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in propria persona

Law + tech + history, from a JD/PhD Candidate in the history of science.

Canadian grocer January-March 1919

Privacy, autonomy, and birth control in America, 1860-1900

Access to birth control became, controversially, protected by the “right to privacy” in 1965; a hundred years before, “procreation was a matter of public concern.” Yet, contradictorily and confusingly, Victorian women — and their bodies — were protected (and limited) by a powerful social division between private and public spheres.


Henry Essenhigh Corke (1883-1919); Autochrome via Collection of National Media Museum

Victorian domestic specialization and gender roles

As the Victorian version of separate spheres solidified in the mid-nineteenth century, the “idea of wifely sainthood gained ever more credence as housewives found themselves increasingly isolated from the male-operated world.”


Liquor raid by Sheriff's Department - Miami (via State Library and Archives of Florida)

Prohibition and the domestic home

The Volstead Act (implementing Prohibition), in keeping with American legal tradition, gave special recognition to the home and the private, domestic sphere.


6033441461_8f0c5c0002_b_hospital

Eugenic sterilization in California: practicing “good medicine”

Indiana may have passed the first sterilization law in 1907, but before World War II, it was California that led the nation in eugenic sterilizations in an attempt to “apply science to social problems.” Such legislation was part of a wave of Progressive Era public health activism that encompassed pure food, vaccination, and occupational safety.


Stranger Intimacy Cover

Surveillance and Sodomy in 1918 Sacramento

A “cleanup” of 1918 Sacramento resulted in an intensified “[p]olice surveillance of boardinghouses, brothels, pubs, and gambling houses” and effectively turned these areas — none of which were traditional domestic homes — into “semipublic” spaces.


14761769274_18bd91d8c1_b_women-laundry

Women, public health, and the police power

The early twentieth century saw working men left free from government protection in the name of “liberty of contract”; women, on the other hand, received such protection, but at the cost of second-class status.