The Case of the Sultry Mountie, or, We Need to Talk about Cecil

Justin Bengry

I never knew my great uncle Cecil Bengry. Affectionately known as Cic’, this bachelor uncle seems to have lived in the background of other people’s lives. Even the pictures of Cic’ in old age that I found among my own grandfather’s (his brother) papers are faded and overexposed, their physical condition seemingly recreating the fog that surrounds Cic’s life. We know that he spent most of his life caring for others: animals on the ranch, his mother in her old age, and his brother’s grandchildren in his own later years. They remembered Cic giving them treats of ‘sugar sandwiches’, and knew him as well as anyone could, yet they didn’t know if he had an education, if he had friends, even what he did during the day. He is remembered simply as ‘always there. Good to us.’ Though always around, Cic’ somehow remained unknown. When he died, Cic’ left only one record behind: a small cigarette tin of photos. Inside, along with a child’s glass marble and a few family pictures, were snapshots of numerous men, including one of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer I call the ‘sultry Mountie’.

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The ‘Sultry Mountie’ (Cecil Bengry Collection)

Unlike every other photo in the tin box, the picture of the Mountie included no information: no caption, no name, no date. He simply stands there, anonymous, leaning casually against a wooden rail with hips thrust forward, looking confidently and directly at the camera. Posing for effect, he invites observation and perhaps objectification. I struggled to understand this image and the homosocial collection of photos with which it came. The tin of photos inspired me to organize, with Amy Tooth Murphy, workshops on what we called ‘Queer Inheritances’ at the London Metropolitan Archives in December 2014. We wondered: How do we discern a queer life from incomplete personal effects whose existence and content are often mediated by other family members? How do we, as queer inheritors, navigate lives lived before many could proclaim to be ‘out and proud’? Ultimately, I wondered, was Cecil queer?

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CFP: Digital Humanities and the History of Sexuality

Notches N How do you teach the history of sexuality in an academic environment that is increasingly defined by digital processes and ways of interacting? NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality invites submissions for a special issue on the challenges and potentialities of teaching with the digital humanities. We welcome short entries (500 – 750 words) discussing the ways that digital methodologies and environments shape pedagogical approaches to the history of sexuality. Your contributions might cover but are not limited to:

  • Using databases or digitized source material in lessons
  • Incorporating digital humanities methods like distant reading, topic modeling, GIS, and data visualization into your teaching or historical practice
  • Using social media (twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and online forums) to structure teaching, learning and writing assignments
  • Presenting ideas and research through podcasts, videos, blogs, wikis, or web exhibitions

NOTCHES is an international, collaborative, open-access, peer-reviewed history of sexuality blog. With more than 170,000 views, NOTCHES is at the centre of international conversations about historical research and teaching of the history of sexuality. Submissions should be sent to Agnes Arnold-Forster at agnes.arnold-forster@kcl.ac.uk by July 1, 2015. Submissions from outside of North America are especially welcome.

“The State Does Not Belong in the Uterus of the Nation”

Shannon Stettner

On Saturday, May 9, 1970, following a rally on Canada’s Parliament Hill, between 150 and 300 protesters marched to Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s residence. The group carried signs that read “The State Does Not Belong in the Uterus of the Nation” and “We Are Furious Females,” and shouted chants such as “Up from the kitchen! Up from the bedroom! Up from under! Women unite!” Once they arrived at the Prime Minister’s residence, the women pushed past the few Royal Canadian Mounted Police guards and assembled on the front lawn. After negotiations with the RCMP, the women agreed to leave on the condition that they were allowed to place the coffin they had carried with them from Vancouver, which was symbolic of the deaths of women from illegal abortions, on the Prime Minister’s doorstep. As they placed the coffin, one woman made a speech about the tools of the illegal abortionist and how each one contributed to the death of Canadian women.

This protest was part of the Abortion Caravan, one of the first actions undertaken by a growing, national pro-choice movement in Canada. Garnering significant media and political attention, the Abortion Caravan acted as a consciousness raising tool that authorized women to speak publicly and with authority about their experiences under Canada’s restrictive abortion laws even as it empowered them to challenge these laws.

Courtesy of York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

Courtesy of York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

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Health, Reproduction, and Sex: Growing a Field for Latin Americanists

Raúl Necochea and Cassia Roth

It was our good fortune to share a table with three terrific scholars at the 2015 American Historical Association (AHA) conference, all working in the borderlands of reproduction, sexuality, health, and Latin American/Caribbean politics. Our panel, “The Politics of Reproduction in the Americas: Bolivia, Jamaica, and Cuba,” starred Darcy Hughes Heuring, Rachel Hynson, and Tasha Kimball. Cassia organized and moderated the panel, and Raúl commented. The field feels a tad bigger every year, and similar historian-led panels have taken place at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) in Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, and San Francisco, and that of the Social Science History Association (SSHA) in Chicago, for example.

This time around in New York City, our panel came together to reflect on how the politics of nationalism related to public debates about contraception in the mid-twentieth century, an issue that connects the enduringly controversial status of family planning to broader social phenomena. Nothing about Latin American birth control nowadays can be fully comprehended without addressing its historical links with longstanding political forces in both individual countries and the region as a whole. From heated debates surrounding access to contraception in the United States to recent abortion-related deaths and arrests in El Salvador, Brazil, and Chile, recent events have thrust the political implications of reproductive health into the mainstream. The panel demonstrated that historians play an integral role in uncovering and understanding the long and uneven trajectory of women’s health and access to contraception and abortion in the region. As the papers demonstrate, the politicization of women’s bodies is anything but new, and to understand current manifestations, we must look to the past.

Family educator presenting birth control options to clients at a clinic of the Peruvian Association for Family Protection, 1971. Source: 'La Planificación Familiar,' in Patricia: Para la Mujer Moderna (March 1971): 21-25. Photo in the archival collection of Raul Necochea.

Family educator presenting birth control options to clients at a clinic of the Peruvian Association for Family Protection, 1971. Source: ‘La Planificación Familiar,’ in Patricia: Para la Mujer Moderna (March 1971): 21-25. Photo in the archival collection of Raul Necochea.

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Archives of Desire: Happiness of Womanhood Newsletter, 1977

In keeping with our commitment to promoting critical conversations about the complexity and diversity of sexuality in the past, NOTCHES is pleased to introduce Archives of Desire. This new feature focuses on primary sources and how historians interpret them.

Neil Young

In June 1977, 10,000 conservative religious women across the United States opened their mailboxes and found the Happiness of Womanhood’s (HOW) monthly newspaper, a page of which is pictured below. HOW, a right-wing women-led grassroots organization created in 1970 with chapters in all fifty states, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment and also worked against abortion rights, sex education, and gay rights. In each monthly installment, HOW’s newsletters encapsulated the conservative religious and cultural worlds of its members. Recipes ran alongside legislative updates; beauty tips interspersed political diatribes; Bible verses framed clipped news articles. HOW’s leaders used the newsletter to package and distribute news and information to its grassroots members, creating the political reality to which these women responded. Looking at just one page of HOW’s monthly newsletter illuminates how fears of changing sexual mores shaped HOW’s women’s worldview and mobilized their politics in the 1970s.

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A selected page from the June 1977 Happiness of Womanhood newsletter courtesy of Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

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A History of Family Planning in Twentieth Century Peru

Interview by Nicole Pacino

In A History of Family Planning in Twentieth Century Peru (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), Raúl Necochea López explores the changes and continuities in national conversations about fertility, family, and nation from the late nineteenth-century to the 1970s. Through chapters examining how divergent approaches to fertility control from the national government, the medical profession, moral reformers, and the Catholic Church intertwined at different points of the twentieth century, Necochea shows that family planning discussions were deeply integrated with conversations about national development and economic growth in twentieth-century Peru.

Drawing from an impressive selection of sources, including medical theses, government dispatches, newspapers, public health publications, personal interviews, and archival collections both in Peru and the United States, Necochea demonstrates that the personal ambitions, political ideologies, and religious affiliations of a multitude of local, national, and international actors shaped the trajectory of birth control usage and access during the twentieth century. In doing so, A History of Family Planning sheds light on topics such as contraceptive use and abortion that are underdeveloped in Latin American history.

A History of Family Planning

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The Modern Period: Menstruation and the History of Sexuality

Lara Freidenfelds

“Having sex on your period is absolutely safe,” reassures OB-GYN and talk-show regular Dr. Laura Berman. Like most sex experts in the past half-century, Berman is ready to demolish old menstrual taboos and usher in a modern period. And like many educators, physicians, and cultural critics who have written about menstruation, she frames her recommendations within a historical narrative: in the old days, religious proscriptions and folk traditions labeled menstruating women as “dirty” or “unclean” and therefore unfit for intercourse; now, in the light of modern science, we know better.

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When it comes to menstruation, this sweeping narrative arc can feel persuasive, since ancient attitudes have in fact been strikingly persistent. And yet, the leap from the biblical book of Leviticus to the twenty-first century obscures as much history as it reveals. It turns out, when we listen to a range of voices, from natural philosophers to medical writers, to ordinary women and men discussing their experiences, the history of menstruation and sex is more complex. All of these parties gingerly navigated the shift to the modern period, with results that are perhaps less fully liberatory than advocates like Berman might acknowledge.

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