Leigh Eric Schmidt

 

On his book Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman

Cover Interview of January 17, 2011

In a nutshell

Heaven’s Bride tells for the first time the story of Ida C. Craddock’s life, death, and afterlife.

A woman “very clever but queer,” as one contemporary described her, Craddock was a late nineteenth-century eccentric—by turns, a secular freethinker, a bookish intellectual, a religious visionary, a civil-liberties advocate, and a psychoanalytic case history.  Deemed a grave danger to the public morals for her candor about sexuality, she had six of her marriage reform pamphlets suppressed as obscene literature.

Craddock’s legal problems began when she offered a spirited defense of belly dancing, first introduced to American audiences at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, and thereafter she was persona non grata to the great vice-crusader Anthony Comstock, the most powerful censor of the day, who saw such performances as abominations.  Arrested and tried repeatedly for her blasphemous obscenity, she had become by the end of her life a celebrated martyr among early free-speech activists.  Emma Goldman, no stranger herself to iconic status, would later recall Craddock as “one of the bravest champions of women’s emancipation” in an epoch that had many daring campaigners from Victoria Woodhull to Margaret Sanger.

After her death, though, Craddock lived on as mystical madwoman more than lionized liberal, and that reckoning had everything to do with the career trajectory of one of America’s leading civil-liberties lawyers, Theodore Schroeder.  He came to know of Craddock’s case through the Free Speech League, an important precursor of the American Civil Liberties Union, but his attraction to her had much more to do with sex (and religion) than with the Constitution.  One of America’s most devoted (if not most subtle) Freudians, Schroeder turned Ida C into his own Anna O.

Heaven’s Bride crafts this multilayered story from the reams of manuscripts that Craddock cannily secured, against all odds, from the censor’s fire.  “I am poet of the Body and I am poet of the Soul,” Walt Whitman had proclaimed in Leaves of Grass, “The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me.”  Craddock, as much as anyone of her era, lived amid those doubled pains and pleasures—as yoga priestess, suppressed sexologist, thwarted scholar, ecstatic mystic, and denounced madwoman.