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Attitudes Toward Sex in Antebellum America A Brief History with Documents



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Bedford/St. Martin's
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With this colorful collection of documents, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz overturns the monolithic picture of Victorian sexual repression to reveal four contending views at play during the antebellum period: earthy American folk wisdom, the anti-flesh teachings of evangelical Christianity, moral reform grounded in science, and the utopian free love movement. Horowitz's introduction discusses how these diverse views shaped the antebellum conversation about the moral, social, and physical implications of sex and reflected the larger cultural and economic changes of this period of rapid industrialization and urban migration. Helpful headnotes contextualize this selection of hard-to-find documents, which includes scientific manuals, religious pamphlets, advertisements, and popular fiction. Contemporary illustrations, a chronology, and a bibliography foster students' understanding of antebellum sexual attitudes.

Author Biography

HELEN LEFKOWITZ HOROWITZ (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Sydenham Clark Parsons Professor in American Studies at Smith College. Her work in American history has explored cultural philanthropy, higher education, the American landscape, and sexuality. She has received fellowships at the Radcliffe Institute and was a Mellon Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. Professor Horowitz is the author of The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas (1994), Alma Mater (1993), Culture and the City (1989), Campus Life (1988), and Rereading Sex(2002), which was the winner of the OAH Merle Curti Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history and for the Francis Parkman Prize.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


A Note about the Cover
  List of Illustrations
INTRODUCTION: Voices in the Sexual Conversation in Antebellum America
    Voices in the Public Deliberation of Sex: The Four Frameworks
    Controversy and Commerce
    Coda: The Comstock Law of 1873
  1. Voices in the Sexual Conversation: The Four Frameworks
    The First Framework: Vernacular Sexuality
    1. From Aristotle’s Master-piece, 1741

The Second Framework: Evangelical Christianity
    2. Lyman Beecher, From A Reformation of Morals Practicable and Indispensable, 1812, and From Resources of the Adversary and Means of their Destruction, 1827
    3. Lyman Beecher, The Perils of Atheism to the Nation, 1830

The Third Framework: Reform Psychology
    4. Frances Wright, Nashoba, Explanatory Notes, &c., Continued, February 6, 1828
    5. Frances Wright, On the Nature of Knowledge, 1829
    6. Robert Dale Owen, From Moral Physiology, 1831
    7. Charles Knowlton, From Fruits of Philosophy, 1832

Christian Reform Psychology
    8. Sylvester Graham, On the Science of Human Life, 1834

The Masturbation Scare
    9. Sylvester Graham, On Self-Pollution, 1834
    10. Luther V. Bell, M.D., From An Hour's Conference with Fathers and Sons, 1840
    11. Mary S. Gove [Nichols], From Solitary Vice, 1839
    12. Charles Knowlton, Gonorrhoea Dormientium, August 10,1842

New Voices at Mid-Century
    13. William Andrus Alcott, From The Physiology of Marriage, 1856
    14. Lorenzo N. Fowler, From The Principles of Phrenology and Physiology Applied to Man's Social Relations, 1842
    15. Lorenzo N. Fowler, From Marriage: Its History and Ceremonies, 1846
    16. Orson S. Fowler, From Love and Parentage, 1851
    17. Frederick Hollick, From The Origin of Life, 1845
    18. Frederick Hollick, From The Marriage Guide, 1859

The Fourth Framework: Sex at the Center of Life
    19. Thomas L. Nichols, M.D., From Esoteric Anthropology, 1854
    20. Thomas L. Nichols and Mary S. Gove Nichols, From Marriage, 1854
  2. Controversy and Commerce
    Phase 1: The 1840s
    21. Madame Restell, Advertisements, March 2, 1842
    22. From The Magdalen Report, 1831
    23. Sunday Flash, Lives of the Nymphs, No. 11: Amanda Green, October 17, 1841
    24. Whip, Excerpts, July 9, 1842
    25. Whip, Our Tenth Walk About Town; or, Nights in Gotham, December 24,1842
    26. Whip, Sodomites, January 29, 1842
    27. Flash, Our Indictments, December 11, 1841

Phase 2: The 1850s
    28. P. F. Harris, Advertisement, February 19, 1855
    29. George Thompson, From The Mysteries of Bond Street, 1857
    30. Dr. J. Henry, Henry's Private Adviser, 1856
    31. Julia Gaylove, Inez de Castro, May 23, 1857
    32. Jean Rosseau, Advertisements, January 31, 1857
  3. Coda: The Comstock Law of 1873

33. U.S. Congress, An Act for the Suppression of Trade

in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use,
March 3, 1873
    A Chronology of the Literature of Sexual Conversation in Antebellum America (1684–1873)
     Questions for Consideration
     Selected Bibliography

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