The Man Who Hated Women: Sex, Censorship, and Civil Liberties in the Gilded Age

Amy Sohn. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-17481-9
Novelist Sohn (The Actress) delivers an engrossing account of U.S. post office special agent Anthony Comstock’s anti-vice crusade and the women who opposed it. The secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, Comstock lobbied Congress to pass the 1873 Comstock Act, which outlawed the distribution, advertisement, possession, or mailing of “obscene material,” including contraception and sexual health information. Sohn documents how Comstock used “deceptive tactics,” such as sending decoy letters to solicit pamphlets and books through the mail and making disguised visits to physicians’ offices, to bully the era’s “sex radicals,” including abortionist Madame Restell; free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin; and homeopath Sarah Chase, who sold spermicidal syringes and countersued Comstock for false arrest. Noting the widespread popularity of publications by these and other women, Sohn links their work to rising demands for free speech, gender equality, and a better quality of life for women, and portrays Comstock and his supporters as desperately clinging to an outdated, prudish misogyny. Blending colorful details of life at the turn of the 20th century with sharp insights into just how revolutionary these new ideas were, this fascinating history deserves a wide readership. (July)
Reviewed on : 02/26/2021
Release date: 05/18/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-1-250-17483-3
MP3 CD - 978-1-6650-4269-7
Compact Disc - 978-1-6650-4268-0
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