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 16, 2011


The advent of a secular sex revolution would render the spiritual sex revolution of nineteenth-century reformers like Craddock an increasingly bygone inheritance.  “No Gods, No Masters” had been Margaret Sanger’s slogan for the Woman Rebel, and a substantial portion of the twentieth-century movement for sexual emancipation would march forward under such secular banners.

In 1979, when one of Craddock’s long suppressed pamphlets was finally republished, the reviewer for the New York Times tellingly remarked:  “If one excised from Ida C. Craddock’s widely banned ‘Right Marital Living’ its pious obeisance to religion, the plain and mostly accurate talk about orgasm and the ‘marital embrace’ would fit easily into a contemporary sex manual.”

Craddock’s cultural world—one in which metaphysical speculators and spiritual drifters were in the front ranks on sex-reform and civil-liberty causes—now sounded unimaginably foreign.  If Craddock were to tally with the post-Kinsey, Masters and Johnson era of scientific sexology, her religion would need to be pared away.

Not that sex had been successfully secularized by 1979.  This was the very year, after all, in which Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, appearing, to the political left, poised to become the new Anthony Comstock.  (And if not Falwell, then Donald Wildmon, who had two years earlier founded the National Federation for Decency, with its strong anti-obscenity agenda.)

With the rise of the Moral Majority and allied organizations, secular liberals were hard-pressed to envisage any form of religious piety as the handmaiden of sexual emancipation.  Strict constructions of church-state separation and personal privacy—“Get Your Bible Off My Body” and “Focus on Your Own Damn Family”—seemed, once again, imperative for the protection of a liberal civil society.

In appealing to both secular principle and religious vision, the social reformers who had championed the companionate equality of marriage partners, the importance of female passion and sexual pleasure, the liberalization of divorce laws, and the rights of reproductive control, had now become ghostly anomalies.  But Craddock and other “disreputables” had much to say about the joined privacy of religion and sex.

© 2010 Leigh Schmidt