Category Archives: Wowsers

1895: Bible quotes declared obscene, man fined $50

Anthony Comstock, who waged war on obscenity in the late 1800s

The Comstock Act (passed 1873) was a United States federal law that made sending obscene materials through the mail a criminal offence. Under the Comstock provisions, the definition of ‘obscenity’ was very broad. Some of the prosecutions launched by postal authorities involved sexual health material, marriage handbooks, ‘coming of age’ guides, saucy poetry and love letters. Even the most sacred of books was not sacred under the Comstock law. In 1895 John B. Wise of Clay County, Kansas was arrested and charged with sending obscene materials by mail. The material in question was a postcard containing two quotations from the Bible:

“Wise… sent a quotation of scripture by mail to a preacher friend, with whom he was having a scriptural controversy. As the quotation was obscene, the preacher got angry and caused Wise’s arrest for mailing obscene matter. The case is in the Topeka federal court… if the quotation is adjudged obscene [then] then Bible as a whole is unmailable matter.”

Wise’s case went to trial the following year and he was convicted by a jury and fined $50. He declared his intention to appeal, however, press archives do not contain any mention of this.

Source: The Advocate (Topeka, Kansas), June 19th 1895. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1861: Masturbators lick walls and eat pencils, says Dr Jackson

James C. Jackson (1811-95) was a New England journalist who in middle age abandoned writing to train as a doctor. He became a prolific writer and an advocate for vegetarian diets. In 1863 Jackson invented a coarse breakfast cereal called ‘granula’; a forerunner to granola, it was designed to replace red meat consumption and therefore reduce “animal lusts”. Like his fellow food reformers Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg, Jackson was obsessed with curtailing masturbation. In an 1861 book about sexual health and reproduction, Jackson advised parents and guardians to be ever vigilant for signs their offspring might be indulging in “furtive nocturnal activities”. He offered several tips for spotting the regular masturbator, including changes in behaviour, loss of memory, poor posture and an irregular walk:

“A masturbating girl who is past the age of puberty may be known by her gait… Their style of motion may be characterised as a wiggle rather than a walk… Were I a young man, I should always at the outset be suspicious [of a woman] if, when I saw her walk, she should exhibit this peculiar wiggle.”

One of the most visible signs of a masturbating teenager, according to Jackson, is unusual or bizarre eating habits. Self polluters are “exceedingly capricious in their appetites” and “not satisfied with any food unless it is richly seasoned or highly flavoured”. They can sometimes be found in the kitchen gulping down spoonfuls of spices like cloves, cinnamon and mace. Jackson also cited cases of masturbators who could not resist eating “lumps of salt”, licking “lime off the wall” or chewing up “slate pencils”.

Source: James C. Jackson, The Sexual Organism, 1861. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1633: “Outrage to decency”: man attends a lying-in

In late 1633, the Anglican archdeaconry in Oxford ordered an investigation into an incident in Great Tew. According to informants a male servant, Thomas Salmon, committed an “outrage to decency” by entering the bedroom of a Mrs Rymel, just six hours after she had given birth. Salmon had gained access to the room by wearing women’s clothing. Several persons were ordered before an archdeacon’s court, including the attending midwife, Francis Fletcher. She testified that:

“Thomas Salmon, a servant, did come to the labour of the said Rymel’s wife… disguised in women’s apparel… she confesseth he did come into her chamber some six hours after she had been delivered so disguised, but she sayeth at his first coming that she knew him not… and was no way privy to his coming or to his disguise.”

Testimony from other witnesses revealed that Salmon was a young servant employed by Elizabeth Fletcher, daughter in law of the midwife. According to Salmon’s own testimony, his mistress had encouraged him to cross-dress and attend Mrs Rymel’s lying-in, suggesting there would be food, drinking and “good cheer”. After outfitting him in women’s clothing, Fletcher took him to the Rymel house and told other women he was “Mrs Garrett’s maid”. Salmon admitted staying only briefly in Mrs Rymel’s bedroom – but he remained in women’s clothes for another two hours. His testimony was confirmed by Elizabeth Fletcher, who admitted helping Salmon enter the room as “a jest”. The archdeacon’s court absolved the midwife of any blame, ordered Elizabeth Fletcher to apologise and handed Salmon a strong talking-to and a formal penance.

Source: Oxford Archdeaconry Archives, 1633, fol.75, 151. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1888: Smelly feet, a sign of teenage masturbation

Miss Priscilla Barker was a late 19th-century social purist. In 1888 she published The Secret Book, a guide for girls and their parents containing information about dress, cosmetics, deportment and medical matters. It also contained information and advice about sexual behaviour, which Barker considered a matter “extreme delicacy… too vulgar for discussion” but included out of “a sense of duty”. Among her advice was a curt warning to teenage girls about the intentions of their boyfriends:

“Beware of men who will come to you with the appearance of honour, integrity and love, but who in the secret of their hearts only hunt for women as the huntsman hunts for game. That gilded hero, that demigod of yours, that ideal man, is a sensual and heartless destroyer of female virtue for his own bestial self-gratification.”

Like others of her ilk, Barker was obsessed with masturbation – or more specifically the prevention of it. The main cause of self-abuse, she believed, was reading romantic novels, which excited “premature feelings” in young women. Once provoked these “inroads of self-abuse… leave the citadel of womanhood unprotected and at the mercy of the enemy”. Barker told concerned parents that if their daughters started masturbating, “the terrible demon of lust” would “brand his bestial mark” on their appearance:

“The face loses its colour and the eyes grow dull, heavy and weak; the hands feel soft and clammy; and often the smell of the feet is unbearable… Another victim came to into my notice [with a] mouth full of saliva… The first moment I looked at her I felt that I had before me a fearful victim of self-abuse.”

Source: Priscilla Barker, The Secret Book containing Private Information and Instruction for Women and Young Girls, 1888. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1889: Standing on one foot leads to masturbation

Mary Wood-Allen - both feet on the ground, girls.
Mary Wood-Allen – keep both feet on the ground, girls.

Mary Wood-Allen (1841-1908) was an American physician, paediatrician and temperance advocate. Like many others of her generation Wood-Allen was a social purist, obsessed with the promotion of cleanliness, morality and wholesome thoughts. By the 1890s Wood-Allen was a public speaker in high demand and a prolific author of guidebooks on adolescence. Her message was strident and consistent: children must be protected from premature development, precocious sexual thoughts or activity and, above all, masturbation. In her 1889 book What a Young Woman Ought to Know, Wood-Allen walked young girls through life from puberty to marriage, outlining the ‘cans’ and ‘cannots’ of these formative years. Reading novels, for example, was a strict ‘no no’:

“It is not only that novel-reading engenders false and unreal ideas of life, but the descriptions of love-scenes, of thrilling, romantic episodes, find an echo in the girl’s physical system and tend to create an abnormal excitement of her organs of sex, which she recognizes only as a pleasurable mental emotion, with no comprehension of the physical origin or the evil effects. Romance-reading by young girls will, by this excitement of the bodily organs, tend to create their premature development, and the child becomes physically a woman months, or even years, before she should.”

Another forbidden act was the seemingly benign habit of standing on one foot. According to Wood-Allen, continually favouring one foot could lead to uterine displacement, menstrual difficulties and constipation. And constipation itself exerted pressure on sexual organs, something “known to incite self abuse”:

“…The common habit of standing on one foot is productive of marked deformities of both face and body and of serious displacements of internal organs… Standing continually with the weight on the left foot is more injurious than bearing it on the right foot, for it causes the uterus and ovaries to press upon the rectum and so produces a mechanical constipation, especially during menstruation.

Source: Dr Mary Wood-Allen, What a Young Woman Ought to Know, London, 1889. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.