FROM PRIVATE VICE TO PUBLIC VIRTUE by James Reed

FROM PRIVATE VICE TO PUBLIC VIRTUE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Once considered the ""private vice"" of decadent hedonists, birth control became an embattled social cause in the 1920s and 1930s. Reed traces such 19th-century contributions to contraceptive technology as Charles Goodyear's cold vulcanized rubber, Edward Bliss Foote's ""womb veil,"" and Dr. Charles Knowlton's douche solution designed to ""kill the little tender animacules."" But social attitudes have changed more than technology, Reed argues, and he concentrates on the work of three key instigators of those changes. Margaret Sanger, housewife turned feminist, assumed that women had the right to control their own bodies, undertook the first systematic evaluation of birth-control methods, and established (illegally) a nationwide system of low-cost clinics. Dr. Robert Dickinson, believing that poor sexual adjustment threatened American family life, did clinical research and lobbied vigorously within his profession to make contraceptive information a respectable part of medical service. And Clarence Gamble, Ivory soap heir and gentleman scientist, financed and led the search for a doctor-less contraceptive, and ended by dispensing salt-soaked rags in underdeveloped countries--all because he feared the higher fertility rates of the poor. By the 1970s, widespread fear of the Third-World population explosion transformed birth control into a ""public virtue"" and duty, Reed contends; but he confines himself to outlining such historical changes rather than discussing their broader (political, moral) implications. And in describing technological developments--especially the IUD and the pill--he sides with ""science,"" ignoring medical reservations and dismissing feminist objections as the opinions of ""journalists."" A valuable and highly readable if limited history, packed with facts, and about as (in)sensitive to women's concern with the issue as the average gynecologist.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 1977
Publisher: Basic Books