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Reviews: Lois Waisbrooker, 1826-10/3/1909

About Lois Waisbrooker:

Waisbrooker was a free love anarchist feminist, born 1826 as Adeline Eliza Nichols. She was a firm believer not in equality for women, but in women's superiority. She seems to have been married, possibly unhappily, with children. In her later years she was arrested under the Comstock laws for obscenity, but the case (U.S. v. Waisbrooker) was dismissed. In 1901 after President McKinley was assassinated, Waisbrooker was again charged with obscenity as part of an attack on anarchists; thi stime she was found guilty (federal court, July, 1902). She died in her son's home in Antioch, California, in 1909, at eight-four years of age.
Facts drawn from Pam Waisbrooker's essay, "Women in the Lead: Waisbrooker's Way to Peace", introducing the 1985 edition of A Sex Revolution.

Waisbrooker's Writings:

Numerous books and pamphlets advocating free love and women's rights.

Nothing Like It: or Steps to the Kingdom (1875)
novel

A Sex Revolution (1893)
Editions:
1893
1985: New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (ISBN 0-86571-050-3 pbk; 0-86571-051-1 hd)

Review:
Responding to the recent publication of George Noyes Miller's The Strike of a Sex (1890: G. W. Dillingham, New York), Lois Waisbrooker wrote an even more radical follow-up. Miller, a member of the Oneidan Community founded by his cousin John Humphrey Noyes, wrote this humorous story, suggesting that women strike to gain the rights not just to vote, but to control their own bodies. Waisbrooker's follow-up, A Sex Revolution, drew the connection even further: from male violence to war. In A Sex Revolution, the women refuse to let men fight for them any further. If men insist on fighting in a war, then women will fight beside them. Lovella, the protagonist, asks, if men have granted women the right to their own bodies, then "What right have you then to demand that we shall bear sons who must go to war, must kill or be killed? If we have the right to our own bodies, how dare you ask us to use them as gestating rooms for sons who must be reared as marks for bullets or for cannon balls?" (chapter 3, p. 79) After this confrontation, Lovella's antagonist, Selferado, agrees to have women lead men for 50 years, thinking that women can accomplish little in 50 years and will then be happy to fall back into their natural place.

Lovella then considers the various problems now existing: poverty, prostitution, inequities in property distribution, drunkenness (which she views as a disease not a crime). She seems to attribute the problems largely to property distribution and unequal relationships between the sexes. For instance, she suggests that drunkenness is due to unhappy circumstances or physical problems; prostitution is largely due to property and other unequal power arrangements between men and women. They consider various solutions -- for instance the forced closure of the saloons -- and see that that causes more problems. Ultimately Lovella concludes that the society must look for the causes of the problems, not the symptoms, and the women go off to consider and research the problems for five years.

No simple solutions, then, and Waisbrooker employes no simple deus ex machina solution. People will have to figure out the solutions for themselves -- but it is possible.

Surprisingly modern, this little story touches on many themes familiar to modern feminists: the women's peace movement; women's control of their own bodies; the disfiguring influence of religion on women's lives. Yes, Waisbrooker was of her times -- phrenology is one of her suggestions for figuring out why some people are susceptible to drunkenness -- but although details like that date the work, the underlying philosophy and analyses are modern. Women must control their own bodies. The inequities in economic relations between people (not just men and women, but between classes) cause most of the problems we identify as "social ills": prostitution, alcoholism (consider that in light of modern attention to the drug war). War, the state, and patriarchy are inseparably linked, and must be attacked together.

So this little book isn't just a historical curiousity; it is full of ideas that are still fresh & current. Recommended.

--lq, 5/21/2002


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updated 06/13/07 .