The Atlantic

The Suffragists Who Opposed Birth Control

Their reasoning shows how far women’s rights have come since the late 1800s.
Source: Morphart Creation / Shutterstock / The Atlantic

Editor’s Note: Read more stories in our series about women and political power.

You would think suffragists, those corset-clad beacons of girl power, would support women’s right to have sex for pleasure. You’d be, for the most part, wrong.

Mainstream early suffragists did not advocate for contraception the way we know it today. The reason says much about the bleak status of women in the world at the time—as well as the careful strategy behind the fight for the Nineteenth Amendment.

Birth control as it existed at the time was rudimentary. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, women mainly used or douches in an attempt to prevent pregnancy; latex prevented information about birth control from being openly distributed, but newspapers advertised various methods nonetheless. They used coded language, offering to help women “remove blockages” in order to “get their period started again.”

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