Mary Ware Dennett was an American women’s rights activist, pacifist, and pioneer in the areas of birth control, sex education, and women’s suffrage. Yet, she is largely unknown to the general public. So, she’s our Woman Crush Wednesday this week! Listen as historian Sharon Spaulding explains Mary’s important life and work! Episode 413.
Click here for more info about Mary Ware Dennett and about Sharon Spaulding: sharonspaulding.com
Constance M. Chen, The Sex Side of Life: Mary Ware Dennett’s Pioneering Battle for Birth Control and Sex Education
Suffragist, pacifist in WWI, artisan in America’s Arts and Crafts movement, mother, advocate of sex education, Mary Ware Dennett (1872-1947) launched the nation’s first birth control organization, the National Birth Control League, in 1915. She fought to make contraceptive information available to everyone, a stance that put her at odds with her arch rival, Margaret Sanger, whose “doctor’s only” bill submitted to Congress would have empowered a male medical elite to supervise all birth control knowledge. Dennett’s YWCA-endorsed pamphlet, “The Sex Side of Life: An Explanation for Young People,” was judged obscene under the Comstock Act, and in 1929 this Boston-bred, 57-year-old grandmother was convicted in a sensational criminal trial of sending indecent material through the mail, a decision reversed on appeal. Her 13-year marriage to well-connected, lofty, arrogant architect William Hartley Dennett ended in a scandalous divorce in 1913, after he virtually moved into his married lover’s house under the same roof as her physician husband. Mary won legal custody of their two sons, but her ex’s refusal to pay child support left her destitute. This is a gripping, timely biography of an unjustly forgotten feminist pioneer.