Annie Wood Besant was a social activist who advocated for women’s access to birth control as well as marriage reform, labor reform, and Indian Nationalism in the nineteenth century in England and India. In her early career, Besant was involved in various social and political advocacy organizations including the National Secular Society, the Malthusian League, and the Fabian Society. Besant gave many public lectures and authored various articles in support of secularism, workers’ rights and unionization, and women’s rights. In 1877, Besant and her colleague Charles Bradlaugh republished the pamphlet The Fruits of Philosophy, by Charles Knowlton, on reproduction and contraception. Besant and Bradlaugh were tried for violating the obscenity law that prohibited the publication of obscene material, including sex and contraception. Later in her life, she converted to theosophy and moved to India where she joined the Theosophical Society. In India, Besant campaigned for Indian self-rule and became the president of the Indian National Congress. Besant, through republication of The Fruits of Philosophy and many public lectures and writings on women’s rights, expanded public knowledge of birth control.

Charles Bradlaugh was as a political and social activist in the seventeenth century in England. He held leadership positions in various organizations focused on social and political activism including the Reform League, the London Secular Society, the newspaper National Reformer, and the National Secular Society. Throughout his career, Bradlaugh advocated for better conditions for the working poor, and for the separation of government and religion. The British government prosecuted him numerous times for violating laws prohibiting the publication, sale, and transmission of antireligious, antigovernment, and obscene materials. In 1877, Bradlaugh and another secularist, Annie Besant, republished The Fruits of Philosophy, a pamphlet about contraceptive techniques originally whose author was physician Charles Knowlton. In the nineteenth century, individuals did not have access to information on sex, reproduction, and contraception, as much of society argued such information encouraged immoral behavior. Bradlaugh and Besant were tried for publishing information on sexual anatomy, conception, and methods to control reproduction. Bradlaugh expanded public knowledge of reproduction and contraception, and initiated the process of dismantling the obscenity laws.

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