1929 April 23

Mary Ware Dennett, Sex Education Pioneer, Found Guilty of Obscenity

 

Feminist and birth control and sex education activist Mary Ware Dennett was convicted of obscenity for sending her sex education pamphlet, The Sex Side of Life: An Explanation for Young People, through the mails. Dennett had written the pamphlet for her two adolescent sons fifteen years earlier. As more people found out about it, she was flooded with requests for copies, and she finally published it for general circulation. Her prosecution became a national cause célèbre, and a national defense committee composed of several prominent Americans was organized. Her conviction was overturned by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on  March 3, 1930, in United States. v. Dennett.

Mary Ware Dennett was also a prominent feminist, suffrage activist, civil libertarian, and birth control advocate. In the 1920s and 1930s, working through the Voluntary Parenthood League, she was Margaret Sanger’s chief rival on the issue (see the video below).

Read “The Sex Side of Life” at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31732/31732-h/31732-h.htm

Learn more about Dennett: Constance Chen, “The Sex Side of Life:” Mary Ware Dennett’s Pioneering Battle for Birth Control and Sex Education (1996)

And more about the pivotal Dennett case: Laura Weinrib, The Taming of Free Speech (2016)

And more: https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/schlesinger-library/inside-the-collections/mary-ware-dennett

Watch a video on the Dennett-Sanger rivalry over birth control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I0TYgwjoc0

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