Historical Contraception and Carols in mid-October

October 16, 2008 | By | 6 Replies More

I was having lunch with Joe the Juggler at the City Diner earlier this week. He was showing me some papers he found in the wall of his house. The original owner in 1892 apparently was in the personal rubber products business.

Back then, this was a euphemism for (shocked whisper) a birth control device. The Comstock Act of 1873 made it illegal to send even information about birth control through the mail, much less the rubber products themselves. Several states had laws completely prohibiting such things, as well. So this gent sold coupon books to would-be salesmen, who sell individual coupons door to door along with an instruction manual.

The coupon was to be mailed with another fee to the manufacturer, to have a non-descript disk (I’m guessing) of rubber shipped direct to the home. Arguably, such a disk can be used to stop a drain, or something. Very scandalous. That’s why the instructions are delivered by hand. The total cost was about 2 days white collar wages for a single “rubber”. Quite a savings over retail.

Contraception information was decriminalized in the U.S. in 1936. Can we keep it that way? Heard of the “Global Gag Rule”?

Yaagh!So, on October 14, 2008, Christmas Carols assaulted us in the City Diner. Twice. On a 70 degree afternoon. Only 71 more shopping days till the virgin birth.


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Category: American Culture, Censorship, Communication, Culture, Education, History, Law, Reproductive Rights, Science, Whimsy

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    This reminds me of the respectable household goods catalogs and magazines I used to see in the mail as a teenager. The catalogs advertised all kinds of gadgets for use around the house, picture frames and knickknacks. But many of these catalogs (and ads toward the back of the magazines) offered a battery-powered hand-held "massage" device. It was always a "housewife" looking woman in the accompanying photo, who was massaging her neck or face with the the dildo-shaped device, which I now know was actually a dildo (I didn't know it back then). I wish I had a scan of these ads from one of those old catalogs (they were from the late 1960's or 1970's).

    We must not talk about or think about many of the things that we find compelling!

  2. I'm certain this guy wasn't selling those types of rubber products for Ladies!

    The coupon includes the great sentence, "Don't pay $1.00 or $2.00 for a box of Tansy, Pennyroyal, Ergot or Cotton Root Pills; they are worthless."

    These are all folk/herbal contraceptives (that don't work).

    The handbill is great reading too. The whole agency business description, the hyperbolic and terribly ungrammatical language, and the typical low-paying jobs of the time period are great.

    Front: http://joethejuggler.com/OldFlyer/Frontbmp.png
    Back: http://joethejuggler.com/OldFlyer/Backbmp.png

  3. Mobius 1 says:

    It's all about keeping the babies coming…More for Mass.

    And yeah, the carolers? We've had a few come around here as well. Granted we had our first frost last night, but dammit, Halloween and Thanksgiving are still weeks away. Have patience, although I already see neighbors putting up christmas crap.

    I love and loathe this season.

  4. Mobius 1 writes:—"It’s all about keeping the babies coming…More for Mass."

    Was a time…

    I'm old enough to have been raised by parents who warned me to be ware of Catholic girls. But my experience as an adolescent was that the Catholic girls were usually using something. It was the Baptist/pentecostal girls who seemed oblivious to contraception. I had to inform my parents, much to their dismay, that things really had changed since they were teenagers.

  5. Mobius 1 says:

    Yeah, I shoulda expanded on that. It's true, though, that catholic girls really are using a contraceptive, or at least making the guys use a condom. Personal experience, anyway.

    She still wants a minimum of 4 kids, though…

  6. I found a bit more about the time period.

    This is from a review of a book on the history of contraception (which I've just ordered):

    "Diaphragms were 'womb veils,' made of rubber or a cloth membrane and advertised as 'the wife's protector.'

    One early entrepreneur was Edward Bliss Foote, a medical college graduate who believed in the then-radical notion that women should control their reproduction. Mr. Foote made a one-size-fits-all womb veil in the 1860's and sold it for $6 at clinics and through mail order."

    Before I close up the hole, I'm going to stash a sack full of dollar coins, a couple of fresh $20 bills and some other such stuff. (My own business cards, the story of this handbill and coupon, etc.)

    Not that this story isn't fascinating, but it would've been great to find a stash of coins!

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