Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Comstock Law of 1873

While conducting research for my time travel romance, My Heart Will Find Yours, that takes place in 1880s Waco, Texas, I learned a lot about birth control in the nineteenth century.
Condoms were available as early as the 1700s, mainly in Europe. Made of pig and sheep intestine, they were expensive and washed for repeated use. Their use increased near the end of the nineteenth century, when cheaper rubber condoms costing six to twelve cents, became widely available.
Though several methods were available to women, they weren't easily obtained or reliable. As early as the 1830s women used douching and a contraceptive sponge with an attached thread for easy removal. Also used was the pessary, or pisser, made of wood, cotton, or sponge. It was sold in drug stores to be used for a prolapsed uterus, but it's real intention was to prevent pregnancy.
In America it wasn't uncommon for a doctor to prescribe the use of condoms for a man to prevent contracting sexually transmitted diseases while engaging in sexual activities outside of marriage, but a man could not get them to keep from getting his wife pregnant.
The Comstock Law of 1873 banned the distribution of any type of lewd or obscene material through the mail and this included information about contraceptives and abortion. Margaret Sanger fought hard to find a way around this law and bring information to women about contraception, in particular the diaphragm.
These facts were of particular interest to me as in 1880s Waco, Texas, prostitution was legal. Business ladies were required to get regular checkups and prove their good health. But, buying condoms was illegal.
The issue of contraception and the dangers of childbirth in the nineteenth century are touched on in my time travel My Heart Will Find Yours.
References for the above are
Everyday Life in the 1880s by Marc McCutcheon.
Here is a blurb and excerpt from My Heart Will Find Yours.

Fated lovers suffer the agony of loss only to be reunited to fulfill a greater plan.

TEXANNA KEITH doesn’t believe an antique locket is the key to time travel, but plays along, and to her horror, is zapped back to 1880 Waco, Texas. Her mission is to prevent Royce Dyson’s death in a shootout. Wounded, she loses what she longs for most — a life with Royce.

Marshall ROYCE DYSON’S wife disappeared in 1876. Now she’s reappeared, claiming she’s a time traveler from 2007. As he seeks the truth, he’s determined to keep Texanna with him, but it’s not destined to be.
“Marshal, you gotta come quick.”
Royce quickened his step and wondered what now?

A large crowd gathered in front of Hans’ Saloon. “Shoot her in the foot.” He recognized the baritone immediately. It was Hans. “If you don’t, she’s going to hurt someone else. I think she’s already broke Jason’s arm.”

She? Royce broke into a run. What the hell was going on? They’d never had a woman cause trouble before.

A female resounded, “Don’t come any closer, leave me alone.” She attempted to sound controlled, but her voice became shriller with each word. But still not at all like what he’d expect of a woman gone wild.

Jason’s voice, filled with pain, broke through the mumbling of the crowd. “Stop...stay back...she’s scared. Royce will...be here...in a minute.” Jason’s statement ended with a groan.

“Yeah, well I’m not going to let the Missus’ hurt anyone else,” said Hans.

Royce shoved his way through the crowd. He glanced quickly at Jason to see if he was breathing, then turned to the woman the crowd had backed up against the boardwalk in front of the saloon. Hans eased behind her and quickly caught her under the arms and locked his hands behind her head. Head pushed forward, the woman fought to break Hans’ hold. She kicked backwards but Hans lifted her off the ground and swung her from side to side so her feet couldn’t make contact.

“Hurry up, Marshal, get some cuffs on her. How else you gonna get her home?”

A quick scan of the woman indicated she didn’t have a weapon strapped to her side or in her hands. His gaze moved from the unusual shoes she wore, up indecently clad legs encased in denim pants. How else could he describe it? When his eyes reached her torso, his body jerked in response. Beautiful breasts were fully outlined by a skintight blouse. Her pebbled nipples showed through the thin, pink fabric. His face burned with anger. It was down right scandalous. No decent woman would dress so provocatively. Then he noticed the flame-colored curls. Hans eased his hold, and her head jerked up. His eyes met hers, and his heart stopped. God, she’s beautiful. He looked at her face again and thought he’d faint from sheer joy. His bliss quickly turned to rage.

With a growl, he bit out, “Get your hands off my wife.” At least, he thought it was his wife. The hair was the same, but her eyes were bluer, her nose thinner, and damned if she didn’t have kohl on her eyebrows and lashes.


Debra St. John said...

How interesting. I think we tend to overlook those sorts of things when we read or write historicals. Your post was very informative. Thanks for the excerpt, too!

unwriter said...

This was interesting and I know you're writing is always well done. I learned something I didn't know. Thanks.

Paty Jager said...

It's interesting that we just had a speaker on the history of sex and she gave us an interesting little pamphlet on condoms. After her talk and reading the pamphlet, I have my hero in 1883 using a rubber because the Madame gave it to the heroine to keep her safe.

Interesting topic and great excerpt.

Tanya Hanson said...

What a great topic! I wonder how effective the sheepskins were...did they have a knot at the end, I wonder LOL.

The excerpt is wonderful. I haven't read a time-travel in a long time, but I put this one on my TBR list. Congrats.

Linda LaRoque said...

Thanks for all the comments. I thought it was an interesting topic. Yeah, Paty, those Madams would know about those things and where to get them. Don't know about the knot, but they probably did have one. Hope you do read MHWFY Tanya.

Sandy said...

What an interesting post, Linda. I learned something new. Those poor women in those times didn't have it easy.


Celia Yeary said...

LINDA--okay, I'm in the minority here. Ewwww!!! No, don't re-use a condom! Oh, well, I'm a product of the 20th Century--Do couples still use condoms? I never in a million years thought about men re-using condoms in the 19th Century. Well, now I'm more the wiser. But--these are things we want to omit from romance novels, along with body odor and hairy legs. Right? Celia

Elaine Cantrell said...

Very interesting article. The modern world does some really good advantages, doesn't it?

Linda LaRoque said...

LOL, Celia, yes they did. And yes, condoms are still used today.


Gwyn Ramsey said...

An interesting article. And to think we thought that contraceptives were a new 20th century item. Love research, you never know what you'll find.

Kathy Otten said...

I have a book on contraception and abortion in the 19th century, but it doesn't talk about the laws in specific areas regarding the sale of protection. Interesting. I thought from the title of this blog it would be about gold. LOL Anyway, thanks for the info. Your book looks fantastic. Just my kind of read.

Chiron said...

Fascinating stuff about birth control options. Wow.

And as always, your excerpts leave me wanting MORE!

Great post, Linda!

Chiron O'Keefe

SIDEKICKS, Eirelander Publishing, 2009

Loretta said...

Interesting article. I guess people don't much think about the use of contraceptives in the 1800s or beyond. I don't know why your article made we want to laugh, it certainly isn't humorous. Maybe it's the thought of intestines used for something so. . .so internal.
Sorry, but I'm still laughing and I don't know why. It really isn't funny. Maybe it's the vision that just popped into my head when I was reading.

Lauri said...

Interesting post on a subject that is often left for the imagination in historical novels. :)

Nice excerpt! I already feel for him!

Linda LaRoque said...

So true, Gwyn. It's amazing what was available back in the old days.

Kathy, would you believe I never considered the title might make people think of the gold rush.


Linda LaRoque said...

Thanks for stopping by Chiron, Loretta, and Lauri.

Glad you got a chuckle, Loretta. If intestines make you laugh, look up condoms and see what else they were made out of.