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Paperback Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America Book

ISBN: 0809038161

ISBN13: 9780809038169

Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America

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Book Overview

From thriving black market to big business, the commercialization of birth control in the United States

In Devices and Desires, Andrea Tone breaks new ground by showing what it was really like to buy, produce, and use contraceptives during a century of profound social and technological change. A down-and-out sausage-casing worker by day who turned surplus animal intestines into a million-dollar condom enterprise at night; inventors...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

solid history, well written, surprisingly entertaining

Andrea Tone weaves the disparate history of birth control technology in American and its dissemination and use into a clean and straightforward narrative. The chapters up to the advent of the Pill (why is it always capitalized?) are especially rich and informative. Of particular interest to the social historian or student of American history are the sections on the illegal trade in contraceptives during the years of the Comstock ban, as well as the impact of Margaret Sanger and the "medicalization" of birth control, which put contraception under the control and regulation of doctors. Tone's excellent writing style makes this book enjoyable to read and easy to skim. It brings a light-hearted attitude to a potentially heavy subject, making it useful and accessible.

Very interesting aspect of social history

If you're looking for an interesting book about social history in the United States, take a look at this book. A lot of the book asks very personal question like, "what is obscenity? can a society define morality?The book also can easily be connected with things that are happening today, birth control availability in high schools, for example. It's a very interesting read.

compelling, engaging and convincing history of brith control

For nearly a century, from the advent of repressive Comstockery in the 1870s to the development of The Pill in the 1950s and 1960s, the history of contraception in our national history suggests several irrefutable truths. National and state governments, ignoring the realities of consumer demand for safe and effective contraception, have unsuccessfully attempted to repress not only the creation of birth control devices but have actively engaged in suppression of information about them.Despite official opposition, a semi-covert, but vibrant underground market economy developed to satisfy the insatiable demand for methods to control sexual reproduction. Professor Andrea Tone's meticulously researched and felicitously written "Devices and Desires" is at once a survey of the technology of contraception, a political analysis of the struggle for women to obtain control over the reproductive lives and an engaging social history of the advocates, producers and consumers of contraceptive devices over the past century and a half.Recounted through a series of analytical and chronological narratives, Professor Tone provides an interesting perspective on Anthony Comstock, whose name now symbolizes sexual prudery and repression. Tone comments that Comstock's fierce advocacy of governmental intervention and suppression of birth control contains its own class and ethnic bias. Comstock purposely ignored the fact that his most loyal supporters not only abetted, but profited from, the production of birth control devices. (Tone's exposure of Samuel Colgate's hypocrisy exemplifies this blatant double standard.)Ironically, Comstock's purported success in nationalizing repression and supposed eradication the manufacture and dissemination of birth control products and information generated a robust, underground market-driven economy centered around contraceptive devices. With large-scale industrial giants eschewing production, a fiercely competivite, unregulated industry blossomed and produced its own Horatio Alter success stories, such as that of condom-king Julius Schmid, once arrested and later lionized for the same activity."Devices" also praises the extraordinary contributions of Margaret Sanger but notes the costs of her focus. Eventually losing her egalitarian radicalism, Sanger becomes responsible for the conversion of birth control from a market-generated phenomenon to a medically-controlled activity. Though she succeeds in legitimzing contraception, Sanger inadvertently works to narrow the range of women who could obtain access to the very services and products she so deperately wanted to make acceessible to all women.Tone's history contains numerous wise and unexpected observations about the political and social impact of the battle to make birth control legal. Chapters detailing the controversial development of oral contraceptives and the re-emergence of the IUD help underscore the esential tensions of birth control in a nation where women consistent

An Entertaining and Important History

We have long been used to birth control as being legal, safe, and available. There was a long history of prudery on the subject, though, which continues to have repercussions on our society and our birth rates to this day. _Devices & Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America_ (Hill and Wang) by Andrea Tone, is a sophisticated examination of how Americans went from covertly using illegal contraception in the last century to medically approved versions during this one. It is a fascinating tale, full of passion, science, repression, American ingenuity, and Horatio Alger stories of making it big in the contraception business. The dour presiding figure over all these proceedings is Anthony Comstock, who built himself up into a vice busting public servant, a special agent of the Post Office, and enforcer of the Comstock Act of 1873. He regarded contraceptives as obscenities, insisting for religious reasons that abstinence and the then poorly-understood rhythm method were the only moral means of birth control. Although many Americans agreed with him, Tone shows convincingly that they also were ready to use contraceptives and to tolerate their sale. The pictures of small time contraceptive entrepreneurs, filling a need that respectable manufacturers shunned, is fascinating. Frequently the owner of a contraceptive factory was a woman, or an immigrant, who made everything in a back room. It took a little know-how, some natural rubber, and some sulfur for the vulcanization process; a little capital could bring high profit. Julius Schmidt, having immigrated from Germany in 1882, went to work at a sausage casing firm, but realized that the casings could be made into something more profitable. Comstock busted him in 1890 for ?selling articles to prevent conception.? Schmidt easily paid the fine, and eventually moved into the rubber trade, selling the still-available Sheik and Ramses brand condoms. Comstockery had its last gasp in 1965, when the Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law forbidding contraceptives even from doctors to married women. These pages contain a fine description of the development of the birth control pill, and the debacle of the Dalkon Shield.This is an amazing history of how we Americans have come to our current legal and safe birth control methods. Unfortunately, we do not use them very well. Tone?s book, full of vivid detail and very readable, demonstrates that we cling to the idea that abstinence is an effective medical and social policy. Pregnancy rates in America for those under twenty are higher than in any developed country except Hungary. In Sweden, by comparison, young people have sex more often, but also benefit from compulsory real sex education which includes instruction about contraceptives. They can get contraceptives at cost or free. Rates of pregnancy and rates of abortion are far lower than ours. Two thirds of our group insurance plans will not pay for contraceptive pills, and the bias ag

The Secret History of Sex and Birth Control

When I reviewed this extraordinary book for THE NATION Magazine (issue of June 11, 2001) my piece was entitled "The Secret History of Sex." It's fun to scoop the N.Y. TIMES.! The lead review in the NY Times Book Review for July 22, 2001 is also of DEVICES AND DESIRES, and is entitled "The Secret History of Birth Control." DEVICES AND DESIRES is so original, so persuasive, so meticulously researched and documented that it overrides some of our most taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs., It opens in 1873 when the Comstock law was passed in the U. S. Congress, banning both pornography and birth control devices. The new law must have made contraception known to some folks who had never heard of it before (or maybe the fact that it was banned made people think it might be fun) because birth control quickly grew into a huge bootleg industry, as popular as liquor was during prohibition, and offering many more products and options for both women and men than we have today. Some were dangerous, some were ineffective, but others were quite good and many couples doubled up on protection, with husband and wife each using one or more methods. The birth rate in the U.S. fell by more than half from 1880-1940, even though we were later led to believe by Margaret Sanger and others that until birth control was largely taken over by doctors,( in the 1930s) it was quite scarce. You will be astonished at the documented information in this book and mesmerized by the case histories of the colorful and inventive bootleg birthcontrol entrepreneurs. Tone's exhaustive research led her- like an ace detective or shoe-leather crime reporter (she is in fact a history professor at Georgia Tech) through an eight year coast to coast investigation of Post Office Department records, Federal Trade Commission transcripts (some with decaying diaphragms and condoms glued to the pages) American Medical Association Health Fraud Archives, credit reports from 19th century Dun and Co. collections, patents, love letters, arrest records, trial records, advertisements and trade catalogues, and "entrapment letters" from Anthony Comstock and others seeking to arrest the purveyors of contraception. To me- one of the most fascinating findings in DEVICES AND DESIRES is simply this: As every legislator knows, you can vote a measure into law but if you don't provide funds to enforce it the measure may remain a "paper tiger" Although Congress gave lip service to Comstock's prudish ideas, most members didn't support them with sufficient enthusiasm to vote money for enforcement. The" special agents" of the Postal Service who were, by law, required to chase down contraceptives and pornography (on top of their many other preexisting duties)were fifty-nine in number (nationally!) before Comstock was passed, and after passage the number was raised to sixty-three. You do the math. This book illustrates the great divide between "conventional wisdom"- and what an unco
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