By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Around 1830, information on contraception spread like wildfire without the benefit of talk shows. Alfred Hall and Sarah Bleslee Chase preached the virtues of contraception and sold snake oil-like medicines. Other guides, lecturers, and doctors extolled vaginal sponges, douching, and the French baudrache - a condom made from animal skins, membranes, or oiled silk. (The technology for ribbed and flavored condoms would come later.)
The diaphragm was patented in 1846 as "The Wife's Protector." Women who used it were rumored to have renamed the dreaded device "The Wife's Tormentor."
Homosexuality started slowly coming out of the closet. Poet Walt Whitman frequently romanced young men whom he met in New York, which he described as the "city of orgies, walks, and joys." The city promised a "frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love." His journal boasted of conquests..."Saturday night Mike Ellis...took him home to 150 37th St...Dan'l Spencer... slept with me Sept. 3d..." The defatigable Whitman worked as a nurse during the Civil War, perhaps to meet a man in uniform. He became very close to the soldiers he tended, writing again in his journal, "I believe no men ever loved each other as I and some of these poor, wounded, sick, and dying men love each other." He kissed the soldiers goodnight before leaving each day, and wrote of his torrid affair with a nineteen-year-old Southern captain.
Horatio Alger - yes, that Horatio Alger - was shamed out of his pulpit in Massachusetts in 1866 for the "revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys." He fled to New York City to practice and write about his pederastic interests.
Even cowboys may occasionally have engaged in brotherly love, as exhibited by this quaint limerick from the time: "Young cowboys had a great fear/ That old studs once filled with beer/ Completely addle / They'd throw on a saddle, And ride them on the rear."
Some women of the nineteenth century found that dressing as men not only allowed them greater earning power, but let them live as man and wife with other women. For example, there was Lucy Ann Lobdell, who left her husband in upstate New York, became the Reverend Joseph Lobdell, and lived for ten years as Maria Perry's husband.
But that sort of behavior paled beside developments at the end of the century. On April 14, 1894, the Holland Brothers exhibited the first peep show film using a machine invented by Thomas Edison, who obviously had more up his sleeve than just a few revolutionary patents. The movies were made in Edison's labs on film prepared by George Eastman and shown in vending machines or cabinets. (It's unclear whether the setup offered sufficient privacy for viewers to express their appreciation.)
In New York (naturally), single working women began spreading their wings, and the notion of dating was born. Social clubs allowed flirting, touching, and kissing games. Vaudeville acts spewed sexual themes and suggestive humor.
Bartenders and cab drivers began offering tips on where to find "loose women." The notion of "picking up" unknown members of the opposite sex was born, laying the foundation for the happy hours and singles bars that would follow 70 years later.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
At the turn of the century, American reformers were working harder than ever to abolish prostitution, but red-light districts were thriving. Women were beginning to understand just how much men would pay for love. Sex education campaigns popped up everywhere. One poster titled The Sex Impulse and Achievement showed two athletes jumping over hurdles. Below, the text noted: "The sex instinct in a boy or man makes him want to act, dare, possess, strive. When controlled and directed it gives ENERGY, ENDURANCE, FITNESS." Later, professional athletes would find that control had nothing to do with anything.
Just before World War I, a popular magazine proclaimed that "sex o'clock" had chimed in America. True confession magazines, the teachings of Freud and lusty films set the stage for a new permissiveness and espousing of the theory that sexual expression was directly related to happiness. Things really got roaring in the Twenties.
Technological innovations as well as new attitudes added new twists to romance. On May 31, 1919, Marjorie Dumont and Lieutenant R.W. Meade were married in the world's first airplane wedding. They exchanged their lofty vows in a Handley-Paige bombing plane over Houston during the Flying Frolic Air Show.
In 1920 researcher Katharine Bement Davis began her study of 2200 married and single women. Ten years later she published the results - the erotic life of Americans was taking a more liberal, uninhibited turn. But many women who admitted to enjoying sex also felt guilty and confused.
They weren't going to feel better any time soon...the morality police were just around the corner. But in the meantime, burlesque and risque movies satisfied the nation's lust for the lurid in the Thirties. The Hays Code brought "open sensuality" in the movies to a grinding halt just prior to World War II, but adult movies still were available in the sex districts of most cities. And there was always dancing, which had become a lust-filled activity for dating couples. It took two to tango, after all.