Ida Craddock

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Ida Craddock
Born(1857-08-01)1 August 1857
Philadelphia, United States
Died16 October 1902(1902-10-16) (aged 45)
New York, United States

Ida C. Craddock (August 1, 1857 – October 16, 1902) was a 19th-century American advocate of free speech and women's rights.[1] She wrote extensively on sexuality, leading to her conviction and imprisonment for obscenity. Facing further legal proceedings after her release, she committed suicide.

Early life[edit]

Ida Craddock was born in Philadelphia; her father died when she was four months old. Her mother homeschooled her as an only child and provided her with an extensive Quaker education.[2]

In her twenties, Craddock was recommended by the faculty for admission into the University of Pennsylvania as its first female undergraduate student after having passed the required entrance exams. However, her entrance was blocked by the university's board of trustees in 1882.[3] She went on to publish a stenography textbook, Primary Phonography, and to teach the subject to women at Girard College.

In her thirties, Craddock left her Quaker upbringing behind. She developed an academic interest in the occult through her association with the Theosophical Society beginning around 1887. She tried in her writings to synthesize translated mystic literature and traditions from many cultures into a scholarly, distilled whole. As a freethinker, she was elected Secretary of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Secular Union in 1889.[4] Although a member of the Unitarian faith, Craddock became a student of religious eroticism and declared herself a Priestess and Pastor of the Church of Yoga. Never legally married, Craddock eventually claimed to have a blissful ongoing marital relationship with an angel named Soph. Craddock even stated that her intercourse with Soph was so noisy as to draw complaints from her neighbors.[2] Her mother responded by threatening to burn Craddock's papers and unsuccessfully tried to have her institutionalized.

Craddock moved to Chicago and opened a Dearborn Street office offering "mystical" sexual counseling to married couples via both walk-in counseling and mail order. She dedicated herself to "preventing sexual evils and sufferings" by educating adults, achieving national notoriety with her editorials in defense of Little Egypt and her controversial belly dancing act at the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago during 1893.[5][6]


Craddock wrote many serious instructional tracts on human sexuality and appropriate, respectful sexual relations between husband and wife. Among her works were Heavenly Bridegrooms, Psychic Wedlock, Spiritual Joys, Letter To A Prospective Bride, The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living. Aleister Crowley reviewed Heavenly Bridegrooms in the pages of his journal The Equinox, stating that it was: of the most remarkable human documents ever produced, and it should certainly find a regular publisher in book form. The authoress of the MS. claims that she was the wife of an angel. She expounds at the greatest length the philosophy connected with this thesis. Her learning is enormous.

...This book is of incalculable value to every student of occult matters. No Magick library is complete without it.[7]

These sex manuals were all considered obscene by the standards of her day. Their distribution led to numerous confrontations with various authorities, often initiated by Craddock herself. She was held for up to several months at a time on morality charges in five local jails as well as the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane.

Her first two full-length books, Lunar & Sex Worship and Sex Worship, were on comparative religion.

Her writings on supernatural topics also continued throughout her life. One of her last books on this subject was Heaven of the Bible, published in 1897.


Mass distribution of Right Marital Living through the U.S. Mail after its publication as a featured article in the medical journal The Chicago Clinic led to an 1899 Chicago Federal indictment of Craddock. She pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence. A subsequent 1902 New York Federal trial on charges of sending The Wedding Night through the mail during a sting operation ended with her conviction. She refused to plead insanity as a condition to avoid prison time and was sentenced to three months in prison, much of which she served in Blackwell's Island workhouse.[2] Upon her release, Anthony Comstock immediately re-arrested her for violations of the federal Comstock law and on October 10 she was tried and convicted, the judge declaring that The Wedding Night was so "obscene, lewd, lascivious, dirty" that the jury should not be allowed to see it during the trial. At age forty-five, she saw her five-year sentence as a life term and so committed suicide, by slashing her wrists and inhaling natural gas from the oven in her apartment, on October 16, 1902, the day before reporting to Federal prison. She penned a private final letter to her mother as well as a lengthy public suicide note condemning Comstock, her personal nemesis. Comstock first opposed Craddock almost a decade before over the Little Egypt act and effectively acted as her prosecutor during both Federal legal actions against her. He had sponsored the Comstock Act under which she was repeatedly charged.

After death[edit]

Theodore Schroeder, a free-speech lawyer from New York with an amateur interest in psychology, became interested in Ida Craddock's case a decade after her death. He began researching her life, and collected a large amount of her letters, diaries, manuscripts, and other printed materials. Although he never met Craddock he speculated that she had taken at least two human lovers, although Craddock insisted that she had only ever had intercourse with Soph, her spirit husband.[2]

Sexual techniques from Craddock's Psychic Wedlock were later reproduced in Sex Magick by Louis T. Culling.[8]

Today Ida Craddock's manuscripts and notes are preserved in the Special Collections of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her battle with Anthony Comstock is the subject of the 2006 stage play Smut by Alice Jay and Joseph Adler, which received its world premiere at Miami's GableStage in June 2007.

After a century of her works remaining almost completely out of print, in 2010 Teitan Press published Lunar and Sex Worship by Ida Craddock, edited and with an introduction by Vere Chappell. Also in 2010, Vere Chappell wrote and compiled "Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock" which he describes as "an anthology of works by Ida Craddock, embedded in a biography." The book reprints "The Danse du Ventre (1893), Heavenly Bridegrooms (1894), Psychic Wedlock (1899), "The Wedding Night" (1900), "Letter from Prison" (1902), "Ida's Last Letter to Her Mother" (1902), "Ida's Last Letter to the Public" (1902). Another biography of Craddock, "Heaven's Bride" by Leigh Eric Schmidt was also published in 2010.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chappell, Vere. "Ida Craddock: Sexual Mystic and Martyr for Freedom". Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  2. ^ a b c d Schaechterle, Inez L (2005). "Speaking of Sex: The Rhetorical Strategies of Frances Willard, Victoria Woodhull, and Ida Craddock". OhioLINK; Bowling Green State University. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  3. ^ Lloyd, Mark Frazier (July 2001). "1880–1900: Timeline of Women at Penn". University of Pennsylvania Archives. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  4. ^ "XII. 1 – Going to jail for a principle. The events of 1879", Fifty Years of Free Thought, Skeptic files, retrieved 2009-08-10
  5. ^ Burton, Shirley J. "Women Making a Difference: Ida Craddock, Adelaide Johnson, and Laura Dainty Pelham". Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  6. ^ Burton, Shirley J. "Obscene, Lewd, and Lascivious: Ida Craddock and the Criminally Obscene Women of Chicago, 1873-1913." Michigan Historical Review 19: 1 (1993): 1-16.
  7. ^ Crowley, Aleister, ed. (1919). The Blue Equinox. III. Detroit, MI: Universal.
  8. ^ Culling, Louis T (1988), Sex Magick, St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.


Further reading[edit]