From Censorship to Insufficiency: Sex Education from the Dennett Trials to Today

In an article published the day after her trial, the New York Times described the defendant as a “gray-haired, kindly-looking matron.” When she took the stand in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the 53-year-old grandmother introduced herself as a maker of decorative wall hangings and an occasional writer for magazines.

Maybe it was a sign of the times that such an unusual defendant could be facing an obscenity charge that spring afternoon in 1929. The decade known as the Roaring Twenties shook established conventions as metropolitan centers like Chicago and New York became the birthplaces of modern cultural movements that pushed old boundaries. Showing disdain for the conservative dress and sexual ethos of the past, women in short hair and short skirts, dubbed flappers, were sensationalized for their cavalier attitudes toward sex. Pushing limits further, homosexuals and gender nonconformists earned nods of recognition in everything from stage productions (Mae West’s The Drag) to popular music (Edgar Leslie and James Monaco’s “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”), benefiting from a level of social acceptance that anticipated the 1960s. Meanwhile, the popularity of jazz challenged racial barriers as black and white musicians collaborated on stage and in studios, and as black and white socialites mixed in lively venues like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.


Mary Ware Dennett was a pioneer for sex education — both through her writing and the legal battle she fought.


Amid those changes, some people still weren’t ready for the controversial publication Mary Ware Dennett was in court for distributing, even if that publication had been well received by the medical community and, furthermore, had been sent to such tame and respected clients as the Bronxville school system, state public health departments, and various religious and civic organizations like the Union Theological Seminary and the YWCA. The publication was one Dennett had written 11 years earlier for her two sons, then 11 and 14 years old. She wrote it after realizing that, without it, they wouldn’t receive the sex education they needed: “When my children reached the age when I wished to supplement what had been taught verbally, I sought something for them to read.” After searching “some sixty volumes,” Dennett decided to give up and write her own material. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Brace yourself for this piece of shocking news: Abortion Rises Among Low-Income Women, Falls In Other Groups. In other words, people who generally can’t afford or gain access to affordable contraception also can’t afford to have children — so they aren’t. (Guttmacher)
  • Ignorant Legislator Says Women Should Plan For Post-Rape Abortion, Since “I Have A Spare Tire.” Equating keeping a spare tire with preparing for the possibility of impregnation by rape = logic and sensitivity FAIL of titanic proportions. (Jezebel)
  • Illinois Sex Ed Law Requiring Teachers to Talk Contraception Passes Senate (Huff Po)
  • Totally ignoring the fact that sometimes, abortions are life-saving procedures, the House approved an amendment that defunds medical schools that teach abortion. (Daily Kos)
  • For instance, abortion saved this woman’s life. Read her story. (Salon)
  • Get pregnant in the military as a result of a rape and need an abortion? Military health insurance doesn’t cover abortion, even in cases of rape. (AP)
  • Planned Parenthood and the ACLU: Takin’ no prisoners in South Dakota. (RH Reality Check)
  • Some wingnut in Wisconsin (with a gun!!!!) had big plans to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies” at a Madison Planned Parenthood (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)