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Birth Control and American Modernity
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Book description

How did birth control become legitimate in the United States? One kitchen table at a time, contends Trent MacNamara, who charts how Americans reexamined old ideas about money, time, transcendence, nature, and risk when considering approaches to family planning. By the time Margaret Sanger and other activists began campaigning for legal contraception in the 1910s, Americans had been effectively controlling fertility for a century, combining old techniques with explosive new ideas. Birth Control and American Modernity charts those ideas, capturing a movement that relied less on traditional public advocacy than dispersed action of the kind that nullified Prohibition. Acting in bedrooms and gossip corners where formal power was weak and moral feeling strong, Americans of both sexes gradually normalized birth control in private, then in public, as part of a wider prioritization of present material worlds over imagined eternal continuums. The moral edifice they constructed, and similar citizen movements around the world, remains tenuously intact.

Reviews

'MacNamara engages meaningfully with scholarship about birth control and demography outside of the United States, and animates this intellectual history with people, stories, and places that we don’t normally associate with the history of ideas or with the history of birth control.'

Karissa Haugeberg - Tulane University, New Orleans

'MacNamara has tackled a difficult topic - unpacking public opinion on a topic that wasn’t much discussed in public, and he has skillfully found evidence in a wide variety of sources.'

Cathy Moran Hajo - Ramapo College, New Jersey

‘MacNamara's book goes against the grain of the usual scholarship on the history of birth control: it de-privileges the surface noise - of women’s rights activists, vocal eugenicists or Darwinists, of intellectuals in general - to plumb the half-conscious thoughts of ordinary citizens … MacNamara could hardly have tackled a more contentious subject, but he does so with detached aplomb … Ever so politely, he is attacking several sacred cows of the traditional feminist scholarship.’

Michele Pridmore-Brown Source: The Times Literary Supplement

‘In his novel approach to examining birth control, MacNamara is quite successful in his attempts to bridge the gap between demographic and narrative histories of the topic. He focuses on why Americans chose to adopt methods to control fertility during the first half of the 20th century but also includes considerable information regarding the history of humans’ attempts to prevent pregnancy, dating from antiquity to the present … The book also contains an appendix with detailed information and a bibliography that should be useful to scholars … Recommended.’

J. M. Benowitz Source: Choice

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Contents

  • 1 - The Long History of Birth Control
    pp 1-36

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