Monday, July 3, 2017

The First Family Planning Book

Image result for tiny books 1800s
Is it a tiny book  
or a huge quarter?
With all the current interest in tiny houses, I thought I should research tiny books, since they would make a fine gift for any friend moving into a wee home. Printers made many of these tiny books back in the day, and one of them was the first sex manual and guide to contraception published in the US. Attitudes and provincialism being what they were in those days, the authorities couldn't wait to put the author, Dr Charles Knowlton, in the calaboose for a few years.

Things were different back then in terms of how one became a doctor. What Knowlton did was to study as sort of an apprentice (oh no!) under several doctors, attend two 14-week sessions of lectures at Dartmouth College, and then dig up some interred bodies to further his study of anatomy. At age 24, he was awarded his M.D. degree, set up a practice in Hawley, Massachusetts, and -oh yeah - went to jail for two months for illegal dissection.

Instead of spending all his time in the weight room or appearing on MSNBC on the weekends, as modern prisoners do, Knowlton spent his time researching methods of how to help society stop reproducing, and he came up with 4 methods that are still in use today in varying forms.  This being a general interest blog, I can't tell how many 7-year-olds are reading it, and I don't want them running to their parents asking what I mean with these contraceptive methods that stop a "certain substance" from reaching an area that would result in needing to run to BJs for boxes of Pampers in nine months.  You can read the book for yourself right here anyway. 

So he wrote a tiny version of his advice in a book, called it "The Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People" and had copies printed up.  They wanted to put Fabio on the cover, but there was no room! It was a tiny book!

The printer's name was Abner Kneeland, and he got in the jackpot when local minister Mason Grosvenor complained of "infidelity and licentiousness,"  and said that Knowlton's book for married people was the cause of people running around. 

You can just imagine what sort of swinging singles scene was happening in Massachusetts in the 1830s.  

Knowlton reported back to the town stoney lonesome hoosegow for three months of hard labor while the sinbuster Grosvenor went after Kneeland, apparently forgetting that First Amendment thing and all. Grosvenor gave up trying to clean up the local dirty book market and wound up going to work as an agent for Aetna Insurance. There is no word as to whether he was "glad he met ya."

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Dr K
Meanwhile, old Doc Knowlton was quite a guy. Once he got out of the Walled-Off Astoria, he founded a group called "The Friends of Mental Liberty", one tenet of which held that "Female members of this Society shall enjoy the same rights and privileges as male members."

He only lived a few more years after that, but he and his tiny book were the beginning of family planning in America.  You would think that with 175 years of book-learning on the topic, all Americans of reproductive age would have a great idea about where all these kids are coming from.

You would be wrong. But Knowlton did all he could.

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