Talking About Sex
Talking and writing publicly about sex in the United States hasn't been easy, especially when the topic is girls' sexuality. In the early 1900s, such talk could be illegal. The Comstock Act of 1873 forbade sending materials about sex through the mail. So filling the gap on what girls knew about their bodies could send advocates to jail.
Girls as a Health Hazard, 1910s
A national worry about young women's sexual expression has informed and motivated much advice, instruction, and popular discussion about girls' bodies and what they should and should not do with them. That concern also led the federal government to launch a national campaign for sex education in the 1910s.
This same fear, when paired with racial prejudice about underage immigrant mothers, led to some of the most disturbing practices in American history regarding the sterilization of girls.
Margaret Sanger, a writer and nurse, wrote an advice column and book titled What Every Girl Should Know in the 1910s. She advocated for girls to understand and control their own bodies—but only certain girls. Sanger was a controversial figure in her time and remains so today. How do we reckon with this important but complicated historical person?