Sex, Science, and Free Love in Nineteenth-Century Feminism
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
I am grateful to many people who supported me through the process of researching and writing this book. First and foremost, this project wouldn’t exist without Jeanne Fahnestock, who encouraged me at every stage. She challenged me to dig deeper and brought me places I wouldn’t have gone. Jane Donawerth also helped me work through my ideas and offered valuable feedback. Cheryl Glenn and Shirley Logan...
Introduction: The Unlikely Rhetorical Allies of Science and Free-Love Feminism
On November 20, 1871, at Steinway Hall in New York City, a captivated crowd listened as the notorious Victoria Woodhull enumerated her views on sexual double standards, laws that made wives the sexual slaves of their husbands, and economic inequalities that exacerbated women’s inferior position in sexual relationships until she proclaimed from the podium, “Yes, I am a Free Lover.” In a century that had seen...
1. The Season of Battle: The Rhetoric of Free-Love Feminism in Nineteenth-Century America
In 1889, after the male editors of a small, radical paper titled Lucifer, the Light Bearer were arrested for distributing “obscenity,” a letter signed by eleven women, including Lucinda B. Chandler, Celia B. Whitehead, Juliet H. Severance, M.D., Elmina D. Slenker, Lillie D. White, and Lois Waisbrooker, began to circulate. This letter protested the arrest but also presented an appeal to “women, wives, and mothers, everywhere” to...
2. Evolutionary Theory: (R)Evolutionary Rhetorics in the Free-Love Movement
In The Coming Woman, originally a lecture delivered to the International Congress of Freethinkers in Chicago in 1893, Lillie D. White insisted, “There is not so much difference between men and women as we have been led to believe. There is a vast amount of humbug in marking out the characteristics that are feminine and those that are masculine. The apparent differences are mostly artificial, the result of...
3. Physiology: Rewriting the Body and Sexual Desire
When early-twenty-first century women need their “embarrassing questions” answered, they go to daytime talk shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Dr. Oz Show to hear doctors explain the inner workings of the body using computer-generated visual aids, give advice on personal hygiene and diet, and answer questions regarding how much sun-tanning is harmful, what constitutes a healthy bowel...
4. Bacteriology: Marriage as a “Diseased” Institution
When free-love feminist and physician Mary Gove Nichols critiqued the institution of marriage in 1854, she invoked the metaphor of a diseased institution and blamed marriage for many of the illnesses befalling women (Marriage 265). By the late nineteenth century, many in the medical and sexual reform movements would agree with her critique, but their arguments would be refreshed, set in a new rhetorical situation...
5. Embryology: Toward a Eugenic Warrant for Free-Love Feminism
When Rachel Campbell was in her teens, she found herself married to a man she called a brute who shocked her with his lewd humor on their wedding night. She also found herself unprepared for recognizing the symptoms of pregnancy and had to rely on her husband, who merely laughed and made “every thing as dreadful and mysterious to her as he could” when he realized what her symptoms meant (M. Johnson...
6. Heredity: The Disappearing Reform Warrant
Pioneer free-love feminist Mary Gove Nichols had only one daughter who survived infancy. She endured four other pregnancies that resulted in stillbirths and miscarriages. Victoria Claflin Woodhull also knew these hardships; she too had one daughter who survived and gave birth to a mentally challenged son she described as “living death” (Tried 27). Both women were not unusual. Many women’s rights advocates...
Conclusion: Historiography and Feminist Uses of Eugenics
Recovering free-love feminism, and moving it from a “fringe” movement to a multifaceted, multivoiced social movement, has required me to continually interrogate both my own practices and the larger feminist goals of recovery. Many feminist rhetorical scholars have analyzed the ways in which women of the nineteenth century negotiated agency to allow themselves to speak. Free-love feminists’ challenges would have been amplified by their salacious subject, but when we look...
Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms
Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms seeks to address the interdisciplinarity that rhetorics and feminisms represent. Rhetorical and feminist scholars want to connect rhetorical inquiry with contemporary academic and social concerns, exploring rhetoric’s relevance to current issues of opportunity and diversity. This interdisciplinarity has already begun to transform the rhetorical tradition as we have known it (upper-class, agonistic, public, and male)...
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