The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman
Basic Books (AZ), Hardcover, 9780465002986, 335pp.
Publication Date: December 2010
In "Heaven's Bride," prize-winning historian Leigh Eric Schmidt offers a rich biography of this forgotten mystic, who occupied the seemingly incongruous roles of yoga priestess, suppressed sexologist, and suspected madwoman. In Schmidt's evocative telling, Craddock's story reveals the beginning of the end of Christian America, a harbinger of spiritual variety and sexual revolution.
Ann Taves, Professor of Religious Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara
“Leigh Schmidt offers us a compulsively readable account of the tragic, fantastic, and utterly idiosyncratic life of Ira Craddock, self-taught scholar, mystic, sex reformer, and psychoanalytic subject. Sympathetic toward Craddock, yet even-handed in his treatment of both her admirers and her vehemently critical detractors, Schmidt opens a window on the fierce ideological cross-currents at the intersection of sexuality, psychology, and religion at the turn of the last century. This is serious scholarship in a form that everyone can enjoy.”
Courtney Bender, Associate Professor of Religion at Columbia University“Schmidt’s lyrical, compelling, and captivating story of a truly unique American religious experimenter is a rare gift. In Heaven’s Bride, Craddock’s sometimes amusing, often tragic interactions with bellydancers, vice informants, the police, asylums, freethinkers, scholars, mystics (and even a disapproving mother and a range of spirit friends) come to life, and provide a window into the unsettledness of American religious life one century ago. Yet Craddock’s story is much more than an entertaining and tragic narrative. In Schmidt’s story, Craddock’s refusal to live within the social boundaries taking shape around her and the consequences that she suffered expose the enormous and often violent efforts that have been required to solidify the distinctions that modern Americans take to be self evident. For all those readers think they know the difference between science and religion, mysticism and sexuality, amateurs and experts, psychosis and devotion, Craddock’s life – and Schmidt’s analysis – presents perspicuous challenges. This enormously fascinating book inspires and unsettles, prompting ‘curiosities and hopes and suspicions all in equal measure.’ Miss Ida C. Craddock would be pleased.” Robert Orsi, Professor of Religious Studies and History at Northwestern University “In this compelling and exciting biography of an extraordinary woman, Leigh Eric Schmidt shows that liberal religion was fundamental to the making of modern American sexuality. Ida C. Craddock battled fiercely and paid dearly for her vision that sexuality and spirituality, pleasure and piety, were intimately connected, both in ancient religions and in contemporary experience. The story Schmidt tells has striking contemporary resonance—the struggle for a more open and inclusive sexual ethic has always been a religious one in American culture. This elegantly written, deeply researched book is a great and timely contribution to current public debates and to the history of American sexuality by one of America’s leading religious historians.” Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America“Heaven’s Bride is a lucid and moving account of a woman whose vision—of sacred sex and gender equality—exposed the fault lines of American liberalism. It’s also a poignant reminder that our constitutionally guaranteed division of church and state has needed constant and energetic defense.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Schmidt illuminates the darkened life of Ida Craddock by aiming a spotlight at each subtitled role.”
“The compelling life of a turn-of-the-century free spirit and free-speech activist who was silenced by the evangelical zeal of the vice squad. . . . A colorful contextual study of Craddock and her teeming era.”
Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating…. Craddock is reanimated by Mr. Schmidt's biography.” NPR.org
“Schmidt deals sentences just as lapidary as his subtitle (The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman) leads us to expect. … [His] research is extensive, the details he includes are delicious.” Commonweal “Heaven’s Bride paints a vivid portrait of an idealistic reformer whose idiosyncrasies reflected the hopes and anxieties of turn-of-the-century America…fascinating.”
American Historical Review
“Schmidt has mined every possible archive to find evidence of Craddock’s life, and despite the obstructions of censorship, he has unearthed much new information…. Schmidt’s book, beautifully written and imaginatively wrought, lures readers into Craddock’s world where being a heavenly bride to a spirit husband seems almost reasonable.”