The twentieth century was a time of change in the social mystique of sexuality and the private aspects of marriage. Boundaries were being broken and more people felt the need to lift the curtain on what seemed like the most personal and secretive of subjects. The prior Victorian era guarded sex very closely, keeping it very underground and behind closed doors. However, an evolving demographic of young people in the early twentieth century felt the need to bring sex back into the public spotlight. This would foster the growth of sexual education classes in colleges across the nation, angering those who still used religion to dictate sexual morality.
Vassar College, then an exclusively female university, began teaching one of the first sexual education and marital hygiene classes in the nation. Stemming from the influence of the students, the classes began in 1937, not without fair opposition. The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, released “The Dance of the Seventh Veil”, an article critiquing Vassar’s new class. Claiming it to be against the grain and a “drastic step”, Harvard condemned and mocked Vassar for educating students on a topic meant for “closed doors” and “subdued whispers”.
The class had support in many areas of the country, including its coverage in the Dallas Morning News. In the article “where frankness pays”, the old ways of teaching the subject of sex are highlighted as outdated and unfit for the young people of the time. As “an important addition to marital equipment”, the article sees sexual education as a key facet of a healthy marriage and happy relationships in general. Furthermore, there is criticism of the piety of shrouding sex in “harem secrecy”, where such prudery was becoming archaic.
In addition to “Where Frankness Pays”, the Dallas Morning News also published John Knott’s political cartoon on the subject, titled “The Young Generation”. The cartoon features a mother hen named “Prudery” scaring her many small chicks into a pond called “The Facts of Life”. Its significance lies with the earlier view of sex as a very secretive part of life, only spoken of in whispers. The hen, towering over her chicks, represents the previous generations view of sex and marital privacy in this way. Forcing her chicks into the pond, they have no real experience and appear confused and disoriented. Analogous to young people, these chicks symbolize the manner in which new generations would learn about sex. Mostly thrust out into the world on their own, young people had to learn many “Facts of Life” themselves.
The humor of the cartoon lies with Knott’s depictions of the parties involved. The mother hen, an archetypal authority figure, clearly and cleverly represents the teachings of a now outdated post-Victorian demographic. The young generation, represented by the chicks, highlights the opposition they faced when attempting to remove the stigma surrounding sex and marriage. The chicks’ small size in comparison to their mother hen exemplifies this conflict between generations.
Through coverage in written media and political cartoons such as “The Young Generation”, John Knott and The Dallas Morning News served to support Vassar College’s effort to increase sexual education and bring the subject of prudery to the public eye.
“America’s Sex Hysteria.” American Decades Primary Sources. Ed. Cynthia Rose. Vol. 2: 1910-1919. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 347-351. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
“THE DANCE OF THE SEVENTH VEIL | News | The Harvard Crimson.” THE DANCE OF THE SEVENTH VEIL | News | The Harvard Crimson. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014. <http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1937/2/17/the-dance-of-the-seventh-veil/>.
“MAKING A GO OF IT” | News | The Harvard Crimson.” “MAKING A GO OF IT” | News | The Harvard Crimson. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014. <http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1937/3/5/making-a-go-of-it-pto/>.
Author Not Listed. “Where Frankness Pays.” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 25 Mar. 1937: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Knott, John F. “The Young Generation.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 25 Mar. 1937: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 29 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.