Saturday, January 30, 2010

Susan Klepp's "Revolutionary Conceptions"

Susan E. Klepp is is professor of history and affiliated professor of women's studies and of African American studies at Temple University. She is author or coeditor of six books and editor of the Journal of the Early Republic.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820, and reported the following:
Lots of people know the story of Margaret Sanger. In the early 20th century she opened clinic after clinic offering birth control devices to the poor. Readers may also remember that clinic after clinic was raided by the police and closed. Eventually the laws would change and the small clinics became Planned Parenthood. That history is the supply-side version--there was a demand for contraception that Sanger supplied.

But when did women and men begin to demand access to birth control information? When did they come to prefer small family sizes? After all for most of history large numbers of children were seen as valuable assets--bringing parents free labor, prestige, support in old age and more.

Revolutionary Conceptions traces that change in attitudes on family size to the era of the American Revolution. Americans were vowing not to be the slaves of Britain, they demanded liberty and independence. These ideas spread, not just among politicians, but among rich and poor, free and slave, men and women. Women came to seek equality in marriage, more options in life, and better treatment of children, especially daughters--goals that could be accompished through family planning.

Pp. 99-100 begin a discussion of how women used humor to spread new ideas. They created "a shared language of laughter, protest and reformation."

Other sections of the book trace changes in medicine and birth control, art and ideas of female beauty, law and the policing of sexuality. There is also a section on early opposition to new ideas on family planning.
Read an excerpt from Revolutionary Conceptions, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue