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Article
October 16, 1996

The Sex Side of Life: Mary Ware Dennett's Pioneering Battle for Birth Control and Sex Education

Author Affiliations

St Paul, Minn

 

by Constance Chen, 370 pp, $25, ISBN 1-56584-132-8, New York, NY, The New Press, 1996.

JAMA. 1996;276(15):1264-1265. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540150066035
Abstract

A quick glance at the title might lead one to classify this book as a sexology text, which it is not. Rather, it is a fascinating, poignantly sad biography of a remarkable woman, who was born into an upper middle-class family in 1872 and raised and educated in the Boston area. Until this book, Mary Ware Dennett's life story had been acknowledged by little more than footnotes in women's histories.1-3

Access to Dennett's archives was recently granted to Constance Chen, a 27-year-old Harvard medical student. The material in the book is extremely well researched and documented by 785 notes presented in the last 30 pages. However, I felt handicapped by the lack of an index, and the writing seemed somewhat stilted at times, and repetitious, eg, Hartley Dennett's many juvenile "cutesy" poems to Mary.

But the subject matter was engrossing. The number and importance of the backstage roles

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