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Riotous FleshWomen, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America$
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April R. Haynes

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226284590

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226284767.001.0001

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Flesh and Bones

Flesh and Bones

(p.132) Chapter Five Flesh and Bones
Riotous Flesh

April R. Haynes

University of Chicago Press

“Flesh and Bones” examines the work of Sarah Mapps Douglass, an African American teacher and lecturer, as an example of ongoing resistance to the racialization of female sexuality. A leader of interracial moral reform efforts, Douglass joined the campaign for universal physiological education to eliminate the solitary vice. By the 1850s, growing concern about masturbatory insanity drew popular support for the first wave of sex education in public schools. The chapter reconstructs the content of Douglass’ distinctive sexual counterdiscourse at the Institute for Colored Youth. After the coalition ended between black abolitionists and white moral reformers, Douglass retained some white contacts. Along with Sarah Grimké, she participated in a community of discourse that fused physiology with Orson Squire Fowler’s theory of the feminine love principle in contemplating heterosexual pleasure. Douglass observed continuing debates over purity and virtue but no longer tried to convince whites of African American women’s moral equality. Instead, she selectively reworked physiological theories of sex to challenge craniology, affirm her students’ needs for love and pleasure, and offer contraceptive and prophylactic resources. The rhetoric of solitary vice masked, authorized, and infused this explicit sex education. Similar arguments reached generations of African American students.

Keywords:   Sarah Mapps Douglass, physiology, masturbatory insanity, sex education, female medical college, Sarah Grimké, heterosexuality, Orson Squire Fowler, love principle, craniology

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