Black Market Birth Control: Contraceptive Entrepreneurship and Criminality in the Gilded Age, 1887

“A majority of businesspeople arrested for the crime of birth control were petty proprietors. Many were immigrants, women, or Jews. Few possessed a formal education. Denied the credit and social or educational credentials needed to claim professional respectability or ascend the financial ladder, they were drawn to a trade whose illicit character and low capital requirements made it welcoming to ordinary people. After months of joblessness and nights passed on park benches, the German Jewish immigrant Julius Schmid began selling skin condoms made out of freshly slaughtered sheep intestines in the late 1880s, when he was in his early twenties. Joseph Backrach, a Jewish immigrant with a “common education,” supported a family of nine making rubber womb veils, condoms, male caps, and ticklers in his Brooklyn residence.”

Immigrants were considered to be criminals. In the 1880’s immigrant women and men were the ones selling contraceptives which was questionable morally to even be using contraceptives.  A Polish-Jew, Morris Glattustine  Colgate was arrested for selling condoms. Immigrants were considered to be uneducated, with bad morals, and rarely respected.

Sources: Tone, Andrea. “Black Market Birth Control: Contraceptive Enterpreneurship and Criminality in the Gilded Age.” The Journal of American History 87, no. 2 (2000): 444.

3 Replies to “Black Market Birth Control: Contraceptive Entrepreneurship and Criminality in the Gilded Age, 1887”

  1. Talk about how selling contraceptives was illegal at this time. Immigrants were seen as the “criminal class.” They had to do jobs like this because they didn’t have access to the things that white americans had.

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  2. In your intro, I’d strongly consider giving your readers an overview of when major immigrant groups come. It’s not just that immigrants were considered bad/immoral; it matters that this immigrant is Jewish, because that’s tied to a lot of other stuff.

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