Cover for PASSET: Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women's Equality. Click for larger image

Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women's Equality

The book is about nineteenth-century women and men who believed in and fought for women's social and economic equality and the right to reproductive choice

Questioning the commonplace view of the late nineteenth century as a period of passionless women and so-called Victorian sexuality, this study examines the spread of sex radical thought and notions of free love through American society in the second half of the nineteenth century. During this period a grass-roots movement of women and men, uncomfortable with the social, economic, and political inequalities they saw as inherent to the institution of marriage, participated in frank discussions about the relationship between sexuality and women’s rights.

In charting the growth of the sex radical movement, Joanne E. Passet draws on a host of documents from the period -- letters, periodicals, lectures, and pamphlets -- to establish a strong link between the rise of print culture and the freedom of citizens, especially women, to build geographically dispersed communities of ideas. She also advances models of sexuality that challenge the restrictive mores of society at large and shows that the majority of correspondents who participated in the sex radical movement resided in the Midwest and the Great Plains states, where ideas of individual freedom and sovereignty resonated particularly strongly.

Passet vividly demonstrates how this sex radical movement laid the foundations upon which later generations of women’s rights crusaders and feminists would build, placing discussions of sex and sexuality squarely in the public arena.


"A valuable study for historians of women, sexuality, and social reform movements."--The Journal of American History

"The book ably demonstrates how sex radical women…helped shape modern conceptions of sex and gender."--Choice

"Goes a long way toward rediscovering the history of sex radicalism through excellent use of primary sources that privilege history's unacknowledged voices."--Libraries & Culture

“A critically important book that expands our understanding of later waves of feminism by exploring its long-neglected roots.” -- Nancy A. Hewitt, author of Southern Discomfort: Women’s Activism in Tampa, Florida, 1880s-1920s and Talking Gender: Public Images, Personal Journeys, and Political Critiques.


Joanne E. Passet is an assistant professor of history at Indiana University East. She is the author of Cultural Crusaders: Women Librarians in the American West, 1900-1917 and a coauthor of Aspirations and Mentoring.

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