This talk by Deborah Lavin is fifth in the series Writing Wrongs, curated by Deborah Lavin as part of the Heritage Lottery funded project Victorian Blogging.
The story of birth control is usually told as one of almost linear progress against blinkered bigotry. Opposition to contraception may have been blinkered and bigoted, but it was also often liberal, radical, socialist and feminist. Some very surprising figures, including Charles Darwin, Millicent Fawcett and Karl Marx, opposed the early birth controllers. With a brief look at the debates for and against birth control among early 19th century radicals and Utopians and the hounding of John Stuart Mill and Lord Amberley for their support of birth control, the talk goes on to consider the working of the 1857 Obscenity Act in relation to contraception. It will also look at Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh’s challenge to the law by republishing the birth control pamphlet Fruits of Philosophy and making themselves a test case; the ambiguous outcome of the trial and the foundation of the Malthusian Society, which supported birth control as the only cure for poverty; and the strong opposition of many Liberals, radicals, socialists and feminists to contraception. It’s a tale which reveals some very unexpected bedfellows and has relevance to today’s sexual debate.
Deborah Lavin is an independent historian, interested in the interface of radicalism, socialism and feminism in the 19th century. She has curated several talks series for Conway Hall and often gives talks herself. Upcoming in January at the Camden Local History, she will give a talk on on the radical Edward Truelove, who unluckier than his friends, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, ended up in prison for selling and publishing birth control pamphlets. Deborah’s short book Charles Bradlaugh contra Karl Marx, Radicalism vs Socialism in the First International was published by the Socialist History Society and she is currently finishing an enormous tome on a later 19th century figure most contemporaries thought ”best buried in oblivion”, Dr Edward Aveling.
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