Charles Knowlton, Fruits of Philosophy (1832)

Fruits of Philosophy

Fruits of Philosophy, expanded 2nd edition: Controversial early work on birth control.

Charles Knowlton, a physician in Massachusetts, is sometimes considered the founder of American contraceptive medicine. His anonymously published book on the medical prevention of conception, intended to help impoverished families, was the first such book in English written for a popular audience.

In 1832, Knowlton was fined $50 for publishing the book and sentenced to three months hard labor. In 1877, the social reformers Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh reprinted the book in England. As a test case to establish the right to publish contraceptive information, they deliberately sent a copy to the police, which led to their arrest and trial for selling obscene material. They were prosecuted and acquitted in a highly publicized trial in 1877. According to some historians, this trial and the general discussion of birth control that followed may have contributed to a significant decline in the British birth rate.

Clements Library copy of Fruits of Philosophy