This week, in preparation for a class visit to Jennifer Denbow’s political science class Autonomy and Reproductive Politics, I have been gathering materials that reflect some of the historical perspectives on women’s autonomy (both general and reproductive). In the above Ladies’ Medical Guide, Samuel Pancoast provides counsel on “When and Whom to Marry,” which covers age spans in healthy unions, the health of a potential spouse, and temperament.
“The choice of a husband requires the coolest judgement and most vigilant sagacity,” Pancoast advises. (p. 241)
Later in The Ladies’ Medical Guide, Pancoast writes, “When we speak of ‘Woman’s Rights’ and ‘Woman’s Sphere of Action,’ we do not wish to be placed in the category of those Modern Pseudo-Reformers who would have Women unsex themselves by running into those wild vagaries and excesses of a Political and Social nature which have of late years brought odium on the glorious cause of Woman’s perfect emancipation from the condition of the Servant and Mistress of Man. We go for her advancement in every attribute consistent with her normal organism, and the attainment of every exaltation that will render her fully the equal of man in all the moral and social relations of general society.” (p. 335)
As I was browsing the shelves in the HQs in our reference section, I found a small pamphlet that I had not seen before, entitled Judge Ben B. Lindsey on Companionate Marriage.
This crumbling pamphlet describes Judge Ben B. Lindsey’s support of the idea of companionate marriage as a precursor to (or not) a family marriage, in which the couple specifically decides to have children. “A companionate marriage, to put it succinctly, would be a legal marriage entered into by two people with the deliberate intention of having no children for an indefinite period and in which neither would assume any financial responsibility for the other.” (p. 5)
The author goes on explicating on this idea, “A high school boy and girl of sixteen, let us say, have a desperate case on each other. They feel that their love is a very real one. With all the beautiful sincerity of youth, they wish to belong to each other–openly. Therefore, instead of having secret sexual relations at school and in automobiles they tell their parents frankly that they wish to marry and discuss the matter with them.” (p. 7) Haldeman-Julius describes the ensuing marriage and the birth control counseling that a couple could receive (though he cannot talk about that in the text “because of the laws of this puritanical country”).
A few of the other titles I am going to be taking to Biddeford on Thursday include The Married Woman’s Private Medical Companion by Dr. A.M. Mauriceau (1853), The Awakening of Woman: Suggestions from the Psychic Side of Feminism by Florence Guertin Tuttle (1915), Modern Woman and Sex by Dr. Rachelle S. Yarros (1933), A Marriage Manual: A Practical Guide-book to Sex and Marriage by Hannah and Abraham Stone (1937), and The Diary of an Expectant Mother (1917). These are just a handful of the relevant works in our collection, but I think they will help students to understand the ways that women’s roles have been perceived in the past and how those perceptions still influence current policy decisions.