and sexual unions.

http:attitudes.iS

http:1>ee11.a5

http:century,.He

130 131 INTIMATE MATTERS,

The medical labeling of same-sex intimacy as perverse conflated. an entire
range ofrelationship& and stigmatiied all· of themasJl single,· sexually deviant
personal identity. Same.sex relationship&. thus lost,the innocence they had
enjoyed dUring most of the nineteenth .century. Nolletheless, tltese unions had
expanded the opportunities for intimacy anc,t sexuality· apart from reproduc·
tion and the fiµnily, Both men and women wouJd continµe,-to engage in
same·sex relations; but.with greater self-consciousness about their sexu!llcom·
ponimt•

Sexual Commerce

In addition to theJ~mergence of new types of intimate relationship&, the
social spaces i0 .which the expr~ion.of sexuaJity t()()k place expanded qver the.
course of the ..ninet~tJ.l century. AJtJiqugh the middJe,class family va.lu,ed
~xual privacy and caJied .fpr .publi~ reti~ce, within working·class neighbor·
hoqgs,. selt .·retained its public presence, and the grgwing world of COIJlmerce
i0~reasingly i11corporated sexuality \!ithin its. nexus. Beginni11g in port cities
of the late eighteenth century, certain 11rl>an districts catered to sexua.l pom·
merce. As these terrains grew, in defiance of middle·class reticence, contempo­
rary observers Ia,11Cl~ tnem the “underworld.” Whether in eastern cities or on
the frontier, wherever si~~lemen congregatedthey created a market for sexual
~ryiees, tifoging (tom titiU.ation by eroticli~~ature orthe th~terto physical
access to prostitutes in. dance halls and brothels. In. the West, for example,
comic almanacs of the early nineteenth century openly • represented sexual
desire; a generation later,· dime novels provided vicarious sex and violen¢e to
bothwestemand eastern readers. In cities throughouMhecountry; legitimate
commercial dance halls hired women to entice men to dri~k. while illicit sex
occurred on .the premiSes or ill brothels and di8creet assignation houses:, ·

Dance halls appealed· to a• clientele of single men. who. worked either· in
cities or mining towns. By the l8SOs these rrten could also entertain themSelves
at·clu~ that offered tableaux. vivants,· .forerunners Of the strip show. The
Melodeon, a “concert saloon” on Broadway in ·New· York City, featured
“waiter girls” in short-skirted. theatrical· costumes who performed “Gaieties,•?
served drinks, and sometimes joined customers at their tables. Women could
also attend, and some of the working women who. frequented the Bowery did
so. Other establishments catered to specialized clientele. Near the New· Xork
waterfront, sailors and dock workers frequented dance houses named Nep.
tune’s J.lome and SnugHatbor, where they paid twenty cents a dance to waltz
or polka .with the prostitutes ayailable there. At other dance houses, prize­
fig}tters brought their own women .. Freeblacks attended separate dance halls/2

The undetworlc:J. was not .simply a working-class •phenomenon. It housed

Outside the Family

a variety. of services catering to men of all classes. As one aµthor explained in
1~69, New York’s unde:rwqdd ranged from fashionable Fifth, Avenue man~
sions,. whe.re. wealthy. men. kept prostitutes, to Canal Street.cigar stores tltat
sold erotic pictures. In addition, tbe underwodd provided the s~ for:sexual
mixing between cJasses, primarily when middle-class men. purchased the sex­
ual services of.working-class .women. <;:ontemporary oblerve:rs oftlte mid~ to late. nineteenth .. century ·also ·expressed concern .about· tile opportunities .for middle-class women to have illicit sexual encounters. ·~women of high positiqn and culture, no less than the unlettered sltop girls/' one autltor bemoaned, "resort to the houses of 'assignation.' ~· At these elegant urban or .suburban restaurants, couples could ·rent roomsJor prices rangingJrqm fifty cent$ to ten dollars, suggesting a class mixture in the clientele, By .1866, a pqlicelJllln claimed tJiat New York had ninety-nine sucll houses, as welfas seventy~seven concert saloQn!J:and over six hundred l)rothels.~3 • In addition to d,le lure of dance hall11 and houses.of assignation. by ni•dcen­ tury sex for sale took the form.of cheap "licentious'"literat.ut:e•.or w~twould later .be termed pornography., Prior to.theJ840s, .Americans could procure only limited reprints of erotic classics pqblished in Europe, although the lurid anti-Catholic novel Maria Monk (1836), with it$ allegati~s 9fsex 1between nuns and, priests, w~ a best-seller for a generation. The production oflan indigenous Anierican pornography began after 1846, when William Haynes, an Irish surgeon who, i~migrated to New York, took the money he had made by publishing FannJtHilhin the United States·. and reinvested it into the production ,of clteap erotic novels. Titles such as Confession$ of a Lady's Waiting Maid {1848), Amours of an American Adventurer in the New World and Old (1865), and The Merry Order ofSt. Bridget (a flagellation novel, 1857) rolled otlAmerican. presses.~ At ·the same time, less,.sexually-explicit · but titillating• western adventure literature, often featuring the seduction ofllelp,­ less women, becameincreasingly available to a grQwing male market in cities oftheNqrth and West. In the 18505; a flurry ofeditorialsdecried the "Satanic Literature" that could be. purchased .at railroad depo~, .steamboat docks, and in hotels. Significantly, the editoi;ials did not call for cenS,.Orship. but ·rather invoked community pressure to. cultivate purer literary tastes.~' , The market for pornography expanded during the Civil War. The congre­ gation of men in the army apart from families created a.demand for sexual commerce and constituted an easy market for p~tveyors to target. The cheap fiction produced by William Haynes became· "barracks. favorites" during the war and encouraged increased production in the postwar years. According to one infantry officer,. "obscene prints and photographs" were "quite commonly kept and eihibited by soldiers.and. even officers;~' Disturbed by the am;iy's failure ·~to checkmate and suppress" the sale of these items, Captain M. G. http:houses.of http:expr~ion.of 133 1·32 INTIMATE MATTERS Tousley·wrote directly to Commander in Chief Abraham Lincoln, enclosing as evidence a cimllar ·advertising '"New· Pictures. for Bachelors~.. Tousiey's vigilance has left.:a rate record of midcentury tastes in male fantasy. For twelve centa·'a:piece or $1.20 a dozen,. men could,,purchaSe twelve.-b)'-ftfteen•indi pietUtes; suitable for framing. Most of the 'advertised pictures placed the man in· the· role of voyem observing groups of young women. ht various states of undress. In "Wtiod•Nympbs' Frolic;'' for example, girla "enga'ged in a rustic dance .••.in all the ·coDsciousness .of·innocence, caring little· whether or not they are seen in their·nude and interesting frolic." Less frequently·the viewer could imagine himself in sexual command, selecting or seducing a woman. Significantly, the women depicted in these scen~..Circassion Slaves" and an Indian maiden-were not white." . Titillating pictures ·and literature· continued to circulate dtlting ·the late nineteenth centµry. In the new'ly popular pool halls,: working"Cllss~men ex~ changed Obscene postcards and books, while images of· semiclothed women adorned the wall. Simiwly, the all-male saloons often had paintings of nude women; The most famous was Adolphe William ·Bouguereau's Nymphs and Sazyr ( 1877); copies ofthig French painting.hung in many hotel bats." salOOll$ oft'ered a background· of ribald music; to which men could drink, talk, and glance through the Scandalous Police Gazette. This popular crime· and sports newspaper;. which often prirtrayed women of the .. demitnonde,~'Carried ads for patent medicines ·promising to cure syphilis and gonor.rhea or tt> enlarge ••cer­
tain parts’~ of the body. It also advertised books•such as Pauline’S Caprice­
.. daringly unique in its spiciness” and complete with’ colored illustrations, it
told the story .of “a Young. and Gay Girl’s Life ,in the Whirlp<>OI of Fast
Parisian ·Oayety. “••
·.. , Sexual commerce. involved not only the. vicarious pleasures· of~pictures,
songs~’and stories; men could also buy the services of prostitutes. On a small
scale. prOstitution· had taken economic root in the late eighteenth century;’ but
comme~ and. urban gr0wth in the early· industrial era eteated ‘both an
enlarged ‘supply· of prostitutes and a new demand· for ·their. services.· The
economic disruptions of early industrializatiOn ·displaced p6or”Women from
traditional means of support, such as;’spinning. Domestic service was one of
the few paid jobs that woinen could find, but most disliked the work. Accord­
ing to a thirteen-year-old girl whose income helped feed her family, she would
rather sell her ·body for a shilling than become ·a ·icrubwonum. Servan,ts·not
only earned low wages, they were also· extremely: vulnerable to ‘the -sexual
advances:.oftheir employers. FUrthermore,>because of the new cultural empha­
sis on female rpurity, a young- woman who· was ”ruined” by ·rape or seduction
mjght have difficulty finding respectablti·Work or a marriage partner; One
young woman, seducedin 1835, first lived with her lover but decided to leave

OUtside the Family

him in order to become a prostitute. Other working-class women engaged in
casual prostitution. In New York City”‘ for example, impoverished teenage girls
coinbined·. petty . thievery with streetwalking to’· support• themSelves. some
wotkmg;;cJUS ‘Women who “walked· out’~ Gil oitY streets in ‘search of’ anuise.;
ments occasiOlially accepted· money for sex. Thus fifteen;.year-Old Jane OrOes­
beck ofNew York went to the racesi met a storekeeper, and earned iive dollars
for· speiiding ·the night with biin;••. ·1n short, sexual ·services beeaine one of
women’s.labors to be drawn outside of the home and into the public sphere
of commerce.
· · At the same time, an expanded clientele for prostitutes filled the cities: men
who lived unattaehed to families, earning money as laborers or clerks aild’
enj<>ying the protections of urban anonymity~ Gentlemen; too; could affOrd to
take advantage ohhe availability of streetwalken”,justifying their behaiiol’ in
the name of protecting the purity of Women of their own class. At a time”when
male; lust was thought· to be natural, the avail&bility of paid cimsorts,. like that
ofblaek slaves in the South, protided an outlet ‘that protected middl&; arid
upp(r.CJa8s women from unwanted’ intercourse; The ”pure”· woman and the
.. falleil” woman represented two sides of the same sexual arid painticH~ll fashiOns shutined
by respectable women. In later decades, prostitUtes’·adopted bther·symbtils;
such as cigarette smoking, to mark their status. ·Higher-paid prostitutes openly
solicited customers”on fashionable Broadway, a nei.ghborhoocfthat housed
elegant brothels; lower-paid prostitutes congreg&:ttd ‘in the poorer Five Points
district; and later on the “Are&· Black” near ‘Broome Street. At midcentuey
some’ brothels catered.t6 ‘specialiZed tllStes, offering ‘nude ‘dancers ot ‘child
prOstituteS; Out-of-town visitors could ·purchase a “gemtleman~s guide” to help
locate better”houses’·and prostitutes: In the· 18SOS. Dr. William Sanger es­
timated that there V«C over six thousand prostitutes, or one for every sixty­
four inen, in New York City. Smaller cities had tbCit brothels; u well. Between
1865 and 1883, forty madames .in St;· Paul, Minnesota, o))erated houses that
lasted for eight’ to ten years each. San Francisco hosted a full range ofestatiiiSh~
mettts, from dance halls to brothels to elegant ••parlor houses. •• One estimate’
claimed that Chicag0 had over five hundred; btOtbels in 1860, and by the 1880s,
a Philadelphia neighborhOod included parlor houses, massage parlors, and
dance halls.’°· ·

In the South, which became urbaniZed much later than the Northt prostitu­
tion operated ·on a smatler scale. White men who seduced or raped blaek
women had lesS need to purchase sex from prostitutes. Nonetheless, both

135 134 I N T I M A T E M A T T E R .. S

married and single men did visit brothels in southern cities. In 1858, the may()r
ofSav1mnah estimated that his city had one prostitute for every thirty~nine
men and that Norfolk had one per twenty-six men. Most southern pl”()$titute$
were white;. ,in antebellulJl Petersbµrg, Virgin~.for instance, no black wQmen
w.ere among. those arrested·· for ·”keeping a Bawdy Hol!se and House of bad
fame.” In New Orleans, foreign-born women and teenage girls,· hard pressed
to find jol>s outside of domestic work, sold· sexual services in ballrooms, .CQf~
feehouses, and . brothels. They sef’ed a clientele of transient single men­
sailors and river workers-as well as married family men.”

The Civil War. facilitated· the expansion ofprostitution. Where men massed
for training or battli;women congregllted to profit from sexual labor. Union
soldiers wrote home about the availability of prostitutes throughout the South,
claiming to find “loose women on every hill and in every valley” and ”plenty
of whores” in the. cities. One observer, testifying about ~e U’11ion occupation
of the South, claimed that he had “never been to any locality where the officers
and the men, who were so disposc:d, did not.sleep with all the women.arQu:nd; ~~
The incidence of venereal.diseaseamong soldiers-estimates range from eight
to seventeen percent. for the Union army as a whole-suggests one effect of
wartime prostitution.’2

The social disruption of the Civil War brought more womeninto prostitu~
tion. Some southern women no doubt-turned to it out of destitution born of
the destruction.()fhqmes.apd fanns. Their attitude .«>ward nqrthem customers
was . revealed by a. soldier stationed in Richmond, Virginia, shonly after its
captw:e. The women ”.damnyankee us on the .street in the daytime,” he wrote
home, “bu.tat night the. skirts come up for good yankee gold.:’ Other women,
~uch as those in Carlisle, Penn~YJ~!lJlia, who j()inecta d:rinking party of soldiers,
engaged in sex less for profit.than for.tadventure,.”After.much whiskey and
dancing,” a soldier recorded,. “they shed most oftheir garments and offered
to us .their bottoms.” Brothel$ proliferated as well during the. war. Washington,
D.C.,allegedly had over four hundred ”bawdy houses,~~ including Mrs• Wolrs
~n, Fort ~umter, and Um;onditional Surrender; pr()Stitutes ·honored General
Hooker by naming the brothels lining Lafayette Sqµare”Hooker Row•” lli$
u.nclear whether they did so because he frequented the area or because he
limited them to this section, but in any case the term. “hooker” became slang
for. “prostitute. “‘3

The settlement .of the western territories contributed. further to sexual
co1mnerce. During .the early periods of settlement;· heavily skewed ~x ratios
in cattle and mining towns .created a demand for sex among si.o~e.. male
settlers. Their demands, and their ready cash, in Jurn opened QpportU~i.tie.&’.for
madames and prostitutes. A western ballad captured the processi ·~Fi~t,~e
the miners tp work in the mine I Then came the ladies who lived oµ. the line.~·

Outside the Family

In some towns on the Comstock, Nevada, silver lode during the .1860s, Pr<>Sti~
tution was the·.Jargest occupational category for )vomen wor~ing outside,Jbe,
home.One historian hasestimatedthattwenty p¢rcent ofall.women in Califor­
nia·duringthe decade after the. gold rusbwere prostitutes, and that prostitutes
outnumbered other women in early mining camps by a ratio of twenty-five to
one. In Virginia.City, Nevada, fifty prostitutes resided.on one downtown street
in 1880, and one of the many brothels, Cad Thompson’s Brick House; had been
in operation for sevent~t:i· years”~t ·

The militllJ’Y presence in the West also attracted prostitutes .. As during the
Revolutionary War, female camp followers sometimes performed sexµal as
well as domestic labor for soldiers. Traders and soldiers also drew Indian
women into prostitution, spreading, venereal disease among Indians who lived
near army posts in the Southwest•. The demand for prostitutes. to servjce
soldiers encouraged the establishment of the OlIY rural brothels in the country,
the ~·hog fanns·~ that sprang up near military fons. /J’hese ranches. often
operated by a.married couple, housed from three to twelve pr()Stitutes, usually
white but sometimes black women as well. Although the army officially con­
demned the ranches;,.soldiers,kept1them in business.”

On the. West Coast, a distinctive.system.of sexual slavery involving Asian
women developed during .the late nineteenth century. Along with the importa~
tion of Chi~ese male. laborers to woi:k on the railroads ·during the l86Qs,
thousands of Chinese wom~n came .to th~r United States as prostitutes. Lured
by promises of marriage in America, kidnapped, or .sold by poverty-stricken
families in China to become indentured servants, these young women signed
papers to secure their passage, usually. to San Francisco. Unable to pay th~r
debts• .they contracted to serve from four to six years of sexual labor. Most
worked in the lowest form of brothel, the small ”cribs,” or rooms, that lined
Chinatown’s alleys. They serviced Chinese and white men for a small fee per
customer. At the peak of importation during the 1870s, the census listed
“prostitutei• as the occupation of two,.thirds of the thirty•Jive hundred Chinese
women in·ealifornia. Similarly, iff the 18~0s, .Japanese sailors and brothel
owners abducted women and brought them to the. United States to become
prostitutes. They served whiti; Chinese, and. Japanese men in, Seattle, . San
Francisco, and Los Angeles. In each case, Chinese and Japanese men profited
from thesale of women and·theoperation of brothels, investing their money
in the burgeoning Asian communities in these cities.”

In contrast to the tight male control over Asian prostitution, most white
prostitutes seem to· have . operated independently or within brothels run. by
women, Men profited from prostitution”‘–as landlords of brothels, owners of
saloons. and theaters,· and police and· p0liticians who received payoffs .. Some
women lived :with or )Jelped support a “sporting. man” who controlled her

http:distinctive.system.of

http:resided.on

136 137 INTIMATE MATTERS’

earnings; in the late nineteenth century, some working-Class boys began to
pimp for prostitutes at gambling houses or as newsboys on the street”7 But the’
role of the pimp who controlled’ one or more dependent prostitutes bad not:
yet evolved; From streetwalker to madame, prostitution remained, for the
most part, a female-dominated occupation.

Nineteenth-century social reformers frequently tried to explain the growth
of prostitution;in terms of the types of women who entered the trade. Dr~
William Sanger, for example, noted that slightly over half of i:he two thousand’
New, York City prostitutes·be surveyed in the 1850s were foreign-born-me
majority from Great Britain-‘-and that three~fourths were under age twenty~
five. Reluctant to consider female sexual desire as a motive for, prostitution,
Sanger empbasized’alcohol and eeonomic need,: as his “case studies” indicate.
Undl!T the cause of “inclination” he included C.M. While still “virtuous” she
hlfd “visited dance-houses, where she became acquainted ,with prostitutes, who
persuaded her that they led an easy, merry life; her inclination was the,result
of female persuasion.” Another woman, E.C., had willingly entered i:he trade
“in· order to obtain intoxicating liquors.1′ C•R:/s husband deserted her, “be­
cause she drank to excess,” and she too turned: to prostitution “in order to
obtain liquor.’~ In sum, Sanger wrote, “in many of the cases, what is called
willing prostitution is the sequel , of some communication or circumstances
which undetrninethe principles ofvirtue and arouse the latent passioris;” To
illusttate the economic originsof prostitution, Sanger· offered cases such as that
ofM.M., “a widow with one child” who “earned $1;50 per week as a tailoress.”
Another woman, a servant, “was taken sick while in a situation, spent all bet
money, and oould get no employment when she recove(ed.” Sanger quoted the
words of M.T., who explained that she “had no work, no money, and no
home.” Other cases of poverty included a widow with three children who
“could not obtain steady employment,” and a German immigrant who “was
robbed ofall her money the very day she reached the· shore/'”

Subsequent studies both confirm and.refine Sanger’s profile ofmidcentury
prostitutes as impoverished young women who were often foreign-born. Some
had run away from home to escape parental controls, and some preferred
prostitution to work in textile mills or as domestic servants. In New England,
for example, Annie B. entered the mills at age ten, began drinking at age
fifteen, and soon left home to become a prostitute. In the West, most prosti­
tutes were under the age of thirty, and a significant minority had immigrated
from France. Australia, Chile, Mexico, and Central America. In antebellum
cities, Irish immigrants may have been overrepresented among prostitutes,
largely because of their poverty. Only a small proportion of prostitutes, how­
ever, came from the poore8t group, blacks. The experience of slavery may have
influenced black women to reject the trade, and in the South men took rather

Outside the Family

i:han bought sex f(9m female slaves; In addition; when blacks did become
prostitutes, they tended to be arrested more frequently than whites.” Most
women who stated their reasons for becoming prostitutes emphasized ~heir
need to earn a living. The comment ofa Denver madame was representative:
“I went into the sporting life for business reasons and for no other. It was a
way for a woman’ in those days to make money, and I made it. ” 60 Prostitution
attracted women because they had so few other means to support themselves;
Despite the physical. risks of pregnancy, venereal disease, violent death, or
police harassment, prostitution seemed a logical choice when compare4 to i:he
alternative of low-paid and• often demeaning jobs as domestic sel.’Vants.

Women who became madames of their own brothels could earn fortune
and even fame. “Madame Moustache” (Eleanor Dumont) presided over a
gambling house in Nevada City, California, after the gold.rush; “La Tules”
(Doiia Gertrudis Barcelo) of Santa Fe; reputed to be a madame, was worth
over ten thousand dollars in U52; and an anonymous mulatto madame from
Galveston, Texas, was,immortalized in song as ”The Yellow Rose of.Texas.”
Ella Hill, who ran a brothel and dance hall, in Amarillo, Texas,. later; retired
to Wichita, where she operated a laundry that employed only formenprosti·
tutes. Julia Smith Bullette, a madame on the mining frontier, earned up to one
thousand dollars. a night during the heyday of Julia~s Palace and became a
respected local citizen. Her upward social mobility ended abruptly, however,
when robbers slit her throat. Like Julia Smith, many. rank-and-tile prostitutes
met violent, ends,: suicide and deaths related to abortion and, drug use marked
the tolJ that sexual labor extracted from these women. For every story. of a
socially mobile madame, many more could be told of a former prostitute who
ended he1t life in the poorhouse.61

Little has been said :aboutthe men who purchased the sexuallabor of
prostitutes.because the historical sources so rarely mention them., Except when
they complained to the police after prostitutes had robbed them, men usually
kept silent about· their visits to brothels. fhe double standard may have con­
doned their sexual indulgences, but most men still did not draw attention to
these adventures, at least not in print. Some married men frequented prosti·
tutes. The diary of a North Carolina man recorded a visit to a brothel, where
he ran into several married acquaintances. The primary market for sexual
commerce, however, was most likely the unattached man of any background
such as Fred Ryman, the eatskiU, New York, poet. In California, a single.man
testified at a divorce trial that he had seen a married friend· at a brothel. He
disapproved of the mari’s behavior, but added, “I am not a married man, and
go around considerable myself.” Similarly, Alf Doten frequented prostitutes
in Virginia City, Nevada, while he V8S a bachelor, recording in his diary the
“jolly time” he had with’ his favorites. Once Doten married, however, he

http:poorhouse.61

7
138 I .N T I M A T E M A T T E ll S

stopped visiting the brothels where he had once been a regular customer, and
only returned occasionally for the sociability of a ball ·or show, but not neces­
sarily for sex. 62 Married men could, of course, purchase sex from prostitutes;
but. for single men the practice seemed to be more socially acceptable.

At midcentury, in cities throughout the country and mining towns in the
West, prostitution bad become the most public form of sexuality in America.
In the antebellum “walking city, .. it was hard to avoid noticing even the few
women ·of .the .streets; At a time when most white women .remained in the
home, prostitutes, even more than other working-class women, moved outside
the· boundaries of the female sphere. They. cruised,public streets and met men
at theaters, saloons, balls, and cigar stores. During wartime, they followed the
troops to ·the battlefield:· Despite occasional outbursts of popular violence
against brothels and perfunctory arrests . by the recently established urban
police, city authorities mostly tolerated prostitutes as a ”necessary evil.” By
the late nineteenth century, however; tolerance would give way to campaigns
to.regulate or eradicate the “social evil,” as.this visible.symbol of the move­
ment ofsexuality from the private to the public sphere mobilized middle-class
women into a political .movement to control men’s sexuality.

The movement of sexuality beyond marriage proceeded throughout the
nineieenth century, whether in utopian communities, same-sex relationships,
or sexual commerce. Individual mobility, especially for men, along with the
individualist spirit of the age, loosened familial control over sex .. At the same
time,, the. capitalist economy drew sexuality out of the family and into the
marketplace.. In the first half ofthe century, American society remained rela­
tively tolerant of these extra-familial forms of sexual expression as long as they
were invisible. Utopians, for example, operated at a distance from mainstream
social· ljfe; · same-sexAntimacy could be masked within romantic friendships;
and. sexual commerce took place largely in working-class or poor neighbor­
hoods, out of sight of the middle class. Between the 1860s and the 1880s,
however, social tolerance seemed to diminish.· Fewer Americans formed uto­
pian communities, and older groups experienced a decline in membership; in
the case of the Mormons, long subject to persecution, the federal government
launched a legal assault on their sexual practices. Free lovers would soon
become targets for moral censors, as well. Some same-sex relationships were
becoming more self-conscious about sexuality by the 1880s, as a medical model
of perversion began to take form. Pornography and prostitution, despite public
distaste for both, had been able to gain a footJiold in nineteenth-century cities.
In the late nineteenth century, however, sexual commerce provoked extreme
public concern, and a variety of interest groups mobilized to regulate or abolish
it. By.the 1880s, in response to the movement of sexuality outside the family,
sexual politics emerged in full force.

CHAPTER

Sexual Politics

IN 1874, Missouri state legislators witnessed a unique political s~tacle
staged to influence their morals and their votes. Four years earlier, the city of
St. Louis had implemented the nation’s first, mid only, system of regulated
prostitution. Under a law supported by doctors, public health officials licensed
prostitutes and required them to pass a weekly inspection”for venereal disease
in order to receive a health certificate. The plan·was anathema to Protelitant
clergymen and middle-class women, who believed that the state should uphold
the single standard of morality-that is, chastity before marriage and fidelity
within it-rather than institutionalize prostitution. To urge the legislature to
abolish the St; Louis experiment, reformers obtained 100,000 signatures on
anti-regulation petitions. ·The women and clergy then seized upon powerful
symbols of vulnerable womanhood, and literally marched them to the -state­
house doors: A group of virgins of tender years; each clad in a pure white
gown,· conveyed the petitions in a white-ribboned’ wheelbarrow. Clergy,
women reformets, and the innocent young girls deposited their political
bounty at the legislature; culminating a crusade to rid the state of this threat
to female purity’and the sanctity ofthe family. The politicians answered.their
prayers by passing ·a bill that repealed the St. Louis experiment in state­
regulated prostitution.•

Such organized efforts to reform sexual practices represented yet another
expansion of sexuality’ beyond the family, into the world of politics. The
increased visibility of sexuality in the public· sphere ·disturbed· middle-class
Americans, especially·middle-class women, who had been entrusted with the
guardianship of the nation’s morals. In restionse to the movement of sexuality
·outside the family, these women sought to retain their authority over sexuatity
by organizing moral reform and social purity crusades. In the process, women
themselves contributed to the expansion of sexuality into the public arena. As

138

7
INTIMATE MATTERS

stopped visiting the brothels where he. had once been a regular customer, and
only returned occasionally .for the sociability of a ball or show, but not neces­
sarily for sex. 0 Married men could, of course,. purchase sex from prostitutes,
but for single men the practice SCCIJled to be more socially acceptable.

At midcentury, in cities throughout the country and mining towns in the
West,. prostitution had become the most p.ublic form of sexuality in America.
In the antebellum “walking city,” it was hard to avoid noticing even the few
women of ,the streets. At a time when most white women .remained in the
home, prostitutes, even more than other working-class women, moved outside
the boundaries of the female sphere. They cruised public streets and met men
at theaters, saloons, balls,· and cigar stores.· During wartime, they followed the
troops to the battlefield. Despite. occasional outbursts of popular violence
against·. brothels and perfunctory arrests . by the recently established urban
police, city authorities mostly tolerated prostitutes as a “necessary evil.” By
the late nineteenth century, however, tolerancewould give way to campaigns
to regulate or eradicate the “social evil,” as this visible symbol of the move­
ment of sexuality from the private.to the public sphere mobilized middle-class
women into a political .movement to control men’s. sexuality.

The movement of sexuality beyond marriage proceeded throughout the
nineteenth century, whether in utopian communities, same-sex relationships,
or sexual commerce. Individual mobility, especially for men, along with the
individualist spirit of the age, loosened familial control over sex . .At the same
time, the· capitalist economy drew sexuality out. of the family and into the
marketplace.. In the first half of the century, American society remained rela­
tively tolerant of these extra-familial forms of sexual expression as long as they
were invisible. Utopians, for example, operated ata distance from mainstream
social· l~fe; same-sexjntimacy could be masked within romantic friendships;
and. sexual commerce took place largely in working-class or poor neighbor­
hoods, out of sight of the middle class. Between. the 1860s and the 1880s,
however, social tolerance seemed to diminish. Fewer Americans formed uto­
pian communities, and older groups experienced a decline in membership; in
the case of the Mormons, long subject to persecution, the federal government
launched a legal assault on their sexual practices. Free lovers would soon
become targets for moral censors, as well. Some same-sex relationships were
becoming more self-conscious about sexuality by the 1880s, as a medical model
of perversion began .to take.form. Pornography and prostitution, despite public
distaste for both,· had beenable to gain a foothold in nineteenth-century cities.
In the late nineteenth century, however, sexual commerce provoked extreme
public concern, and a variety of interest .groups mobilized to regulate or abolish
it. By the 1880s, in response tothemovement ofsexµality outside the family,
sexual politics emerged in full force.

CHAPTER

Sexual Politics

IN 1874, Missouri state legislators witnessed a unique political spectacle
staged to influence their morals and their votes. Four years earlier, the city of
St. Louis had implemented the nation’s first, aiid only, system of regulated
prostitution. Under a law supported by doctors, public health officials licensed
prostitutes and required them to pass a weekly inspection for i’enereal ·disease
in order to receive a health certificate. The plan was anathema to Proteatant
clergymen and middle-class women, who believed that the state should uphold
the single standard of morality-that is, chastity before marriage and fidelity
within it-rather than institutionalize prostitution. To urge the legislature to
abolish the St. Louis experiment, reformers obtained 100,000 signatures on
anti-regulation petitions; The women and clergy then seized upon powerful
symbols of vulnerab~ womanhood, and literally marched them to the ·state­
house doors: A group of virgins of tender years; each clad in a pure white
gown; conveyed the petitions in a white-ribboned wheelbarrow. Clergy,
women reformers, and the innoeent young girls deposited their political
bounty at the legislature, culminating a crusade to rid the state of this threat
to female purity·and the sanctity ofthe family. The politicians answered their
prayers by passing a bill that repealed the St. Louis experiment in state­
regulated prostitution.’

Such organized eft’orts to reform sexual practices represented yet another
expansion of sexuality beyond the family, into the world of politics. The
increased visibility of sexuality in the public sphere ·disturbed middle-class
Americans, especially middle-class women, who had been entrusted with the
guardianship of the nation’s morals. In resiionse to the movement of sexuality
outside the family, these women sought to retain their authority over sexuality
by organizing moral reform and social purity crusades. In the proce$S, women
themselves contributed to the expansion of sexuality into the public arena. As

http:private.to

140 141 INTIMATE MATTERS

they left the hallowed domestic sphere, women increasingly perceived sexual­
ity as a political, and not simply a private, . issue. Other .sexual reformers
responded as well. Doctors and vice crusaders such as Anthony Comstock
opposed abortion, contraception, and the public expression ofsexuality in art
and literature. Their anti-vice crusades helped politicize sexuality by demand­
ing greater state intervention in the regulation of morality. In contrast, sexual
radicals of the anarchist free-love movement rejected any state involvementin
personal matters. By the end of the century, diverse reformers-women, doc~.
tors, vice crusaders, and free lovers-engaged in heated debate over whet
should regulate sex: the individual; the family, or the state.

Moral Reform and Prostitution

The growing visibility of prostitution provoked the earliest sexual reform
movement, which attempted to dismantle the dominant American view of
pr0stitution deriving from thelong-standing tradition of the double standard.
Throughout most ofWestern culture,. men hap enjoyed the freedom. to have
sexual relations with mistresses or prostitutes; since female chastity main•
tained honor and legitimacy .within the family, only .women’s transgres$ions
were~erely punished. At the same time, most men, and some women,. viewed
the prostitute as a mariqll safety-valve who allowed men to fµlfill their. sup­
posedly greater sexual desires, sparing their wives from unwanted .sex and
pregnancy. Prostitution was, thus, a necessary evil.

For these reasons, and despite the social condemnation of the prostitute
herself,laws that prohibited ·~nightwalking” or “keeping a house ofiU repute”
were only sporadically enforced. In some cities, such as Philadelphia, prostitu­
tion itself was not considered a crime at the opening of the.·c;entury. Beforethe
establishment of professional police forces, irate citizens occasionally attacked
brothels, as they did during the wborehouse riots in eighteenth-century lk>ston
and.in Maine and Pennsylvania during the 1820s. But only when bawdy housts
exc.eedeuse. Aside from infrequent
raids on brothels-sucbas those in Chicago in 18$7 and in Boston in l8$th­
legal toleration prevailed in most eastern cities and in the western mining and
cattle towns to which prostjtutes gravitated. 2

In the · 1~30s, however,. voluntary organizations composed of middle-class

Sexual Politics

reformers began to call .attention to. prostitution as a social problem and
demand a.solution~ Initiated by cletgymen1 a movement to oppose prostitution.
soon gathered support· among Protestant women, whose antebellum., cam­
paigns for ‘•moral reform” condemned not only prostitution but als~ the men
who resortedJoit. ln the·postwardecades, a broader movement, led by. women
but including men as well, demanded ”social purity,” that is, a single standard
of morality for both sexes.

Middle-class Americans, and especially Protestant women, had many rea­
sons to oppose prostitution. For one, all sexuality that took place outside of
the:family generated deep concerns about social order. In general,,the “fallen
woman” symbolized the fate of the familyless individuaUn the anonymous
city.· Sexual commerce also represented the extreme case. of the separation of
sexuality, not only from reproduction, but also from love and intimacy. For
women, especially,. prostitution defied the ideal: of female chastity. It· exposed
the double standard and highlighted the disparity.between the freedom ofmen
and .the dependence of womenin economic and·:sexuallife. But it did.,not
merely. symbolize deeper socialdilemmas. Sexual:commerce hadin fact be~.
come more visible in the ut’ban areas ofthe northern states and hament. Antiprostitution · originated
where revivalism and commerce converged:. in New ·York·City and. Boston;
along the newly opened trade routeQf the Erie Canal in upstate New York.,….
known as the . “Burned Over District” because waves of rey.ivalism passed
through it,..,-andamongmiddle-class mertJand w:omen. The responsetoprosti­
tution,. then, must be . understood within. the. context of the .perfectionism· of
the Second Great A wakening and the 11eeds of a developing commercial
class.

The religious revival brought into the Protestant churches tens of thou­
sands of Americans who hoped to achieve salvationin.this life. Women, who
were overrepresented among the converts, believed in addition .that it was the
special mission of their sex: to uphold :the moralstandards of society. In­
fluenced by the revivals, men and women formed associations to espouse their
faith and· solve .social problems that arose. in growing cities. Supplementing
earlier Bible and tract societies that ·aimed at converting “heathens”.i….both
Indians and irreligious white settlers in the West-,new voluntary associations

142 143 INTIMATE MATTERS

formed to oppose intemperance, .poverty, and slavery. Middle-class women
founded urban missions that ministered to impoverished widows, orphans, and
prisoners and tried to convert prostitutes to a purer life. ·

·The response to prostitution took place not only during an era of revival
and reform, but also of class formation. when artisanship gave way to an
industrial working ·class; and· an older merchant-professional class recon­
stituted as a commercial and manufacturing middle class. The new industrial
economy required greater discipline on the part of both managers and workers.
The northern middle class’s strong commitment to moral order, in addition
to its economic interest in encouraging sobriety and self-control, served as one
means by which that class differentiated itself from other social groups. Reject­
ing the libertinism of the European aristocracy, middle-class factory owners,
clergy, and doctors upheld the values of frugality and temperate personal
habits. Indeed,. their critique of slavery .rested• in part on a revulsion against
what they viewed as sensual indulgence by southern whites. In addition,
members of·the· northern middle class. considered· themselves more civilized
than blacks, immigrants, and the poor, whom they stereotyped as sexually
promiscuous. Among· the newly· •forming ·.. working class, preindustrial prac­
tices, such as casual drinking at work and holiday carousing, persisted well
into the nineteenth century. The opportunities for public drunkenness, profan­
ity, and lascivious behavior at holiday celebrations dismayed middle-class
employers; who led efforts to outlaw drinking, gambling, and “licentiousness;”
In Lynn1 Massachusetts, for example, reformers both embraced middle-class
reticence and attempted to•discipline the workforce when they imposed fines
for profanity and abolished the election-day holidays at which public drinking
and. “lewd and lascivious behavior” had abounded.>. Thus, even as the middle
class idealized . the internalization of ·sexual controls for themselves, they
sought to·reestablish external controls ·over workers and the poor.

Finally, organized opposition to prostitution appeared at a moment when
the responsibility for morality was being transferred from one set of male
professionals to another. In the pot, clergy had primary control over personal
morality. The declining authority of the clergy, and the reluctance of the state
to regulate morality, left a vacuum that was eventually filled, for the most part,
by doctors. In the interval; middle-class women emerged as a powerfUI interest
group committed to the guardianship of the nation’s morals and critical of the
sexual privileges enjoyed by men. As doctors began to assert authority over
sexual . behavior as a matter of health, they sometimes clashed with women
reformers, Prostitution provided a social issue about which each of these
groups could articulate a sexual politics rooted in gender and class; in an etfort
to influence social policy.

·In the 1820s, Protestant clergymen initiated an attack on licentiousness

Sexual Politics

when they identified loose sexual conduct as a fearful blight afllicting Ameri­
can society. As one. minister told an.upstate New York congregation, the
“loathsome monster-licentiousness-crawls, tracking the eal’th. with his fetid
slime. and pois<>ning the atmosphere with bis syphilitic breath.” Despite the
specific reference to venereal disease, his jeremiad evoked even deeper. fears of
contamination through the serpent, symbol for both evil and forbidden sexual
desire. ·In addition to such preaching, Protestant.reformers issued pamphlets
and newspapers to spread their campaign against sexual license. In I 833, John
McDowall warned in McDowa/J’s Journal and the Magdalen Report that ten
thousand depraved harlots threatened to corrupt innocent young men in New
York City. Other clergy condemned “depraved women” who led astray inex­
perienced young men in the city.•

Middle-class Protestant ‘women already . involved in benevolent associa­
tions to help· the poor, widowed; and orphaned. soon recast the attack on
licentiousness. Unlike male reformers, who usually portrayed the·prostitute as
a source of depravity and a threat to men’s health, these women claimed
sympathy with the prostitute; In the. words of one New York reformer, “How,
then, can we ·be pitiless toward the transgressions of the untaught, the un­
warned, the neglected!” Adopting a model offemale victimization, they argued
that seduction by a licentious maleled to many a woman’sfall into .prostitu­
tion. “It cllhnot be concealed,” reformers wrote, ”that the treachery of man,
betraying the interests oL , , ·woman, is .one of the principal ciluses;:which
furnishes the victims of licentiousness. Few, very few …. ; have sought their
wretched calling.”‘ Rather than condemning tbe”fallen. woman,” female re­
formers promised to uplift her and restore her to true womanhood. In the
name of gender solidarity, they!launched an attack on male sexual privilege.

· In1834, New .York,City women who shared.ihese views formed a Female
Moral:Reform Society.· They hired McDowallaqd other ·missionaries to try to
convert prostitutes in city jails and hospitals. Their agents also visited brothels,
engagingin what historian Carroll, Smith-Rosenberg has termed “pious
harassment”—praying, ·singing, and writing. down the names of customers.
Women soon took over the leadership of moralreform. They edited a newspa­
per, The Advocate ofMoral Reform, and traveled throughout the countryside
organizing auxiliaries. By 1839, the. American Female Moral Reform Society
included several hundred associations.’

Female moral reformers thought they could transform fallen women into
true women, whether prostitutes desired to change or not. To aid this task,
Boston.and New York .. women opened temporary homes where·prostitutes
could stay and where, the founders hoped, inmates woUld convert to Christian­
ity. Similarly, from the 1840s·through ··the 1860s, women prison reformers
throughout the northern states opened halfway houses for released women

144 145 INTIMATE MATTERS

prisoners, many of whom were prostitutes, in the belief that a woman’s .. help­
ing hand” might prevent them from returning to the streets. As Boston moral
reformers observed, however, it was “extremely difficult to persuade inmates
of brothels to forsake their road to ruin;” Most prostitutes did not think of
themselves as.fallen women, nor did they aspire to middlO”Class moral stan­
dards. Rather,·they often resisted reformers’ efforts.to.make them·leavethe
city; take up sewing, or become domestic servants; Yet these. efforts persisted,
in part because they served both real and. symbolic· functions. for women
reformers for whom the attack on prostitution was a permissible: outlet to
question men’s authority, men’s sexual conduct, and women’s dependence on
men.’

In addition to their attempts at proselytizing the fallen, female moral
reformers waged a concerted attack upon men who seduced young women or
visited brothels. Echoing male health reformers, women cautioned young men
to restrain their sexual impulses, but they called for restraint not in the· name
of preserving men’s health, but rather to oppose the injustice of the.double
standard.·· ‘.’Why should a female be trodden, under foot and spumed from
society and driven from a parent’s roof, if she but fall into sin-while:common
consent allows the male to habituate himself to this vice, and.treats him as not
guilty,” wrote New York women. The “deliberate destroyer offemale inno­
cence” deserved to be exposed rather than protected. In l83S, 11ieAdvocate
ofMoral Reform warned that it wo11td publish the names of men.who indulged
in sex outside of. marriage. Thus New York women would circumvent the
protection afforded men by ·the anonymity of the city: “Young men·;in .the
country!” they.cautioned, “beware what you do when you come into the city,”
for urbaJ) missionaries would reveal their names.•

In the countryside, as well, women organized to regain some of the control
over sexual ·morality that ·they bad lost during the transition to a more mobile
and.· heterogeneou$. society. Historian Mary Ryan has found that· in Oneida
County, New ·York, factory .and ·college towns· drew a· 1arge population of
young; single men and women who lived apart from family surveillance; The
local Female Moral Reform SOciety devised numerous strategies to protect
female chastity and oppose men’s use of prostitution. They issued pamphlets
and tracts . to warn mothers of the dangers of licentiousness, and they at­
tempted to ostracize male.seducers from the community. Defying the taboo
on women’s public discussions of sexual matters, they revealed the names of
adulterers, stopped men on.the streets or in .taverns, and visited employers who
made sexual advances to their servants. One mother even followed her errant
son into a brothel to demand that. he return home!’

In the course of their.work in the female moral reform societies and related
efforts, thousands of middle-class women transcended the limits of the female

Sexual Politics

domestic sphere. Acting on their belief in female moral superiority,· they seized
sexual· regulation as the prerogative of women. In doing so they transformed
the informal female networks of the past into formal organizations that en­
gaged in the world of public reform. A decade beforetJie. American women’s.
rights movement began in · 1848, they. waged petition. campaigns to convince
state legislators .to enact criminal penalties for seduction ·and adultery. After
women had, gathered thousands of signatures and won the support of liberal
male reformers, such as New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, the cam­
paign succeeded in winning the passage of anti-seduction laws in New York
and· Massachusetts. 10

In one sense;·female moral reformers anticipated later activists· who peti­
tioned legislatures for property rights and suffrage after 1848. Although they
did not espouse women’s rights per 5e, moral reformers found ingenious ways
to transcend the boundaries of the domestic sphere. They spoke in public,
organized independently, and sought the passage of legislation. Ironically, to
achieve some of their ends they turned to the state and to the .very lawmaking
bodies from which women were excluded. In another senset however, moral
reformerii were as traditional as they were innovative. Although they believed
that the once•fallen woman should not be condemned to a life of prostitution,
they accepted fully the social value placed on female chastity. Few understood
the different sexual culture of the working class, in which casual sex for pay
might be tolerated. In response to women’s greater sexual :vulnerability in
urban and industrial society, they attempted to confine sexuality to marriage
by restoring some measure oftraditional community control. For these women.
reformers. sexuality outside the family threatened the only identities available
to them-that of wives and mothers. Prostitution; they feared, would destroy
the base of their world, the family, by. bringing into it the specter ofdisease
and drawing out of it their sons, daughters; and husbands. Like other middle­
class women, female moral reformers opposed sexuality that was unrelated to
either reproduction or marital intimacy.

Medicine and Morality

Like other antebellum movements to perfect American society, moral
reform declined ·after the· 1850s, although middle-class ·Protestant women
continued missionary work with .prostitutes throughout the century. In the
decades after the Civil War, however, a new spirit of “scientific charity”
replaced the benevolence of earlier reforms, and doctors began to supplant
clergymen as male authorities over sexual matters: To an extent, doctors filled
the vacuum into which wdmen had been drawn earlier. The medical professfon
soon became the second major group to mobilize sexual reform movements in

http:Massachusetts.10

147 146′ INTIMATE MATTEJl$

America, targeting ~h abortion and prostitution as profVe. within·
her at’about three mc:>b.ths. Antebellum laws retainecfthe quickening doctrine
and attempted to proteet women from ·unwanted abortion, ·rather than to.
prosecute them. After 1&60~ in respoilSe to increasing alarm -‘>out the'(:()Jnmer~
cialiution of,abOrtion and its growing use’.by married wom•; doctors began;
to orga:niZO,to outlaw abortion and place it under-· the strict :regu1ation of•the
medical i)rOfession. AC>ratio StoNr led a crusadeto pUnish not only those who
perforined the: operation: bUt alsO·•thei’Wonien who iougJtt :·.them. Unwilli11g
mothers; Storer claimed; who selftihly aollght: ”the pl~ of a SUDllil~s·
trips and· amusements;!’ ud abortion· ~-‘evade their matenial duties; Storer.
mobilized th” fledgling American·Medililabss:OCiation•while lld$papera’such
as the New ·York•· Times popUlarized Ibis; QU&e· and began tO ~ban. ·ads . .for
abortioilists’~d abortifacients; As a resutt,of these”eft”orts;i .betw,een 186() and
1890, fortf’states and territories enacted anti~abortic>n statutes1 man)”o£.which
rejected the quickening doctrine, ..placed limi•ions on. advertisements;” and
helped;traJisfer legal authority for· abortion:from women.’ to doctorsN · ·>:,

Members Of thei’ medicaFprofe$Sion :did:bot necessarily conspire to limit
women ioniotherh0od1 ·Doctors ‘acted independently, but ..up<>n widely shared
values; when they upheldithe teptimacy of the separate·SPheres; Further, not
all d6ctors supported these efforts. while some women did, includiril· thpoSed ·abortion·and ‘higher ‘education; Some women• &ought ‘radical
gynecological surgery.for therilselves; wbether,.becaus:e;they,belieV~the medi;.
cal opinionssti­

http:wrote.in

http:8$;r,n~ly�reprQurse, yet insisted that they could enjoy sexual relations.
In ..Right· M1lntal Livin~” Craddock echoed the spiritualization of sexual
relations so prevalent in the middle class:

the nude embrace comes to be respected mpre and more, and finally reverenced,
as a pure and beautiful approach to the sacred moment when husband and wife
s~ll melt into one another’s genital embrace, so that the twain shall be one ftesh,
and then•.as of old, God will walk with the twain in the garden of bliss “in th~ cool
or’the day,” when the heat of ill-regulated passion is no more.” ·

b1 short, social purity sought not to oppose all sexuality but rather to control
male sexuality and to spiritualize marital relationships. In their approach to

Sexual Politics lSS

prostitution as well as to marital sexuality, women’s rights activists concen­
trated on the problem. of gender inequality, not. necessarily on the dangers of
sexuality itself.

The social purity view of sexuality must be interpreted in light of women’s
historical experience. The declining importance of reproduction as a part of
sexual life had different meanings for men and womeny creating for a time a
gap between the cxtenc,ied privileges of men and the. traditional responsibilities
of women. Despite their shared experience. of the heightened importance of
sexual.intimacy· within courtship and marriage, women maintained a closer
connection to reproduction, and men had greater access to sexuality beyond
the family, without reproductive .responsibilities. Not only did women con­
tinue to experience the physical .consequences of pregnancy .and childbirth, at
a time when contraception did not always insure their avoidance, but women
also continued to perform the social role of mothering. As Linda Gordon has
argued, the insistence of women reformers that sexuality and reproduction
remain linked served women~s interests by preserving their traditional mater­
nal authority when women stillhad little access to political or economic power
outside the home.

Even as the social purity arguments resisted both. the separation of sexual­
ity and reproduction and the movement of sex outside the home, its program
in fact provided a bridge· from the past to the future. Gordon argues, for
example, that voluntary motherhood was.the first step in an ideological pro­
gression toward the acceptance of family limitation and, ultimately, of contra­
ception.2′ In addition, social purity embraced the notion, growing·among the
middle class, that a romantic, even spiritual, bond should exist between hus­
bands and wives. Fearing the economic ond physi~ CO$ts that women might
pay as sexuality became less closely associated with reprodµction, social purity
theorists, like free lovers, accepted the positive value of the erotic only if love
bound partners together.

Finally, women’s rights and social purity~ advocates looked toward the
future by rejecting middle-class reticence about discussing sex. Through a
“moral education” movement, for example, nineteenth-century reformers is­
sued the first call for sex education in America. Women, they argued, must
teach children about sex, lest they learn incorrectly from other sources. As one
writer exhorted mothers, “Show your sons and daughters the sanctities and
the terrors of this awful power ofsex, its capacities to bless.or curse its owner.”
Both women and children needed moral education, Lucinda Chandler argued.
For children, special education “to fit them for parenthood” would advance
social purity, while women needed to be educated to know that they had the
right to control their own person. From their exposes of the evils of prostitu”
tion to the ·”No Secrets” approach. of the Moral Education Societies; social

http:bless.or

157 156 I N T I M A T E M A T T E R, S

purity workers called for a public sexual discourse that, in contrast with the
p<>rtrayal,of sexuality’ in themale and working-class world of sexual cc;>m”
merce, emphasized love and reproductive responsibility rather than lust. Sex,
they ,wanted children to, learn, could, be, holy; in the absence ,of love and
marriage, however, , it defiled woman Of· man.27

By the l890s,social purity had become a broad-based national movement
that included’ suffragists; temperance workers, and clergy, from every denomi­
nation. It had succeeded in its goals to the extent that doctors who had
originally recommended legalized ,prostitution now accepted the view that the
social evil should be abolished. By the time of the first National Purity Con•
gress in 1893, the single standard bad become the common ideal, although not
necessarily the’ common practice, among middle.class Americans. Moreover,
key, political , victories had been won. Cities and states had rejected regulated
prostitution, and raised,, the age ,of consent.

Yetthe success of the socialpurity movement was in many ways illusory.
Despite the defeat ofregulation, prostitution continued to ftourishiil,red4ight
districts~ away from the view of the middle classes., The sanctity’ of the, home
was constantly belied by sweatshop conditions and tenement housing, a8 well
as by a noticeable rise in the frequency of divorce. And even as the revivalistic
fervor,.for social purity swelled, a renewed free-love movement took purity
ideals .tl’htheir uncomfortable yet logical extreme. Indeed, the last quarter of
the ~ineteenth century witnessed· an intense battle between those who sought
tocontrolsexuality by returning it to the privatesphere,ofthe family and.those
who sought to release it from social constraints.

Se:CWars: Obscenity andFrte Speech
in the Late Nineieenth Century

To some extent, all of the responses to prostitution, from moral reform to
social purity, combined a vision of individual control over sexuality With a
program of external regulation, whether by family, community, or the·state.
In the battle over obscenity, however, sharply opposing camps, one embracing
individual and the other social control of sexuality, squared off against each
other. The attack on obscenity,, commandeered by Anthony Comstock, called
for direct government involvement in, the suppression of sexual expression in
the public sphere and the confinement of sexuality to its reproductive function.
In contrast, a small but vocal anarchist and free-love movement demanded
that neither church nor state should limit the expression of sexual ideas and
feelingS; whether in private or in public, the,regulation of sexual life should
be solely a matter of individual choice.

The frequent skirmishes between these two armies of true believers-free

Sexual Politics

lovers committed to exposing all sexual matters. to the light of day, and vice
crusaders determined to·keep all such “obscenity” (that is, open discussion of
sexuality•and .contraception)>behind, closed ·doofs..,-,portrayed” dramatically a
central problem of late~nineteenth-century sexual thought., Was sex ,best regu.
lated by expanding or,restrictingitS·,public,discussiori? In,the late’ nineteenth
century;, the..restrictive policy ·advocated by Comstock triumphed in most of
the battles• By the, early , twentieth centuryj however, thee ,expansive .mode,
supported by free lovers, suffragists, and sex educators, would,·win the”war.

The initialimpulse to suppress obscenity had originated at the same time
as moral reform and from ,a ,common source., Int 834, Nc:W York ,City moral
reformer J:ohn McDowalLhad invited several hundred clergymen to a display·
of obscene books and articles he had collected. At that time; however, New
Yorkers were reluctant to join McDowall in a campaign against such litera·
ture. In fact, a New York grand.jury investigating :McDowall found that his
exposes, “under the pretext of cautioning the young ofboth sexes against the
temptation to criminal indulgence,” were as offensive as the literature he
condemned. Despite McDowall’s efforts, Americans neither .established a .vol­
untary. agency to,, parallel England!.s Society for the Suppression,” of,’ Vice
(founded in 1802), nor :did they callJor further stateAntervention against
obscenity.. In the antebellum era, Americans seemed to, be more interested in
individual purification through internalized control than in the public regula­
tion of sexual expression. u,

A commitment to freedom of the press, as well as the limited circulation
of obscene’ publications, also forestalled , a movement for ‘censorship.’ Only
rarely did the states express’ concern about the potential of art and literature
to ,Corrupt the morals ofyouth. In ,1821, a Massachusetts court did sentence
a bookdealer to six months.in jail for selling the eighteenth-century English
nove~ Fanny Hill to localfarmers., But American courts heard very few obscen­
ity cases between 1821 and 1870, and these concerned .guides, to marital sex
(such as Chari~ Knowlton’s Fruits of Phil0$ophy) containing contraceptive
information. Only four state legislatures enacted obscenity laws prior to the
Civil War. The federal customs law, of 1842 prohibited the importation of
indecent anti obscene prints and paintings, but itexcluded printed matter from
regulation. 29

The growing reticence about sexuality among the middle class did affect
American. artists of the antebellum period. At a time when it was acceptable
to depict the naked1 body in European,art, those who exhibited in America
learned that nudity and sexuality were highly controversial. When Adolphe
Ulrich Wertmilller,,a Swedish•botn ,painter living in Delaware, exhibited his
Daniie and the Shower of Gold, with its clear reference to sexual intercourse,
an American critic commented that it was a scene “that public decorum

http:months.in

159 INTIMATE MATTERS158

requites to be shut out from the eye ofday.” Writing in 1812, the critic claimed
that ”no modest woman would venture to contemplate; [it} in the presence of,
a man.·~ (In fact,.·the gallery that exhibited the painting in;New York· set ·aside
separate days for “ladies” to viewit in private•)Similarly, the American press;••
denounced as indecent French paintings,thatincludednudes,even in biblicak’.
scenes, but the American public defied the critics and continued to,pay !l(hnis-·
sion·fees to see condemned paintings. As artist Henry Inman wrote in 1833,,
“Crowds of. both· sexes sit together for hours· gazing upon. these very nude· .
figures with delight. ” 10 , ·

Non~helesS. American .artists. shied away from .nude or sexual subject’
matter. Atthe advice of his father, for example, Rembrandt Peale gave up· the
depiction of nudes and turned his hand to portraiture. One ofthe few excep.­
tions to the trend, the ·Tnmscendentalist painter William Page, was accused
of violating “allmodem delicacy” in his studies of Venus, In the 1840s, the.

~I National Academy refused Page’s CupidandPsyche because of its nudity, and·
some critics feared that the painting threatened·to infest American culture with
the decaying morals of decadent Europe. A close look at this work reveals ·how
confticted Americans were · about sexuality and its· public expression. The
Greek statue that inspired Page had shown fully the nude figure of Cupid
embracing a partially bare-breasted and scantily clothed Psyche. Compared to
the original. Page’s perspective, revealing only .Psyche’s ·bare back and the’
couple’s entwined bands, seems modest, almost protective, while the idyllic
setting places sensuality· tamely within the natural world. Like other Ameri­
cans, however, Page seemed ambivalent about the sensual, especially in. his.,
composition: the masking of her face, the tentative groping toward an embrace
by his right hand,. the contortion· of her. torso and their arms; the uncomfort~ .
able merging .oftwo bodies into one indistinguishable unit. Cupid and PsycM
was, undeniably, an erotic painting, perhaps the most explicitly so by any
nineteenth-century American artist. Yet its representation ofsexuality was not
unequivocally positive1 and its reception exposed a strong hostility to explora•
tions of any sexual theme in American art.11 •

While high culture imposed self-Censorship to limit· the representation of
sexuality, commercial· culture respected no such bounds, especially after the
1860s. The Civil War encouraged the growth of sexual commerce in the form
of both obscene• literature and prostitution; After the war, cheaply produced
and . sexually . titillating pulp novels, including dime·. novels· for adults· and
half-dime or.story papers for boys,.could be mailed at new·second-class postal
ra~.’~ Simultaneously,. the presence of single men living outside family super­
vision in the. cities provided both a market fonexualcommerce and a disturb- .
ing.reminder of the movement of sexuality from the private.to the public
spheres.

Sexual Politics

The expansiQtl of sexually explicit popular literature was met by a new
sexual· reform.movement, one ·,more willing to turn to. the state to support its
goals. One reform·age’nCyj.the New York City•Young Men ‘s’Christian AS$0Cia­
tion; .. instigated·. a pOStwar·!lllti-obsceility crusade. In 1866, a• YMCA: report
beDioaned the .declinecof paternalistic superVision over•themoolls of’,young
workers. Employers no longer took notice of the. ”social and moral interests
of young Dien.” In urban boardinghouses, the “virtuous and the vicious” were
thrown together; after work, young men frequented saloons and theaters.
where they were likely to meet prostitutes or buy the·cheapf’vile newspapers”
that the YMCA believed were “feeders for. brothels.’;•!The Association tried
to red.irect young men along the path to pure Christian Jiving by providing
alternative housing; reading, and recreati<>n. ····, ·

One YMCA member, Connecticut dry•goods salesman Anthony Com­
stock, adopted as his life’s work the task of combating sex in· print, art, . or
private corre8p0ndence. Story papers !llld pulp novels, he explained in Traps
for the Young (1883), bred ”vulgarity,·,. profanity, ioose ·ideas .. of life,,impurity
of thought. and deed.” Moreover, Comstock claimed,, when impressionable
youth read ,dime. novels, they proceeded to act out their plots of seduction,
theft, and murder. He implored parents to monitor their children’s reading and
boycott newsdealers who sold “these death-traps.” Comstock’s gteate&t con•
cern, however, was the availability of “obscene literature” and artieles through
the mails. Only, state action could defeat this·threaMo national morality.14

In 1872, Anthony Comst<>ckbegan a crusade to strengthen anti-obscenity
laws. With financial backing from the upper-class businessmen on the board
of the YMCA, Comstock tirelessly lobbied state and federal legislatures. He
also founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to support his
work. Through· the Society, Comstock enforced existing obscenity laws;. he
seized and handed over to the pcilice.·~bad books” and “articles made of rubber
forimmoralpufl>OSCS;and used by’ both sexes:·~~.Comstock’s major political
victotycame in 1873, when the U.S. Congress passed,1without debate, “An Act
for the Suppre8sion ofTrade in, and Circµlation .of Obscene Literature and
Articles of Immoral Use.” This revision of the federal postal 18.’w,,forbade the
mailing of obscene, lewd, lascivious,· and indecent writing or advertisements,
including articles that· aided contraception or abortion;

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, Congress 1strengthened the’ so-called
Comstocklaw;and·thecourts upheld its constitutionality. Comstock ·himself
supervised enforcement:As.an unpaid u,s.. postal inspector, he almost single­
handedly prosecuted th0se who wrote, published, and sold literature or art that
he considered obscene. In l87S alone, his vigilance led to. forty-seven arrests,
twenty.eight c;:Onvictions (aggregating thirty years in prison), and ninety-one
hundred fines, That year theNew·York Society for the Suppression of Vice

http:enforcement:As.an

http:morality.14

http:private.to

160
161 INTIMATE MATTERS

seized twelve hundred pounds of books and destroyed over twenty-nine thou”
sand ~ually explicit photos, songs, leaftets, rubber goods; and circulars. The
objects Of Comstock’s attack ranged from penny: postcards sold on the Bowery
to fine artS exliibited,in Fifth Avenue galleries depicting the nude body, from
dime, novels,of seduetion- to Leo Tol$toy’s Kreutzer Sonata•. ·anJ 889 novel that
spoke openly·of prostitution. The conviction rate under the Coms~kAct,……,.
high as ninety percent Of those accused-attested to Comstock’s boundless
(some claimed prurient) interest in suppressing :vice.36 · . ..

Comstock cowd not have managed his campaign without broa(ler publib
suppork’While he set about enforcing anti-obscenity postal statutes; the social
purity and · suft’rage movements also v<>iced concerns ·about .·the .dang~ of
vicious literature. In 1883 the WCTU established a Department for the Sup­
pression oflmpure Literature. In the 1890s, local women successfully cam­
paigned for the removal .of a painting depicting a nude from the bar of.a
Cincinnati restaurant, and the wcru kept the sculpture Bacchante andlnfant
fromibeing displayed at the’.Boston Public Library. 37 Eventually, both the
WCTU•nd the Woman’s Journa/;became critical of Comstock’s methods of
intimidation and entrapment, and he.in tum attacked.the suffragists.In the
meatitime, however, Comstock bad consolidated extensive support from
wealthy urban businessmen who formed local societies to suJ)press vice. In
R:ochester1 .Providence, Detroit, Toledo, San: Francisco,’ Portland, and Cincin.
natl, local elites organized chapters ofthe Society for the Supp~ession of Vice;
A New England branch, founded in 1882, declared itself the Watch.and Ward
Society in 1891; Fueled by Comstock’s Boston counterpart Godfrey Lowell
Cabot (who privately wrote lascivious sexual fantasies in letters to his wife),
the .Watch and.· Ward succeeded -in strengthening the . Massachusetts anti­
obscenity law to imprison publishers and to fine news dealers who .sold any
literature that might corrupt the morals· oHhe. young. By> the ·end oHhe
century, at least seven states had passed’· .. Uttle Comstock Acts’to regulate
newsstand sales . of lascivious ·literature, and almost . every ·state eventually
joined their ranks. Meanwhile, respectable publishers imposed self-censorship
:to avoid cOnflict with tbe,anti-vice societies~” ·

, Two underlying themes characterized the anti-vice efforts to use the state
to regulate sexual expression. First, sexuality had to be restored to th~ private
sphere; therefore, any public expression of sexuality was considerec;l, by defini­
tion; .obscene. Second;lust was in itselfdangerous; therefore Comstock and his
allieuttacked not only sexual literature soJd Jor profit but also any dissentµtg
medical or philosophical opinion that supported the belief that sexuality. bad
other .than reproductive purp<>ses. Thus, even doctors paid ·heavy fines for
publishing discussions of contraception or sex education. In 1874 .Comstock
arrested :Dr.Edward Bliss Foote for including infonnation about condoms and

Sexual Politics

womb veils in his marital advice boob. A$ a result of his conviction and fine,
Foote delet~ these methods from bis text, even as,h~ waged an attack on the
Comstock laws. ,But the ~erest penaltiC$ awaited,th~ radicals who, during
the 1880s andJ 890s,. elaborated the anarchist and’ftee-love lM.ory· of sexuality.
Comstock; hounded free lovers such as ,Victoria Woodhull,· Ezra. lfeywood,
Moses Harmon, and social purity writer. I.da Craddock; imprisoning each for
a time. Craddock, a spiritualist who had published.a guide. to marital sex, f<>r
women, was one of several suicides that reilulted from Comstock’s ruthlesS
pursuit (others included Madame Restell, the notorious New York city abor­
tionist, and pornographer Willjam Haynes). In a letter to the public; written
before0she took her life, Craddock accused Comstock of being a .. sex pervert”
and called for an expose·’of his activities:

P~ha~ i,t may be tll~t in my ~}h. ~0r~ t~n irt my)l.fe,’die Am~can peopl~ may
be shqckC!f ;”to investigating the dieia(lfui state of aft’airs whic~ pennhs that unctu­
ous sexuai hypocrite, Anthony Comstock, to wax fat· arld urogant, and tO trample
upon the libertiea of ihe people, invilding, in my own case; both my right«) fi’Cedom
of religion and to freec:k>m of the pressi” ·

“·­
Just ~by these radicals eli~ited so much of Comstock) rage ~~I.res a

cl~r lPQ~A~tth~ l!lte-n~n,et,eenth:-eentury free-love JJ10venieµt,. the antithesis
of vice .$UJ!Pr~iOJ1.,cl~ many ~ay$,. the ~~c))ist f~-love philosophy fomtl·
lated in the 187~ r~bled social purity, f:,ree lovers opposed prostitltion,
criticized male;$CX.ual dominan<:e jn marfiage, and envisioned a !IQci~ty in which women wo'11d W.ve greater equality '1itl men, Some free-love advocat~ incorporated other.. ~l,pu~ty ideals, such;aS voluntacy' .motherhood .and iii~ importance .. of,roale ~0ntinence. Despite these siQJil.rlties, ftee,lpve dift'~ fundaJJ1entally. froJJ1' $0Cial:pupty , in . that free .lovers. wanted to .abolish· the institution of.marriage. rather .th~n reforn;t it. In addition,. some free; lover& believed that erotic pleasui:e, with or wjt).lout reproducti<>n, was a valuable goal
ofsexual relations, ~ut not apan fro1,11 lov,e• . . . ·

As its proponents were quick to point out, free love did not mean sexual
licentiousness. Rather,. free., love referred to· the right pf all men and women
to choose sexualpartnersfreely on the basis of Q1ltl;al love and unconstrained
by church, state, or public opinion. Despite their. opposit,inal attention. As in the past, free love evoked
fears that uncontrolled promiscuity would’ undermine· the moral base of the
society-the family. Now, in additiOni Americans associated free love•with
·anarchist politics. Especially after the Haymarket Riot of 1886;1 when seven
anarchists. were convicted ofmurder after a bomb exploded· at a protest rally
in Chicago, anarchism raised the .specter. of the ·violent overthrow of the
government. As _a res1dt, r:iewspaper ~itors,_ clergymen, and Comst()¢k _cru­
saded to su,ppr,ess ·what they perceiv~ to be a dangerous te.ndt;nc~. They
ridiculed, ostracized, and ilJlprisoned free lovers, who nonethelC$8 eontinued
to express t.h~iraltemative sexual the0ry. Free lovers remaiJtedqommitted to
breaking middle-class taboos. on the. public. discussion of. ~x’1ltliiy, the very
taboos that Comstock was committed to enforcing.· The stage was set for the
sex·”vJilrs of the late nineteenth century;

·· buririgthe l810S; Victoria Claflin WoodhulHssued the clearestbattle cry
of the free-love:free”‘!lpeech oft’eriSive..· WbOdhulrs personal background . pre­
pared her for hethiter, infamousicareer. Raised in a spiritualist tamity, at age
fifteen she. married · a· doctOr ·who turned out to be a drunkard. Woodhull
abandoned her husband and’supported herself as an itinerant spiritualist. In
the 18608, with die help of Coriielfos Vanderbilt, she and her sister Tennessee
Claflin l>eCam-e tile fi.rit women stockbrokers on Wall Street: Woodhull remar­
ried Colonel James BloOd; whom she .eventually left to niatry’a·wealthy
Engtisliman, First, however, she joined and was expelled from’the Marxist
lnternatiortal Workingmen’s Association, ran f<>t the presidency of the United
States, and scandalized American society by publicizing· her free-love doc•

trines.411•
Woodhull derived her sexual theories from her own personal experience

and from the philosophy ofStephen Pearl’Andrews, whom she had met in New
York. The central theme in her public leetures and articles ofthe early_ 1870s
was’tha:t sexual consummation should only occur when a man and a woman
loved each other; marriage restricted this ideal by allowing &ex without love
bet.ween husbands and wives and by preventing loving sex between· those• not
married to each’.other. lri addition to elevating iridividual- sexual;c..oice over
the laws of marriage; W oodhulhmphasized the positive value of,sexuality and
condemned marriage for stifting the liberating. potential ·of sexual passion.
Anticipating modem ‘notions ofthe centrality of.sex tO personal identity, she

Sexual Politics

declared that “[s]exuality is the physiofogicalbasis ofcharaeter and must be
preserved as its batan~ and perfection/’ To develop human sexuality, a young
man or woman “should be taught all there is known’ about its uses and abuses;
so that he <>r she shall. not ignorantly drift upon the shoals whereon 5o many
lives are wrecked.” To charges that sexual desire was “vulgar,” she responded
as a romantic and a libertarian: ·

What! Vulprl The in~tinpt th1tJ .•~te$. immortal souls.vlllgarl WJio dare 11tand lip
amid Nature~ all p,roliftc and beautiful, wh<>Se pulses are ever bc>unding with the
creativedesirC. and utter such sacrilege! Vulgar, indeed! Vulgar, rather, must be the.
mind thatcan conceive such blasphemy.•• · ·

Victoria Woodhull’s public advocacy of free love might have been tolerated
in the 1870s, when many Americans engaged in nonproc~tive se:it and sophis~
ticated New Yorkers were well aware.ofthe e:ittentofadultery among them.
But Woodhull· went a .step f11nher .and broke the. conspiraQy of silence that
protc:cted the middle c~ .from the contradictions in their sexual ideology.
To highlight the hywcrisy.9f opposition. to free love,.sheannounced in public
that· the prominent·• Brooklyn. minister Henry. Ward Beecher• was having an
affair with a married parishioner, Elitabeth Tilton. Not only· did the Beecher
family,and.all of..respectablesociety condemnher·for the revelation, but an
infuriated Anthony Comstock sent Woodhull to jail for publishing the details
in Woodhulland Claflin’$ Weekly. She was ultimately.acquitted, butafter•her
marriage and emigration to England, Woodhull no longer spoke out on free
love. ,

The controversy set oft’ by Victoria W oodhullbelped inspire a budding new
generation offree· lovers~.including Ezra Heywood,>who founded the New
England Free Love Leag11e to provide a forum for. Woodhull to address.. An
abolitionist, pacifist, and . anarGhist, . Heywood; published. a free-love- tract,
Cupid’s Yok~ .{18.:76); for. which Anthony Comstock hlld him and his publisher
jailed··· Like earlier; freeJovers; Heywood consider¢ marriage a form ofprosti­
tution .. Alth()ugh he accepted male .. (l()ntinence, al<>ng with other methods.of
contraception, Heywood .endQfSed theide4$ of the· healthfulness of sexual
passion, as did.his wife, wo(len~s righisand•free-love.advocate Angela Tilton
Heywood. Both Ezra and Angela Heywood believed that frank discussion of
all sexual matters was critical …to·alleviating the sexual ills that seemed. to
pervade American society, Thus they named their journal The Word, and in
it· they employens, lighihotises of intercourle; ; . ; their
aptness, euphony and’ serviceable persistenee make it as impossible and undemrable
to put them out of pure use as it would be· to take oxygen out of air.

http:methods.of

http:hywcrisy.9f

165 INTIMATE MATTERS164

For_ such plain speaking, the Heywoods, too, incun-ed :the wrath of Anthony
Comstock, who twice convicted Ezra Heywood fof’ printing obscenity· :E.zr,a
served three years at hard labor• while Angela_ supported. their four children
alone. Within a year of hiS: release.from prison, Ezra Heywood died; one of
many martyrs of Comstock’s crus_ades.42 – • – _. .

The task of naming the sexual was carried on byM~ Harmon, a Vir.
ginia-bom minister. who converted to “free. thought” ·in Kan~ durin~ the
18~. Between l883 and 1907, Hannon publi~hedLu;c;-ifer, ,l’ht Light Bea~r,
a radical. joumat opp0sed to lynching, the S~h-American War, and
women’s sexiial slavery. Lucifer published biblical descriptions <>fsex, letters
from women who complained about their husbands’ sexual excesses, and even
accounts of.oral sex, which, like homosexuality, free lovers oondemned as
unnatural.. Although·-Harmon shared the social purity-suffragist belief that
women should havetheright to say no·to unwanted sex and motherhood;
Lucifer was too sexually explicitfor Anthony Comstock.: In 1886, Comstock
prosecuted· Harmon- for publishing a letter exposing the horrors of marital
rape. Harmon served a prison terrn·for his pl~n speaking; during his absence,
Lois Waisbrooker, a women’s rights supporter and. spiritualist, ·edited the

journal. Harmon’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Lillian, also clashed with the
• law when she “married” Edwin Walker·without the blessings of-church or
state. Publicized·in•Lucifer; their free-love ceremony-led to the couple’s arrest
and impris6nment~ . Lillian Hannon later opp<>Sed the. age-of-consent laws
because they forced chastity• upon young women.4′

Although sexual radicals and some liberal supporters tried to stop Com­
stock, they were unsuccessful; Two organizatiotis–the National ·Liberal
League and the National Defense Association……publicly opposed Comstock,
and Heywood’s publisher gathered seventytb,ousand signatureson a petition
to repeal the Comstock Act;. The popular pressfrequently ridiculed Comstock,
but they never undermined his political power. COmstocksucceeded until his
death in 1915 at least in part because his tactics;of intimidation immobilized
many critics. On a deeper level, Comstock could remain powerfuH>ecause his
crusade tapped both the fears and the longings of mainstream America, Even
as middle-class men and women began to limit faniily size and value romantic
union·in maf’riage, they worried about the specter of sexuality unleashed_ from
traditional controls. At a· time when the middleclass sought to establish social
order in the face of rapid industrialization· and’ immigration, the control of
sexuality outside of the family seemed all the more pressing.-Whatever new
sexual m~pings th~y m~~. have -embraced wit)lin the private .i:ealm of mar­
ri11gC: middle-class Americ.ans increasin$ly insisted on limiting the public ex­
pressioP of sexual . d.esire. S¢}t divorced. from reproductio11 was simply too
disturbi~g to unleash in public. Thus public reticence accompanied the private
transformation of sexuality.

Sexual Politics

In addition to their battles against the suppression of sexuality, late-nine­
teenth-century< free lovers engaged in anJntemal dialogue about· the meaning of sexuality ·amt· its relationship to reproduction that mirrored broader, often unspokeirsocial coneerns; In the pages of The Word and-Lucifer. and in their novels and political tracts, free lovers struggled . with the -problem of how .to balance the increasing impc>rtance ofcerotic sexuality against the fear that it
would lead to sexual chaos: The .free-love response pointed in the direction ·of
modem sexual ideas when it affirmed the positive value of the erotic;· but its
ties to the nineteenth-century theory of sexual control remained .strong. Like
John Humphrey Noyes’s system of coitus resenatu:s, each of the major sexual
alternatives endorsed· by. free lovers combined sexual pleasure with ·sexual
restraint. In Karezza (1896), for example, Alice Stockham explained how: both
men and women could build stronger characters by engaging in sexual rela­
tions that stopped short of climax .. Karezza, and other theories such as Alph­
aism, · Dianism, . and Zugassent’s Discovery, differed in their recommended
frequency-of sexualhen Pearl Andrews, the
Nicholses.– Elmina Drake•Slenker, as well as women’s rights leader. Elizabeth
Cady Stanton and social scientist Lester Ward, all supported women’s right
to control reproduction on the grounds that women would select mates wisely
and_ produce healthier, physically stronger, and morally superior offspring. By
justifying free love in the name of race progress, they countered the charges
of “race suicide” leveled against Anglo·Saxon women who chose to bear few
children, but .they· did so by accepting the argument that racial purity was a
major goal of sexual intercourse.

Anarchisteugenics’ reftected how closely the free-love vision resembled the
sexual thought of the dominant society. Despite the persecution of free-love

http:beyond.44

http:crus_ades.42

140 141 INTIMATE MATTERS

they left the hallowed domestic sphere, women increasingly perceived sexual­
ity as a political, and not simply a private, issue. Other sexual reformers
responded as well. Doctors and vice crusaders such as Anthony Comstock
opposed abortion, contraception, and the public expression of sexuality in art
and literature. Their anti-vice crusades helped politicize sexuality by demand­
ing greater state intervention in the regulation of morality. In contrast, sexual
radicals of the anarchist free-love movement rejected any state involvement in
personal matters. By the end of the century, diverse reformers-women, doc~
tors, vice crusaders, and free lovers-engaged in heated debate over whti
should regulate sex: the individual; the family, or the state.

Moral Reform and Prostitution

The growing visibility of prostitution provoked the earliest sexual reform
movement, which attempted to dismantle the dominant American view of
pr0stitution deriving fi:om the long-standing tradition of the double standard,
Throughout most ofWestern culture,.men had enjoyed the· freedom to have
sexual .relations with mistresses or prostitutes; since female chastity mail)­
tained honor and legitimacy within t:Jie family, only women’s tr3Jl$gres$ions
were severely punished. At the same time, most men, and some women,. viewed
the prostitute as a marital safety-valve who allowed men to fulfill their sup­
posedly greater sexual. desires, sparing their wives from unwanted sex .and
pregnancy. Prostitution was, thus, a necessary evil.

For these reasons, and despite the social condemnation of the prostitute
herself, laws thatprohibited .. nightwalking” or “keeping a house of ill repute”
were only sporadically enforced. In some cities, such as Philadelphia, prostitu­
tion itself was not considered. a crime at the opening of the;~ntury. Befo~·the
establishment of professio11al police forces, irate citizens occasionally attaclced
brothels, as they did during the wb,orebouse riots in eighteenth-century Qoston
and. in Maine and Pennsylvania during the 1820s. But only when bawdy hoµses
exceeded community standards did they invite attack, ai;. was the case in New
York. Gity when a hous.e that catered to interracial sex provoked mob action.
As long as prostitutes and their customers remained relatively quiet, they
might be tolerated. After 1830, with the increasing visibility of prostitutes and
the organization of metropolitan police forces, streetwalkers risked periodic
arrest for vagrancy or disorderly conduct. However;they usually returned to
t}Jeir trade after. a short term in the jail or workhouse. Aside from infrequent
raids on brothels-such as those in Chicago in 1857 and in Boston in 18Slh­
legal toleration prevailed in most eastern cities and in the western mining and
cattle towns to which. prostitutes· gravitated. 1

In the 1830s, however, voluntary organizations composed of middle-class

Sexual Politics

reformers began to callattention to prostitution as a social problem and
demand a s0lution. Initiated by clergymen, a movement to oppose prostitution .
soon gathered support· among Protestant women, whose .antebellum,cam­
paigns for ••moral reform” condemned not only prostitution but also the men
who resortedJo it. In the’ postwar decades, a broader movement, led by women
but including men as well,·demanded “social purity,” that is, a single standard
of morality for both sexes.

Middle-class Americans, and especially Protestant women, had many rea­
sons to oppose. prostitution. For one, all sexuality that took place outside of
the family generated deep concerns about social order, In general,: the “fallen
woman” symbolized the fate of the family less individual in the anonymous
city.· Sexual commerce also represented the extreme case of the separation of
sexuality, not only from reproduction, but also from love and intimacy. For
women, especially,. prostitution defied the ideal of female chastity. It exposed
the double standard and highlighted the disparity between the freedom of men
and .the dependence of women in economic and sex.ual life. But it did -not
merely. symbolize deeper social dilemmas. Sexual commerce had jn fact be·
come more vi!lible in the urban areasofthenorthem states and had spread as
well in western towns and cities. Moreover, the’prostitute evoked fears of
disease at a time of recurrent and inexplicable cholera epidemics and a growing
incidence of syphilis. Thus women had legitimate concerns about threats t-0 the
health and stability oftheir families.

Prostitution, in short, presented ·both a symbolic and a real social problem,
but that does not explain sufficiently why groups mobilized to oppose it.
Equally important, the attack on prostitution emanated .from a particular
social group at . a. particular historical moment. Antiprostitution originated
where revivalism and commerce converged: in New Yorld::ity and. Boston;
along the newly. opened trade route of the Erie Canal in upstate New York~
known as the ·”Burned Over District” because waves of· revivalism passed
through it-,-and among,middle-class melf·;imd women. The response to prosti­
tution, then, must be understood within. the context of the perf~tionistn·of
the Second Great A wakening and the needs of a developing commercial
class..

The religious revival brought into the Protestant churches tens of thou­
sands of Americans who hoped to achieve salvation in this life. Women, who
were ove~resented among the converts, believed in addition .that it was the
special mission of their sex to uphold the moral. standards of society. In­
fluenced by the revivals, men and women formed associations to espouse their
faith and· solve .social problems that arose in growing cities. Supplementing
earlier Bible and tract societies that aimed at converting “heathens~’..1;,..both
Indians and irreligious white settlers in•. the West-,-new voluntary associations

BH
Sticky Note
Accepted set by BH

142 143 INTIMATE MATTERS

formed to oppose intemperance, poverty, and slavery. Middle-class women
founded urban missions that ministered to impoverished widows, orphans, and
prisoners and tried to convert prostitutes to a purer life. ·

The response to prostitution took· place not only during an era of revival
and reform, but also of class foJ11U!,tion, when artisanship gave way to an
industrial working class, and an older merchant-professional class recon­
stituted as a commercial and manufacturing middle class. The new industrial
economy required greater discipline on the part ofboth managers and workers.
The northern middle class’s strong commitment to moral order, in addition
to its economic interest in encouraging sobriety and self-control, served as one
means by which that class differentiated itself from other social groups. Reject­
ing the. libertinism ·Of the European aristocracy, middle-class factc>ry owners,
clergy, and doctors upheld the’ values of frugality and temperate personal
habits. Indeed,. their critique of. slavery rested. in part on a revulsion against
what they viewed as sensual indulgence by southern whites. In addition,
members of· the· northern middle class. considered· themselves more civilized
than blacks, immigrants, and the poor, whom they stereotyped as sexually
promiscuous. Among the newly· forming working class, preindustrial prac­
tices, such as casual drinking at work and holiday carousing, persisted well
into the nineteenth century. The opportunities for public drunkenness, profan­
ity, and lascivious behavior at holiday celebrations dismayed. middle-class
employers; who led efforts to outlaw drinking, gambling, and “licentiousness;”
In Lynn1 Massachusetts, for example, reformers both embraced middle-class
reticence and attempted to discipline the work force when they imposed fines
for profanity and abolished the election-day holidays at which public drinking
and”lewd and lascivious behavior” had abounded. 1 Thus, even as the middle
class· idealized. the internalization of ·sexual controls for themselves, they
sought to .reestablish external controls over workers and the poor.

Finally, organized opposition to prostitution appeared at a moment when
the responsibility for morality· was being transferred from one set of male
professionals to another. In the past, clergy had primary control over personal
morality; The declining authority of the clergy, and the reluctance of the state
to regulate morality, left a vacuum that was eventually filled, for the most part,
by doctors. In the interval; middle-class women emerged as a powerful interest
group committed to the guardianship of the nation’s morals and critical of the
sexual privileges enjoyed by men. As doctors began to assert authority over
sexual behavior as a matter of health, they sometimes clashed with women
reformers, Prostitution provided a social issue about which each of these
groups could articulate a sexual politics rooted in gender and class, in an etfort
to .influence social policy.

·In the 1820s, Protestant clergymen initiated an attack on licentiousness

Sexual Politics

when they identified loose sexual conduct as a fearful blight afllicting Ameri­
can society. As one minister told an upstate New York congregation, the
“loathaome monster…..,…licentiousness-crawls, tracking the earth with his fetid
slime and .poisoning the atmosphere with bis syphilitic breath.” Despite the
specific reference to venereal disease, his jeremiad evoked even deeper fears of
c.ontamination .through the serpent, symbol for both evil and forbidden sexual
desire. In addition to such preaching, Protestant reformers issued pamphlets
and newspapers to spread their campaign against sexual license. In 1833, John
McDowall warned in McDowall’s Journal and· the Magdalen Report that ten
thousand depraved harlots threatened to corrupt innocent young men· in New
York City. Other clergy condemned “depraved women” who led astray inex­
perienced young men in the city.•

Middle-class Protestant ‘women already involved in benevolent associa­
tions to help’. the poor, widowed> and orphaned. soon recast the attack on
licentiousness. Unlike male reformers, who usually portrayed the•prostitute as
a source of depravity and a threat to men’s health, these women claimed
sympathy with the prostitute; In the words of one New York reformer, ”How,
then, can we ·be pitiless toward the transgressions of the .untaught, the un­
warned, the neglected!” Adopting a model offemale victimization, they argued
that seduction by a licentious maleled to many a woman’sfall into .prostitu­
tion. “It cannot be concealed,” reformers wrote, ”that the treac·hery of man,
betraying the interests of. . , ·woman; is one of the principal causes,.which
furnishes the victims of licentiousness. Few, very few .. : have sought their
wretched calling.”5 Rather than condemning the “fallen. woman;” female re­
formers· promised to uplift her and restore her. to true womanhood. In the
name of gender solidarity, they. launched an attack on male sexual privilege.

. In· 1834, NewYork,City women who shared these views formed a Female
Moral: Reform Society. They hired McDowall and other missionaries to try to
convert prostitutes in city jails and hospitals. Their agents also visited brothels,
engaging.in what historian Carroll, Smith-Rosenberg has termed “pious
harassment”-praying,·singing, and writinj.down the names.of .customers.
Women soon took over the leadership of moral reform. They edited a newspa­
per, The Advocate ofMoral Reform, and traveled throughout the countryside
organizing auxiliaries. By 1839, the American Female Moral Reform Society
included several hundred associations.’

Female moral reformers thought ,they could transform fallen women into
true women, whether prostitutes desired to change or not. To aid this task,
Boston and New York women opened temporary homes where· prostitutes
could stay and where, the founders hoped, inmates would convert to Christian­
ity. Similarly, from tbe 1840s through the 1860s; women prison reformers
throughout the northern states opened halfway houses for,released women

http:names.of

http:engaging.in

144 145 INTIMATE MATTERS

prisoners, many of whom were prostitutes, in the belief that a woman’s .. help­
ing hand” might prevent them from returning to the streets. As Boston moral
reformers observed, however, it was “extremely difficult to persuade inmates
of brothels to forsake their road· to ruin.” Most prostitutes did not think of
themselves as· fallen women, nor did they aspire to middle-class moral stan­
dards. Rather, they often resisted reformers’ eft’orts to· make them· leave the
city; take up·sewing, or become domestic servants; Yet these eft’orts persisted,.
in part because they served both real and symbolic functions for women
reformers for whom the attack on prostitution was a permissible· outlet to
question men’s authority, men’s sexual conduct, and women’s dependence on
men.1

In addition to their attempts at proselytizing the fallen, female moral
reformers waged a concerted attack upon men wht> seduced young women or
visited brothels. Echoing male health reformers, women cautioned young men
to restrain their sexual impulses, but they called for restraint not in the name
of preserving men’s health, but rather to oppose the injustice of the double
standard.· “Why should a female be trodden. under foot and spumed from
society and driven from a parent’s roof, if she but fall into sin-while:common
consent allows the male to habituate himself to this vice, and treats him as not
guilty,” wrote New York women. The “deliberate destroyer of female inno­
cence” deserved to be exposed rather than protected. In 1835, TheAdvocate
ofMoral Reform warned that it would publish the names of men who indulged
in sex outside of marriage. Thus New York women would circlmvent the
protection afforded men by the anonymity of the city: “Young men· in the
country!” they.cautioned, “beware what you do when you come into the city,”
for urbatJ missionaries would reveal their names.•

In the countryside, as well; women organized to regain some of the control
over sexual morality that they had lost during the transition to a more mobile
and heterogeneous society. Historian Mary. Ryan has found that ·in Oneida
County, New York, factory and ·college towns ·drew a· large population of
young, single men and women who lived apart from family~urveillance. The
local Female Moral Reform SOciety devised numerous strategies to protect
female chastity and oppose men’s use of prostitution. They issued pamphlets
and tracts . to warn mothers of the dangers of licentiousness, and they at­
tempted to ostracize male seducers from the community. Defying the taboo
on women’s public discussions of sexual matters, they revealed the names of
adulterers, stopped men on the streets or. in taverns; and visited employers who
made sexual advances to their servants. One mother even followed her errant
son into a brothel to demand that he return home!’

In the course of their work in the female moral reform societies and related·
efforts, thousands of middle-class women transcended the limits of the female

Sexual Politics

domestic sphere. Acting on their belief in female moral superiority, they seized
sexual regulation as the prerogative of women. In doing so they transformed
the informal female networks of the past into formal organizations that en­
gaged in the world of public reform. A decade before the American women’s.
rights movement began in 1848, they waged petition campaigns to convince
state legislators ·to enact criminal penalties for seduction and adultery. After
women had, gathered thousands of signatures and won the support of liberal
male reformers, such as New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, the cam•
paign succeeded in winning the passage of anti-seduction laws in New York
and Massachusetts. 10

In one sense; female moral reformers anticipated later activists who peti­
tioned legislatures for property rights and suffrage after 1848. Although they
did not espouse women’s rights per se, moral reformers found ingenious ways
to transcend the boundaries of the domestic. sphere. They spoke in public,
organized independently, and sought the passage of legislation. Ironically, to
achieve some of their ends they turned to the state and to the .very lawmaking
bodies from which women· were excluded. In another sense,·however, moral
reformerii were as traditional as they were innovative. Although they believed
that the once-fallen woman should not be condemned to a life of prostitution,
they.accepted fully the social value placed on female chastity. Few understood
the different sexua1 culture of the working class, in which casual sex for pay
might be tolerated. In response to women’s greater sexual vulnerability in
urban and industrial society, they attempted to confine sexuality to marriage
by restoring some measure of traditional community control. For these women
reformers, sexuality outside the family threatened the only identities available
to them-that of wives and mothers. Prostitution, they feared, would destroy
the base of their world, the family, by bringing into it the specter of disease
and drawing out of it their sons, daughters; and husbands. Like other middle­
class women, female moral reformers opposed sexuality that was unrelated to
either reproduction or marital intimacy,

Medicine and Morality

Like other antebellum movements to perfect American society, moral
reform declined after the 1850s, although middle-class Protestant women
continued missionary work with prostituies throughout the century. In the
decades after the Civil War, however, a new- ·Spirit of “scientific charity”
replaced the benevolence of earlier reforms, and doctors began to supplant
clergymen as male authorities over sexual matters~ To an extent, doctors filled
the vacuum into which women had been drawn earlier. The medical professfon
soon became the second major group to mobilize sexual reform movements in

146 INTIMATE MATTERS

America, targeting b,oth abortion and prostitution as. professional concerns.
On the .latter issue, doctors’ attitudes differed significantly :from the m!lral
refonners who bad preceded them. By the l870s, the medical response Jo
prostitution would inspire a new generation of women reformers to joinJhe
political debate over. the. regulation· of, prostitution.

Doctors initiated sexual refonn ·movements at a. time when the medical
profession hoped toimprove its reputation. The American Medical ~a­
tion (AMA),.founded in 18471 hastened a process begun earlier in the century
by which .. regular”physicians drove out “irregular” competitors, including
midwives, homeopaths, and bogus healers. Until the 1880s, when the germ
theory of disease paved the way for progress against cholera, tuberculosis, and
syphilis, physicians could do little to cure these nineteenth-century kUlers. Jn
themeantime, however, doctors increased both their prestige and their public
authority by claiming e&pertise in. new areas, including public health and
sexuality.

In·the·process of expanding their authority, S()me nineteenth-century doc­
tors seemed to be waging a covert battle against women. New theories of
reproductive science reinforced the concept .ofthe separate sexual spheres by
exaggerating the, centrality of the womb to women’s health. Particularly in the
new specialization of gynecology, women were seen as ..merely reproductive
beings, ideally confined to the home and to lives of repeated childbearing. As
Dr. Horatio Storer wrote in 1871, woman was. “what she is in health, in
character, in her channs, alike of body, mind and soul because of her womb
alone.” Harvard physician E. H. Clarke argued in bi’s 1873 book Sex in
Educa.tion that women should not participate in higher education. Alanned
atthedeclining birth rates among educated,.white middle-class women, Clarke
reasoned that the energy women expended in studying depleted their rep..roduc­
tive capacities ..Some nineteenth-century physicians, such as J. !14arion Sims
and Robert Battey, employed.radical gynecologicalsurgery, including female
castration, to “correct” masturbation or other expressions of sexual passion.
Similarly, women diagnosed as neurasthenic or insane sometimes had their
ovaries removed on the grounds that the reproductive organs determined a
woman’s overall physical and mental health.” · · ·

In addition to their eft”orts through medical advice and private practice,
doctors joined political mov~ents to maintain .the, traditional reproductiye
framework of marital sexuality ..Regular physicians opposed .the irregulars
who profited from the trade in contraception and abortion. One doctor wrote
in outrage in 1 ~67, claiming that married women received circulars “oft”ering
infOrmatimstock’s campaign to limit access to contraception; which culminated in
the passage of the Comstock· Act in 1873. ··

The medical tesPolise to abortion further suggests that doctors,:viewed
women primarily as mothent In the early. nineteenth century, neither doctors,
women, not judges had necessarily COlidemned”abortion cils long·.as. it was·
performed before,·~~quickening/’ when the mother feltthe·.fetusmove.within
her at ‘about three months. Antebellum laws .retained· the quickening doctrine
and attempted to protect women from. unwanted abortion, rather . than tQ
prosecute them. After 1860~ in responle to increasing alann -‘>out the,commer~
cialization of.abortion and its growing use by married women~ doctors began
to· organize; to outlaw abortion and place it under the strict regulation ofthe
medical profession. H0ratio Storer led a crusacie to punish not only those who
performed the operation but also ‘the?women ·.who 8oug)lt them. Unwilling
mothers, Storet claimed; who selfishly 8ought ”the pleasures or a summer’s
trips and amusements,” used abortion· to ·evade their maternal’ duties;· Storer
mobilized the fledgling American Medical.Association, while newspapers such
as the New York Times popularized;his;cause and began to,ban ads.for
abortionists and abortifacients; As a result.of these efforts; between·· 1860 and
1890,forty states and territories enacted anti-abortion statutes, many of’. which
rejected the quickening doctrine; placed limitations on. adv.ertisentents; and
helped transfer legal authority for abortion Jrom ·women. to doctors. •. 3

Members. of the’ medical profession did· not necessarily·c<>nspire· to limit
women to motherhood•· Doctors •acted independently. but.upon widely shared
values; when they upheld the kgitimacy of the separate spheres. Further, not
all. doctors supported· these· efforts, while some women did, including those
who opposed abortion and •higher education; Some women’ sought radical
gyne<:Ological surgery for themselves; whether·because.theybelievedthe medi~ cal opinionsror because the ..removal of womb or ovaries·relieved them ohhe risk ofpregnancy. Nonetheless; ·taken .to'gether,.these medical constraints sug­ gest that doctors may have gained authority at the expense of women; .Just when middle'..Class Vomem had begun to leave the home, whether as reforiners or·college·students, doctors seemed eager to displace women from the public sphere and· reaffirm female domestic and maternal roles1 · That many doctolt supported not only the separate spheres but also the double standard.further· indicates a· conflict between the interests· of women and doctors. Despite their efforts to contain middle-class women within . the home and ·maintain the primacy of reproductive S,exuality ;·the medical profes­ sion largely accepted prostitution as.a necessary evil. Unlik~ female reformers of the antebellwn •decades, doctors at midcentury viewed prostitution not as a moral· issue but as a· public health problem. In· the name of preventing venereal disease, they reeommended a system of legalized, or regulated, prosti· http:result.of http:long�.as 148 INTIMATE MATTERS Sexual Politics 149 tution that would be overseen by medical authorities. Given their inability to tion a political issue that mobilized British working.class and suffrage leaders. cure syphilis and gonorrhea, however, the plans for regulation represented a· against .regulation. It also led to the founding of an international Federation symbolic attack. on disease that was· aimed .at prostitutes themselves. for the Abolition of State Regulated Prostitution, whose members alerted Consciously modeled on the licensing of prostitutes in Paris, .and akin to Am~cans to the threat ofstate-regulated vice.1' the Contagious Diseases.Acts in.England during the 1860&, the regulation of. The British message reached a receptive audience in the United S.tates. prostitution through medical inspection originated in the United States during Middle-class American women were ·already sensitive to the double standard the Civil War. In Nashville, Tennessee, for example, Union army officials had, . · by· which women, and not men; paid the penalties for illicit sex. They bilstitution. In the West, women petitioned city councils and· state
legislatures tO close down brothels and enforce vagrancy laws against prosti­
tutes.. The San Franciseo Women’s Suffrage Club.opposed laws to legalize
prostitution on the grounds that the Jaws provided an ineffective means• of
controlling venereal disease.· Only a single standard of purity, they argued,
could insure public health. By 1886,. local social purity coalitions had effec­
tively staved off state-regulated prostitution in America. 11

The Politics ofSocial Purity

II The battle over regulated prostitution inaugurated a sexual reform move­
ment akin to antebellum moral reform but with more ambitious goals and
wider impact. The social purity movement of the late nineteenth century
incorporated. many of the ideas of moral .reform, especially the demand· for a

I single sexual standard. From its local grass-roots origins within the anti·
regulation efforts of the 1870s, social purity grew into a national, institutional,
and more conservative mold by the 1890s. In the process, it helped transform
American attitudes toward sexuality by making women’s·beliefin asinjle
sexual standard the dominant middle-class view. Like earlier moral reformers,
arid like conservative vice crusaders, social purity advocates resisted the move­
ment of sexuality outside of the private sphere. At the same thne, they
launched a critique of marital sexuality and attempted· to break through the
conspiracy of silence regarding the public discussion of sex. Thus social purity
unintentionally contributed to the movement of sexuality beyond the family.

The purity leadership included Protestant clergy, former abolitionists, and
women’s .rights activists. Its membership drew heavily from the ranks of
middle-class women who,·in·the late nineteenth century, became increasingly
comfortable as activists in the public world of social reform. Unlike earlier
moral reformers, who had been motivated primarily by religious enthusiasm,
this later generation was influenced as well by the ideas of social· Darwinism
and by the growing women’s rights movement. Furthermore, both white mid­
dle”Class women and their male counterparts felt a sense of urgency about
socialreform during the last quarter of the century; The rapid pace of indus­
trial and urban growth; as well as mass immigration from southern and eastern
·Europe. was transforming American social structure and politics. At one end,
the newly wealthy created a world of conspicuous consumption; atthe other,
an industrialproletariat periodically threatened class war. In between. the

Sexual Politics

middle class attempted to create a semblance of order suitable to their needs.
Earlier in the century, the ideal of the pure woman in her domestic sphere

had helped stabilize the rapidly changing society. By the late nineteenth·cen•
tury, however, more and more women left the domestic· sphere, entering the
paid work force or attending college before marriage. Once. married, the de.
dining birth rates revealed; maternity was less central to women’s lives. Some
doctors tried fo return women to the domestic sphere, but middle-class women
organized to expand their maternal authority beyond the home, through move­
ments for social purity and temperance. In order ·to protect the home and
enforce their own vision of moral order, they became active in pdlitics. Their
attack on legalized prostitution eventually raised criticisms of marital sexual­
ity, as well. Like free lovers and utopians, social purity activists grappled with
the new meanings of marital sexuality, especially the relationship of sexuality
and reproduction.

Opposition to prostitution united the various strains of the social purity
movement. In place of regulated prostitution, purity activists believed in pre­
venting women from “falling” into the trade and in penalizing tnen for cor­
rupting women. During the late nineteenth century, they expanded efforts
(initiated earlier by moral and prison reformers) to uplift prostitutes. Now,
however, their goals· shifted from conversion to prevention. Conversion had
never reaped great·rewards, largely because most prostitutes, who entered the
trade as a means ofsupport, defied the reform plan for rescuing sexual victims,
Missionary dutreach continued. throughout the· century1 but· it was most suc­
cessful when. women had in fact been forced· into prostitution. In. California,
for example, Presbyterian women led by Donaldina Cameron established a
home for escaped Chinese slave prostitutes that lasted from 1874 to 1939.
Cameron and her co-workers· literally rescued Chinese women from brothels;
escorting them to a safe house and accompanying them to court to prevent
their “owners” from enforcing labor contracts for sexual service. In contrast
to this kind ofrescue work, many women. reformers now focused on reaching
young working-class·or.•immigrant women with social services that would
prevent them from becoming prostitutes.

To counter the temptations of urban vice among the recently enlarged
ranksofurban working women~mainly fow-paid seamsiresses, domestic serv­
ants, and factory operative5-‘-reformers established clubs such as the Working
Girls Society and the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union, as well as
supervised residences, or surrogate homes. Similarly, new agencies to help
migrants or immigrants such· as Travellers Aid and the Young Women’s
Christian Association, hoped to prevent newly arrived young women from
being approached by procurers or exploited by unscrupulous landlords and
employers. For those who had “onee sinned,•• reformers established homes for

http:America.11

152 153 INTIMATE MATTERS

unwed mothers, such as the Florence Crittenden Homes or the Denver Cottage
Honie, that.shielded women from an intolerant society and set them back on
the course of. virtue instead Qf the road to the t>rothel. 1. 9

In oft’ering preventive or protective services, women reformers could be as
condescending as they were “uplifting.” They demanded that their clients ·
adopt middl~lass values of temperance and domesticity, and they did not
encourage working women to view their sexuality in.a positive light. Neverthe-,
less. these reformers did challenge an.earlier view of the fallen woman as an
outcast.. Moreover, they recognized that institutional inequalities of class and
gender forced some women. to sell .their bodies ..In a sense, through. the social
services they provided, women reformers attempted to give working women
greater a(:CCSS to resources in a society in which these women were particularly
vulnerable economically and sexually.

Even more important than reaching women was the task of converting men
to the single standard. Rescue work saved only a small number, explained Dr.
Caroline Winslow, president of the Washington Moral Education Society;
women needed to look deeper into the origins of evil. Those who blamed
women for prostitution missed the point, Ellen Battelle Dietrick wrote in the
suffrage newspaper Th.e Woman ‘.s Journal. “They are only dealing with one
half of the problem so long as they utterly ignore the fact that the chief cause
for ‘fallen women’ is fallen men.” Suft’ragists Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell
wanted the law to punish men who procured women as prostitutes. 20

The. largest· women’s organization in nineteenth-century America, .the
Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), mobilized to upiift men to
women’s sexual standards. Founded in 1874, the WCTU originated among
small-town, midwestem women who took militant action to try to close sa­
loons, which they.viewed as a major threat to their·homes. Drunken husbands,
they believed, used up. a fa,mily’s income on liquor and often physically. or
sexually abused their wives and children. The attack on the saloon had sym­
bolic. meanings as well, for the saloon represented the.innermost sanctuary of
the male public sphere from which. women were excluded. The antithesis, of
the home, the saloon fostered gambling, obscenity, and prostitution, all
ofwhich threatened women•s moral purity. WCTU members engaged in politi­
cal campaigns to achieve temperance in their localities. What began as a
cru~e for “home protection” soon turned into a larger campaign to give
women greater political power in the society. Thus Frances Willard, an inspi­
rational lea4er who became. national president of the WCTU from 1879 until
her death in 1898, championed woman suffrage, ;Populism,. and “Christian
Socialism” as well as temperance.

In 1885, the WCTU reflected.the shift in the direction of anuprostitution
sentiment when its Committee for Work with Fallen Women became the

Sexual Politics

Social Purity Division. In their, quest to purify men, WCTU members rallied
to the.slogan “The White Life for Two,” a reference to purity, but one that
fit well with popular views about the superior morality ofthe white race; They
launched a White Ribbon campaign, in which men who promised to remain
sexually pure wore small white banners to help forge their new identities. The
WCTU joined forces with male reformers within religious organizations~ In
18851 Episcopal clergy.established a branch of the British White Cross Society,
a sex education campaign through. which the church helped men resist sexual
temptation. The WCTU adopted the White Cross crusade, and Frances Wil­
lard ..publicized it in national lectures and in the press. The UniQn cooperated
as well with the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Society of Friends,
and the Seventh-Day. Baptists to encourage men to join the White.Cross.21

The WCTU, along with other social purity activists, also turned to the state
to enforce .its moral visi<>n· bi. the 1880s, the purity .movement called on states
to raise.the age at which.a woman coqld legally consent to.sexual relations.
The legislation would make men who had, sex with young women liable to
prosecu~ion for statutory rape, whether or not the women freely consented to
intercou1″5C. Age-of-consent legislation rested upon the; belief that men initiated
unwitting young women into sexual activity that led to prostitution. Its pur­
pose was to deny men their youngest victims. Thus the social purity movement
perpetuated the view .that prostitutes had been victims of.male deception.
rather than fr(:ClY choosingtheir trade. It effectiv.ely limited th!.l 11exual choices
of working-cla8s women. as much as. it• protected them. But;. the legislation
served the cause of social purity by calling attention to male sexual privilege.
For these strategic and symbolic reasons; purity groups gathere away from the view of the middle classes., The sanctity, of the, home
was constantly belied by sweatshop conditions and tenement housing, a8 well
as by a noticeable rise in the frequency of divorce. And even as the revivalistic
fervor,for social purity, swelled, a renewed free-love movement took purity
ideals to.their uncomfortable yet logical extreme.,lndeed, the last quarter of
the nineteenth century witnessed, an intense battle between those who sought
to control sexuality by returning it to the private sphere of the family and.those
who sought to release it from social constraints.

Sex Wars.· Obscenity and Frte Speech
in the Late Nineieenth Century

To some extent, all of the responses to prostitution, from moral reform to
social purity, combined a vision of individual control over sexuality with a
program of external regulation, whether by family, community, or the state.
In the battle over obscenity; however, sharply opposing camps, one embracing
individual, and the other social control of sexuality, squared off against each
other. The attack on obscenity, commandeered by Anthony Comstock, called
for direct government involvement in the suppression of sexual expression in
the public sphere and the confinement of sexuality to its reproductive function.
In contrast, a small but vocal anarchist and free-love movement demanded
that neither church nor state should limit the expression of sexual ideas and
feelings; whether in private or in ,public, the regulation of sexual life should
be solely a matter of individual choice.

The frequent skirmishes between these two armies of true believers-free

Sexual Politics

lovers committed to exposing.all sexual matters to the light of day, and vice
crusaders determined·tockeep all such “obscenity” (that is, open discussion of
sexuality,, and contraception),behind closed ·doorg..,..,portrayed dramatically. a
central problem of late-nineteenth-century sexual thought. Was sex best regu.
lated by expanding orrte8trictingit8′,public discussion? In the late nineteenth
century;., the..restrictive ‘POiicy ·advocated by, Comstock triumphed in most of
the battles. By the early twentieth century, however, the ,expansive mode,
supported by free lovers, suft”ragists, and sex educators, wo.u}d, win the1,war.

The initial impulse to suppress obscenity had originated at the same time
as moral ,reform and from a common source,, In .1834, NeW York City moral
reformer John, McDowalthad invited several hundred clergymen to a display
of obscene books and articles he had collected. At thattime; however, New
Yorkers were reluctant•.tojoin McDowall in a campaign against such litera­
ture. In fact, a New York grand,jury investigating McDowall found that his
exposes, “under the pretext of cautioning the young of both sexes against the
temptation to criminal indulgence,”. were as oft”ensive as the literature he
condemned. Despite McDowall’s efforts, Americans neither established a .vol•
untary, agency to parallel England~s Society for the Suppression of. Vice
(founded in 1802), nor, did they call ,for further state ,intervention against
obscenity. In the antebellum era, Americans seemed to be more interested in
individual purification throughinternalized control thari in,the public regula­
tion .of sexual expression. 2•

A commitment to freedom of the press, as well as the limited circulation
of obscene, publications, also forestalled a movement for ,censorship: Only
rarely did the states express concern about the potential of art and literature
to eorrupt the morals of.youth. In 1821, a Massachusetts court did sentence
a bookdealer to six months in jail for selling, the eighteenth-century English
novel Fanny Hill to locaHarmers., But American courts heard very few obscen­
ity cases between 1821 and 1870, and these concerned.guides to mar.ital sex
(such as Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy) containing contraceptive
information, Only four state legislatures enacted obscenity laws prior to the
Civil War, The federal customs law, of 1842 prohibited the importation of
indecent and obscene prints and paintings, but it excluded printed matter from
regulation. 29

The growing reticence about sexuality among the middle, class did aft”ect
American artists of the antebellum period. At a time when it was acceptable
to depict the naked, body in European, art, those who exhibited in America
learned that nudity and sexuality were highly ,controversial. When Adolphe
Ulrich Wertmiiller,,a Swedish~botn ,painter living in Delaware, exhibited his
Danae and the Shower of Gold, with its clear reference to’ sexual intercourse,
an American cdtic commented that it was , a scene “that public decorum

158 159 INTIMATE MATTERS

requites to be shut outfrom the eye of day:• Writing in 1812, the critic claimed. ‘
that ”no modest.woman would venture to contemplate·[itl in the presence of;
a man.” (In fact; the gallery that.exhibited the painting,in.New Yorkset aside
separate days for “ladies!’ to view.it in private.)Similarly, the American press;•
denounced as indecent French paintings. that· included nudes, ·even in biblical’
scenes, but the American public defied the critics and continued to•pay !l(lmis..
sion fees to see condemned paintings. As artist Henry Inman wrote in 1833,•
“Crowds of both sexes sit together for hours gazing upon these very nude· •

figures with delight. “JO
Nonetheless, American artists shied away from nude or sexual subject•

matter. At the advice of his father, for example; Rembrandt Peale gave up the ;
depiction of nudes and turned his hand to portraiture. One of the few. excep.­
tions to the trend, the Transcendentalist painter William Page, was accused .
of violating “all modem delicacy” in his studies of Venus. In the 1840s, the ;
National Academy refused Page’s Cupid and Psyche because of its nudity, and ·
some critics feared that the painting threatened·to infest American culture with
the decaying morals ofdecadent Europe. A close look at this work reveals how
conflicted Americans were about sexuality and its· public expression. The
Greek statue that inspired Page had shown fully the nude figure of Cupid ·
embracing a partially bare-breasted and scantily clothed Psyche. Compared to
the original, Page’s perspective, revealing only Psyche’s bare back and the
couple’s entwined hands, seems modest, almost protective, while the idyllic ·.
setting places sensuality tamely within the natural world. Like other Ameri- .
cans; however; Page seemed ambivalent about the sensual, especially in his
composition: the masking of her face, the tentative groping toward an embrace
by his right hand, the contortion· of her. torso and their arms; the uncomfort·
able merging of two bodies into one indistinguishable unit. Cupid and Psyehe ·
was, undeniably, an erotic painting, perhaps the most explicitly so by any
nineteenth-century American artist. Yet its representation ofsexuality was not·•
unequivocally positive, and its reception exposed a strong hostility to explora- •
tions of any sexual theme in American art.n

While high culture imposed self-Censorship to limit the representation of
sexuality, commercial. culture respected no such bounds, especially after the
1860s. The Civil War encouraged the growth of sexual commerce in_ the form
of both obscene. literature and prostitution. After the war, cheaply produced
and sexually titillating pulp novels, including dime novels for adults· and , .
half-dime or story papers for boys, could be mailed at new·second-class postal ·
ra~.n Simultaneously, the presence of single men living outside family super­
vision in the cities provided both a market for sexual commerce and a disturb­
ing reminder of the movement of sexuality from the private· to the public

spheres.

Sexual Politics

The expansion of sexually explicit popular literature was met by a new
sexual reform. movement, one more willing to turn to the state to support its
goals. Onerefoml’agency;’the New York City Young Men’s’ChristianAssocia­
tion; instigated a p()Stwar anti-obseenity crusade;. In 1866, a:· YMCA report
bemoaned the declinecof paternalistic supervision over the morals of, young
workers. Employers nolanger ·took notice of the •~social and moral interests
of young men.” In urban boardinghouses, the “virtuous and the yicious” were
thrown together; after work, young. men frequented•.saloons and theaters;
where: they were likely to ineet prostitutes or buy .the· cheap “vile newspapers”
that the YMCA believed were “feeders for brothels.·;~J. The Association.tried
to redirect young .men along the path to pure Christian living by providing
alternative housing; reading, and recreation. ·· ,

One YMCA member, Connecticut·dry•goods salesman Anthony Com­
stock, adopted as his life’s work the task of combating sex in print, art, or
private :corre8p0ndence. ·Story papers and pulp novels, he explained in Traps
for the Young (1883), bred ”vulgarity, profanity, ioose ideas of life, impurity
of thought. and deed.” Moreover, Comstock claimed,. when impressionable
youth read ,dime novels, they proceeded to act out their plots of seduction,
theft, and murder. He implored parents to monitor their children’s readingand
boycott newsdealers who sold “these death-traps.” Comstock’s greatest con­
cern, however,was the availability of”obscene literature” and articles through
the mails. Only, state action could defeat this threat to national morality. 34

In 1872; Anthony Comstock·began a crusade to strengthen anti-obscenity
laws. With financial backing from the upper-class businessmen on the board
of the YMCA, Comstock tirelessly lobbied state and .federal legislatures.· He
also founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to support his
work. Through the Society, Comstock enforced existing’ obscenity laws;. he
seized and handed over to the p<)lice "bad books" and "articles made of rubber for immoral purposes; and used by' both sexes ... ~, Comstock's major political victory came in 1873; when the U.S. Congress passed,, without debate, '!An Act for the Suppression of Trade in,. and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles oflmmoral Use." This revision of the federal postaHaw.,forbade the mailing of, obscene, lewd, lasciviolls, and indecent writing or advertisements, including articles that aided contraception or abortion. Throughout the 1880s. and 1890s, Congress 'Strengthened the·. so-called Comstock law; ·and the. courts upheld its constitutionality. Comstock himself supervised enforcement; As an unpaid ms., postal inspector; he almostsingle­ handedly prosecuted those who wrote, published, and sold literature or art that he considered obscene.· In 1875 alone, his vigilance led to.·forty-seven arrests, twenty.eight c<>nvictions (aggregating thirty years in prison), and ninety-one
hundred fines. That year the:New York Society for the Suppression of Vice

160
161 INTIMATE MATTERS

seized twelve hundred pounds of books and destroyed over twenty-nine thou­
sand sexually explicit photos, sonp. leaftets, rubber goods,.and circulars. The
objects Of Comstc>Ck’s atbl(:k. ranged from penny postcards sold Oil the Bowery
to fine arts exliibited· in Fifth Avenue galleries depicting the nude body, from
dime•:novels·of seduction to Leo Tolstoy~s Kreutzer Sonata, ·anJ 889 novel that
sJ,oke openly of prostitution; The conviction rate under the Coms~k Act,..,..,as
high as ninety· percent of those accused-attested to Comstock’s boundless
(some claimed prurient) interest in suppressing .vice.3• .

, Comstock coilld .not have. managed his campaign without broader public
$upporkWhile he set aoout enforcing anti-obscenity postal statutes; the social
purity and sutrrage movements also voiced. concerns · abo~t ··the danger.· of
vicious literature. In 1883 the WCTU established a Department for the Sup­
pression ofImpure Literature. In the 1890s, local women successfully cam­
paigned for the removal of a painting depicting a: nude from the bar ofa
Cincinnati restaurant, and the wcru kept the sculptureBacchante andlnfant
front’ibeing. displayed at ·the :Boston Public .Library. 37 ·Eventually, ·both the ·.
WCTU •nd the Woman’s Journal became critical of Comstock’s methods of
intimidation and entrapment, and hejn tum attacked.the suffragists.Jn the
meatitime, however, Comstock had consolidated extensive support from
wealthy urban businessmen who formed local societies to suJ)press vice. In
R:ochester,•Providence; Detroit, Toledo, San•Ftanci~. Portland, and Cincin.
nati, l~ elites organited chapters ofthe.Society for the Suppression of Vice;
A New England branch, founded in 1882, declared itself the WatclUmd Ward
Society in 1891. Fueled by·Comstock’s Boston counterpart .Godfrey Lowell
Cabot (who privately wrote lascivious sexual fantasies irJ.Jetters to. his wife),
the Watch and Ward succeeded ‘in strengthening the: Massachusetts anti­
Obscenity law. to imprison publishers and to fine· news. dealer$ who sold any
literature that might corrupt. the moralsrof the young. By>the ·end of·the
century. at least ~en states bad passed'”Llttle.ComstockActs”toregulate
newsstand sales·. of lascivious ·literature, and almost . every ·state eventually
joined their ranks. Meanwhile, respectable publishers imposed self-censorship
to a-vOid c0nftict with the,anti-vice ·societies;’.’

• Two underlying themes characterized the anti-vice efforts to use the state
to regulate iexual expression. First, sexuality had to be restored to th~ private
.sphete; therefore, any public expression of sexuality was considerecj, by defini­
tion, obscene. Second,lust was in itself dangerous; therefore Comstock and his
allies1lttacked not only sexual literature s0td for profit but: also any dissent~ng
medical or ·philosophical opinion that supported the belief that sexuality had
other than reproductive purp<>ses. ·Thus. even doctors paid heavy fines for
publishing discussions of contraception or sex ~ucation. In 1874 .Comstock
arrested Dr•Edward Bliss Foote for including infonnation about condoms and

Sexual Politics

womb veils in his marital advice books. A.s a result of his conviction and fine,
Foote delet¢ these methods from his;text,•evenJJs;he waged.an llttacJt. on the
Comstock laws;: But the .severest penalties -.wlloit114,th~ rll(licals wh(), during
the 1880s and’J 890s; elaborated the anllfchiStand’frte-love th~ry ofsex14llity.
Comstock hounded free lovers such as .Victoria Woodhull,· Ezra Heywood,
Moses Harmon, and social purity. writer Ida Craddock; .imprisoning each for
a time; Craddock, a spiritualist who. had .published:a guide. t.o marital sex, for
women, was one of several ,suicides that· resulted from Comstock’s rutbles$
pursuit· (others included Madameltestell, the notorioU$ New. York city abor­
tionist, and pornographer Willia.µ Haynes). In a letter to the public; .written
before;ha~l,t may be tJi~t’in my ~t~ ~o~~ th~n lrt myJ~fe.’ttuiA~caJI pe<>ple fllaY
be sh11Ck:eeJnto investigating tile’dfeaa{ut state ofaft’airs wbic~ penni!~ that Unctu-
0IS sexuai hyp<>crite, Anthonyeoimiock, to wax f~t and mogant, and tO tr*’°’ple
upon the liberties of ihe people; invitding, in my 0wn c:aSe; both my rlght «) fi’Cedom
of religion alld to freecfum of the p~:” · ·

,. ,;’..­
Just why these. radicals elicjted so 01uch of,CQmstock’s rage req’*es a

clo,ser JPQ~A~tJh~ late.-pb~et.een,th-centucy free-l()ve 01oveJQ.ent1 the antithesis
of vice Sl1Rl’r~io”.;’In ~~ll,Y·~ays,Jhe ~cbiSt free·l()ve phil~phyJo.-;inu~
lated in the·.187~r~bled soci~p~rity, )3ree l()Vers .. opposed prostittition,
criticized male :~xµal domina11ce ~n m!llriage; and· envisioned a .OOetY in
which women wo..jd~ve grellter equali~y,.w~tlt men, Some.free.love adv~tes
incorporated o,ther·:~l,1n1tjty ideals1 .such,~ voluntallf mothe,rhood an,j t.h~
importance·. <>.f. 01llle, ~c:.wtinence. Despite. these simili.rities, .. fr,~. ,l()ve dift’ered
fundamentally· fro01′ $0Cial. pu,rity … in that.· free lovers •. W&11ted to abolish· the
institution. o{. 01arriage rather th•n refof;Dl it. In addition, some free< lovers believed that er()tic pleasure, with .or wjtpout reproducti()n, was a valuable goal ofsexµal relations, .~ut not apart fron,i .love• As its pr6J>91lents were quick to point out. free love did not mean sexual
licentiousness. ~ther, free.Jove referred to the right of all men and women
to choose sextllll partners freely on the.basis ofni..tu.al love an · · /

Although free love originated in the antebellum period; when Frances
Wright and others createdshort-lived utopian communities, it reached a wider
audience in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when public lectures by
VictoriaWoodhullattracted national attention. As in the past, free love evoked
fears that uncontrolled promiscuity would·· undermine· the moral base of the
society-the family. Now, in addition; Americans associated free love .with
·anarchist politics. Especially after the Haymarket Riot of 1886;.. when seven
anarchists were convicted of murder after a bombexploded.at a protest rally
in Chicago, anarchism raised the specter of the :violent overthrow of the
government. As _a result, newspaper CC;fitors,_ clergymen, and Comstock cru­
saded. to suppreSs what they perceiv~ to be a dangerous tende,ncy. They
ridiculed, C>siracized, and imprisoned free lovers, who nonetheless eontinued
to express their alternative sexual the0ry; Free lovers remained c;ommitted to
breaking middle-class taboos.on the public discussion of_5,0xuality, the very
taboos that Comstock was committed to enforcing. The stage was set for the

sex’v.’lit$ of the late nineteenth century;
· buririgthe t810S; Victoria Claflin WoodhulHssued the clearestbattle cry

of the free-love-free”Spciech oft’etiSive .. Wbodhull’s j>ersoruit background pre­
pared her for her hiter, infamous;career. Raised in a spiritualist tamily, at age
fifteen she married a doctor who turned out to be a drunkard. Woodhull
abandoned her husband and·supported herself as an itinerant spiritualist. In
the 1860s, with die help ofCoriielfos Vanderbilt; she and her sister Tennessee
Claflin becam”C tile fi.rif women stockbrokers on Wall Street: Woodhull remar­
ried Colonel James BlOOd, whom she eventlilllly left to marry a, wealthy
Englisliman. First, however, she joined and was expelled from’ the Marxist
Internatfonal Workingmen’s Association, ran .for the presidency of the United
States, and scandalized American society by publicizing her free-love doc­

trines.411·
Woodhull derived her sexual theories from ·her own personal experience

and from the philosophy OfStephen PearlAndreVs, whom she had met in New
York. The central theme in her public leetures and articles of the early_ 1870s
was tha:t sexual consummation should only occur when a man and ll’ woman
loved each other; marriage restricted this ideal by allowing sex without love
between husbands and· wives· and by preventing lo’Ving sex between those not
married to each,,other. Iri addition to elevating iridividual sexuaf.cboice over
thelaws of marriage; Woodhulhmphasized.the positive value of·sexuality and
condemned marriage .for Stifling ·the ·liberating. potential of sexual passion.
Anticipating modern ‘notions of.the centrality of sex tO personal· identity, she

Sexual Politics

declared that “[s]exuality is the physioIOgical basis of character and must be
preserved as its balail~ and perfection/’ To develop human sexuality, a young
man or woman “should be taught alhhere is known’ about its uses and abuses;
so that he or she shall. not ignorantly drift upon the shoals whereon so many
lives are wrecked.” To charges that sexual desire was “vulgar,” she responded
as a romantic and a libertarian: ·

What! Vulprl The in~tinci t~t c~te,s immortal souls vulgar! Wlio dare sw,d up
amid Nature, _all prolific and beautiful, whose pulses ate ever bounding with the
creative desire’. and utter such sacrilege! VUigar, indeed! Vulgar, rather, must be the.
mind that can conceive such blasphemy.” · ·

Victoria Woodhull’s public advocacy offree love might have been tolerated
in the 1870s, when manyAmericans engaged in nonprocfel!,tive se:it and sophis..
ticated New Yorkers were well aware ,of the extent of adultery among them.
But Woodhull wenu. step further and broke the conspiraqy of silence that
prot~ed the middle c~ .from the conh,’adictions in.their sexual ideology.
To highlight the hywcrisy 0f opposition rofree love, she announced in public
that the prominent Brooklyn minister Henry Ward Beecher was having an
affair with a.married parishioner, Elizabeth Tilton. Not onJy,did . .the Beecher
family ;and all of respectable society condemn her for the revelation, but an
infuriated Anthony Comstock sent Woodhull to jail for publishing the details
in Woodhull and Claflin’$ Weekly. She was ultimately acquitted, butafter,her
marriage and emigration to England, Woodhull no longer spoke out on free
love. ,

The controversy .set otrby Victoria Woodhull helped inspire a budding new
generation of free· lovers1, including Ezra Heywood, who founded the New
England Free Love League to provide a forum for Woodhull to address.. An
abolitionist, pacifist, and. anarehist,. Heywood: published a free-love. tract,
Cupid’s Yok~ (1876-);for.which Anthony Comstock hlld,him and his publisher
jailed·, Like earlier free lovers; Heywood considered marriage a form ofprosti­
tution. Although he accepted male.continence, along.with other methods.of
contraception, Heywood endofSCciation….,..,publicly opposed Comstock,
and Heywood’s publisher gathered seventy thousand signatures·on a petition
to repealthe Comstock Act.; The popular press.frequently ridiculed Comstock,
but.they never undetmined·his political power.·Comstocksucceeded until his
death in 19lS. at least in part because his tactics•of intimidation immobilized
rnanycritics:Ona deeper level, Comstock could remain powerful:because his
crusade tapped both the fears and the longings of mainstream America. Even
as middle-class men and women began ti:> Um.it family si:ze and value romantic
union in marriage, they worried about the specter of sexuality unleashed. frorn
traditional controls. At a time when the middle class sought to establish social
order in the face of rapid industrialization and’.. immigration, the :control of
sexuality outside of the family seemed all the more pressing. Whatever new
sexu& 11.1eanings they may have .embrl:’Ced witJiin the private i:ealm ofcmar­
ria.SC: ~i~4le:-elas$ Am~~.ans increasin$ly insisted on limiting the public ex- ·
pres~i911,~of se?LIJ~l desire .. S¢.x divorced. from .reproductio11 .was simply too
disturbing to unleash in public• Thus public reticence accompanied the private

transformation of sexuality.

Sexual Politics

In additron to their battles against the suppression of sexuality, late-nine­
teenth-century,free lovers engaged in anJnternal dialogue about· the, meaning
of sexuality :and· its.relationship to reproduction that mirrored broader, often
unspokeirsocial coneems: In the pages of The Word ..and Lucifer. and in their
novels and•political tracts, free lovers sttuggled with the problem. of how .to
balance the increasing impdrtance of:cerotic sexuality against the- fear that it
would lead to sexual chaas; The free-love response pointed in the direction -of
modern sexual ideas when it affirmed the positive value ofthe erotic; but its
ties to the nineteenth-century theory ofsexualcontrol remained.strong. Like
John Humphrey Noyes’s system of coitus reservatus, each ofthe major sexual
alternatives endorsed by free lovers combined sexual pleasure with .sexual
restraint.. In Karezza (1896), for example, Alice Stockham explained how: both
men and women could build stronger characters by engaging in sexual rela­
tions that stopJ)ed short ‘Of climax. Karezza, and other theories such asA:lph­
aism, Dianisrn, and Zugassent’s Discovery, differed in their recommended
frequency-of sexual•.intercourse, but they all claimed·to enhance sexual pleas·
ure by avoiding orgasm, Th~0.each method allowed erotic sex to flourish while
preventing procreation,·and each combined individual sexual choicewithindi•
vidual sexuahcontrol. Although• 8ome free lovers accepted· contraception, and
in some cases abortion; they·perceived homosexuality as an unnatural vice. As
libertarians, they opposedthe imprisonment of British writer Osca11Wilde0but
their sexual radicalism pressed only to the boundaries ofheterosexuality,· and
not beyond.”

Free love remained within. the .mainstream of nineteenth.century sexual
thought in other ways as well. Despite itS opposition to marriage, the free.love
doctrine was rooted in a .perfectionist notion of the family: in which ·the.• ”true
love” of a •man amd woman •Would produce not only morally· stronger charac~
ters but also biologically superior children; Free lovers, social.purity advocates,
suffragists, .and some utopians .combined, this. romantic vision· with ·late-nine­
teenth•century Darwinian theories of natural selection to create what historian
Hal Sears has termed “anarchist eugenies,i• the forerunner of tb~ Progressive­
era eugenies movement;•5 Edward Bliss Foote, Stephen Pearl Andrews, the
Nicholses;,Elmina Drake•Slenker, as wellas women’s rights leader Elizabeth
Cady Stanton and social scientist Lester Ward, all supported women’s right
to control reproduction on the grounds that women·would select·mates wisely
and produce healthier, physically stronger, and morally superior offspring. By
justifying free love in the name of race progress, they countered the charges
of “race suicide” leveled against Anglo·Saxon women who chose to bear few
children; but .they did so by accepting the argument that racial purity was a
major· goal of sexual intercourse.

Anarchisteugenics’ reftected how closely the free-love vision resembled the
sexual thought of the dominant society. Despite the persecution of free-love

http:women.43

166 167 INTIMATE MATTERS

anarchists, their values were not, entirely incompatible:with those of most
Americans. Indeed, by 1907,··wbenLuciferbecame the American Journal of
Eugenics.. free love had ceased to occupy the radical fringe/Its once·threaten•
ing message ofsex edUc:ation;birth control, and the romantic union of love ~nd
sexuality was about to become the ‘dominant middle,.class sexual ideology.
Along the way, however, the centraLanarchisttbeme of individual freedom
would be discarded; as church, state, and public opinion gradually joined !in
enforcing.many ofthe sexual ideas for which nineteenth-century free lQvers
had been. sent to prison.

The emergence of sexual politics in the late nineteenth century was .one
manifestation of the expansion ofsexuality beyond marrfage. Although sexual·
ity continued·to be rooted in marriage and reproduction;dts meaning and its
regulation had moved in two directions over the .century. ··First;: within the
middle class, sexuality increasingly became a privatized, rather thanicommu·
nal;,C<>ncern. As reproduction ceased to be the primary goal ofsexual relations,
romantic intimacy and erotic pleaiure played larger roles in sexual relations,
while an·ideal: of self.government and the internalization of sexuaJ·;eontrols
replaced the regulation of morality by church and,state. Thus by,midcentury,
health reform, free.love, and utopian alternatives all emphasizedthe impor·
tattce of ‘the individual management




Why Choose Us

  • 100% non-plagiarized Papers
  • 24/7 /365 Service Available
  • Affordable Prices
  • Any Paper, Urgency, and Subject
  • Will complete your papers in 6 hours
  • On-time Delivery
  • Money-back and Privacy guarantees
  • Unlimited Amendments upon request
  • Satisfaction guarantee

How it Works

  • Click on the “Place Order” tab at the top menu or “Order Now” icon at the bottom and a new page will appear with an order form to be filled.
  • Fill in your paper’s requirements in the "PAPER DETAILS" section.
  • Fill in your paper’s academic level, deadline, and the required number of pages from the drop-down menus.
  • Click “CREATE ACCOUNT & SIGN IN” to enter your registration details and get an account with us for record-keeping and then, click on “PROCEED TO CHECKOUT” at the bottom of the page.
  • From there, the payment sections will show, follow the guided payment process and your order will be available for our writing team to work on it.