Thursday, May 15, 2014

Contraception: Civil War Style


Unique research conducted by Clelia Duel Mosher in the late-nineteenth century has remarkably survived to modern times. Dr. Mosher, a researcher at Stanford University, surveyed forty-seven married women about health issues, and among the topics examined were sexual practices and birth control. By no means is the study an exhaustive, scientific one. All of the women were from the North and well-educated, clearly biasing the sample selection, but the study lends an extraordinary rare glimpse inside Victorian life.

For the purpose of keeping the study directly related to the Civil War, I have narrowed the field of forty-seven women to the seventeen who were born before the war. Of these, five women would have been mature and one a teenager by the outbreak in 1861. All but one woman admitted to resorting to the use of some sort of birth control with the most popular methods being condoms, withdrawal, the rhythm method, and douching. Five women, married from nine months to fifteen years, had no children with only one admitting to taking no precautions. The remaining women had from one to eight children. Four of these stated they had children by choice, five by accident, two a combination, and one woman with eight children left it all to chance.

During the Civil War, women were forced into many nontraditional roles. Yet little notice, except for technological advances, has been given to reproductive control during the era. Contraceptive knowledge became public before the war, and with a growing awareness of science and choice, demand came about for better methods that paved the way to modern birth control.


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