Olivia McClary

Wolf Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellow

20232024 Forum on Revolution

Olivia McClary


CAS, 2023 (Fellowship Fall 2023 only)

Liv McClary is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Pursuing a degree in History and Religious Studies, she is the Editor-in-Chief of the Penn History Review, a member of HUAB (History Undergraduate Advisory Board), and an RA in Lauder College House. During her time at Penn, she has focused mainly on 20th-century North American history, and, taking a particular interest in the individual human level, she has grown fond of various microhistories, placing stories at the heart of her scholarship. In her free time, Liv enjoys completing the daily NY Times Crossword, exploring Philadelphia, and trying new food!

"A Bootleg Trade": Comstockery, Entrepreneurship, and Criminality Comsumption in New York's Contraceptive Industry, 1865–1900

By the onset of the Depression, the birth control industry had grown swiftly despite bans from the American Medical Association, obscenity legislation, and mini-Comstock laws that prohibited the sale of birth control. Contraceptive manufacturers and sellers—reliant upon a variety of print advertisement forms—were successful in their attempts to encourage women to purchase commercial devices through a ‘bootleg trade’ where products were promoted as euphemistic mediums of “female hygiene,” creating a rhetorical safety net that made it practically impossible for authorities to charge retailers with violations of anti-contraceptive laws. Analyzing the linguistic and visual elements of such ads, this thesis will explain how the modern contraceptive market emerged through initial—albeit partially illicit—economic configurations dependent on sexualized themes of empowerment and liberation, revealing a world in which gender, commerce, and reproduction were inconspicuously interwoven.