Talking about Birth Control in 1877: Gender, Class, and Ideology in the Knowlton Trial

Flore Janssen

Published Online: 2017-11-30 | DOI:


This article explores the debate around widening access to birth control information in the late nineteenth century through a case study of Annie Besant’s participation in the 1877 Knowlton Trial. Examining Besant’s rhetoric at the trial and in related publications, it highlights the public and performative nature of her campaign to facilitate access to birth control information for working-class married couples. With reference to the representation of issues of gender and social class and the shifting focus from the private to the public in Besant’s rhetoric, the article argues that the late nineteenth-century debate around birth control access was a middle-class debate about working-class life and experience.

Keywords: birth controlfamily planningAnnie Besantneo-MalthusianismfeminismKnowlton Trial

Featured Image Credits: Kitty Marion distributing Birth Control Review in 1915 | © Courtesy of Wikipedia

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