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The Man Who Hated Women

Sex, Censorship, and Civil Liberties in the Gilded Age

Amy Sohn


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The New York Times–bestselling author Amy Sohn presents a narrative history of Anthony Comstock, anti-vice activist and U.S. Postal Inspector, and the remarkable women who opposed his war on women’s rights at the turn of the twentieth century

Anthony Comstock, special agent to the Post Office, was one of the most important men in the lives of nineteenth-century women. His eponymous law, passed in 1873, penalized the mailing of contraception and obscenity with harsh sentences and steep fines; his name was soon equated with repression and prudery.

Between 1873 and the ratification of the nineteenth amendment in 1920, eight remarkable women were tried under the Comstock Law. These “sex radicals” supported contraception, sexual education, gender equality, and a woman’s right to sexual pleasure. They took on Comstock in explicit, bold, personal writing, seeking to redefine work, family, sex, and love for a new era.

The Man Who Hated Women tells the overlooked story of their valiant attempts to fight Comstock in court and the press. They were publishers, editors, and doctors, including the first woman presidential candidate, Victoria C. Woodhull; the birth control activist Margaret Sanger; and the anarchist Emma Goldman. In their willingness to go against a monomaniac who viewed reproductive rights as a threat to the American family, they paved the way for modern-day feminism. Risking imprisonment and death, they redefined contraceptive access as a human civil liberty.

In The Man Who Hated Women, Amy Sohn brings these women’s stories to vivid life, recounting their personal and romantic travails and political battles. Without them, there would be no Pill, no Planned Parenthood, no Roe v. Wade. This is the forgotten history of the war over control of female bodies.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9781250174819, 400pp.

Publication Date: July 6, 2021

About the Author

Amy Sohn is the New York Times–bestselling author of five novels, including Prospect Park West and Motherland. A former columnist at New York and the New York Post, she has also written for Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy, Elle, The Nation, and many other publications. She has been a writing fellow at Headlands Center for the Arts, Writers Omi, and the Studios at MASS MoCA. A lifelong New Yorker, she lives in Brooklyn with her daughter.