The birth control pill may have not come on the market until 1960, but a variety of effective contraception methods were available to both women and men in the United States well before 1850, Wagner said.
It was the Comstock Act, passed in 1873, that changed everything — allowing Anthony Comstock, a conservative Christian who proposed the legislation, to determine what was considered “obscene” in the country. “He decided that anything to do with sex or reproduction was obscene,” Wagner said.
As a result, hundreds of people were arrested and imprisoned under the Comstock Act for distributing or possessing contraception, or publishing information about it. The activist Ida Craddock was among them, arrested for distributing such information. She took her own life shortly before her sentencing, which she believed would be life imprisonment.
In her suicide note, she wrote: “I earnestly hope that the American public will awaken to a sense of the danger which threatens it from Comstockism.”
MYTH: Feminists burned bras.
REALITY: No bras were burned! Seriously.
The myth emerged on a hot summer day in 1969, when feminists gathered on the boardwalk of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., to protest the competition. They had planned to burn their bras, but they couldn’t get the permits — so instead they threw their bras, girdles, curling irons and other “instruments of female torture,” into a giant trash can labeled “freedom.” (Read more about that protest here.)
The New York Post ran with the story — and, in the end, the myth has been used to vilify and pigeonhole feminists ever since, Wagner said.
Want to hear more from Dr. Wagner? She’ll be in conversation with Gloria Steinem, the Mohawk Bear clan mother Louise Herne and the New York Times gender editor Jessica Bennett in New York on International Women’s Day, March 8. Tickets are still available.
By MAYA SALAM