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This paper was part of the 2015-2016 Penn Humanities Forum on Sex. Find out more at


In 1929, Emily Hartshorne Mudd risked arrest by volunteering as a nurse at Philadelphia’s first birth control clinic. Visibly pregnant with her second child, Mudd relied on an antiquated law that barred the incarceration of a pregnant woman in order to serve women in need of contraceptive advice. Before this bold venture, Emily Mudd had worked for a decade as her husband’s unpaid research assistant in immunology and had personally experienced the conflicting pressures of a woman in the early twentieth century who aspired to be both a mother and a professional. Over the next seventy years, Mudd became a key player in the development of marriage counseling as a way to help women navigate their maternal and professional ambitions. Scholars have remembered Mudd for her contributions to the field of marriage counseling but have criticized her for her methods and her failures. This limited view of her career detracts from her larger professional ambitions. Mudd’s professional shortcomings, reexamined, reveal a strong-willed and pragmatic idealist working against a rapidly changing social order.



Date Posted: 18 November 2016