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Charles Knowlton

Born: 10-May-1800
Birthplace: Templeton, MA
Died: 20-Feb-1850
Location of death: Winchendon, MA
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Plain Cemetery, Ashfield, MA

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Doctor, Author

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Early advocate of birth control

Dr. Charles Knowlton wrote and published The Fruits of Philosophy, the first reliable guide to the taboo topics of birth control, reproductive health, and spermicidal douching. Written "in a plain yet chaste style", the pamphlet was published anonymously in 1832, and led to Knowlton's conviction on obscenity charges and a fine of fifty dollars (a sizable sum, at the time). He was then prosecuted a second time in a different locality, and after being convinced by his lawyer (whom he later deemed incompetent) to plead guilty, he was sentenced to three months at hard labor. Upon his release a second edition of the book was published by Knowlton's friend Abner Kneeland, this time with the author's name plainly listed on the cover, and with an additional chapter Knowlton had written while imprisoned. He was prosecuted again over the third edition of the pamphlet, and endured two trials that ended with hung juries. The fourth edition of the pamphlet counseled that women should refrain from indulging "the sexual instinct" before the age of seventeen. The trials, of course, gave The Fruits of Philosophy a great deal of publicity, leading to sales of more than a million copies in America. The pamphlet was also widely distributed in England, and was credited with a decline in the birth-rate there.

Knowlton was imprisoned for sixty days for grave robbery in 1824, after illegally obtaining a corpse for dissection, a then-controversial but (in his opinion) necessary part of his medical training. When his son became ill and died at the age of twenty, Knowlton had this medical advice engraved on his son's tombstone: "Reader, if your friend breaths too frequently, however mild the other symptoms, rest not easy under the fallacious idea that it is nothing but a cold".

Father: Stephen Knowlton
Mother: Comfort White Knowlton
Wife: Tabitha Foster Stuart Knowlton (m. 17-Apr-1821)
Son: Stephen Owen

    High School: New Salem Academy, New Salem, MA
    University: MD, Dartmouth College (1824)

    Obscenity
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
Elements of Modern Materialism (1829)
The Fruits of Philosophy: or The Private Companion of Young Married People (1832)



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