Limiting Family Size


A Complex Issue

Historical Notes: Limiting Familiy Size

Anthony Comstock
A powerful foe of contraception.

Individual women and men also tried to limit the size of their families by avoiding unwanted pregnancies, using methods from coitus abruptus (the biblical Onan in Genesis 38: 6-10) to various vaginal plugs and herbal concoctions. Abortion was also widely practiced in the ancient world. However, all of these methods remained unsafe and largely unreliable until, in the 19th century, effective condoms could be manufactured and the cervical cap and later the diaphragm were invented. However, the early 19th century already saw a growing social movement, especially in England, demanding access to contraception for poor working mothers. This movement encountered enormous opposition from religious and political authorities. Not even the "liberators of the working class" Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels supported it. In the United States, Anthony Comstock, a self-appointed, later officially authorized moral watchdog, persuaded congress to pass a law against sending “obscene materials” through the mails. For him, this also included contraception information, and, using his special powers, he succeeded in ruining many lives and putting physicians into prison. He also harrassed the birth control advocate Margaret Sanger.  It was only in the second half of the 20th century, that contraception became easily available to most women. This was due to the courageous efforts of many social and scientific pioneers.

[Course 2] [Description] [How to use it] [Introduction] [Conception] [Pregnancy] [Birth] [Infertility] [Contraception] [A Complex Issue] [Methods of Contracep.] [Abortion] [Additional Reading] [Examination]