Saturday, September 12, 2015

Whitman, The Poet-Liberator of Woman

Mabel MacCoy Irwin - Whitman, The Poet-Liberator of Woman (1905)

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A self-published tribute to Whitman from an early feminist and minister.  The tone is almost overly effusive - Whitman attracts such writers - but she's mostly on target and this poet was probably the best choice at the time to use in promotion of women's self-determination.

Irwin (1856-1928) was a sometime music teacher who graduated from Tufts Divinity School and became a pastor in a Universalist church.  She traveled and lectured widely and there are records of her delivering sex education talks to public school parents in 1912.  She also promoted birth control and, unfortunately, eugenics though this may have been a late-life development according to one source.

Arnold Bennett reports (in Books and Persons) that she tried to distribute a paper on "strict chastity for both sexes" that the Post Office wouldn't allow to be sent because it referred to sex.  Bennett dryly remarks, "I reckon this anecdote to be the most exquisitely perfect of all anecdotes that I have ever come across in the diverting history of moral censorships."