Doris H Linder, Crusader for Sex Education: Elise Ottesen-Jensen (1886-1973) in Scandinavia and on the International Scene Lanhan, NY and London: University Press of America, 1996. 319 + [viii] pp. ISBN 0761803335

Elise Ottesen-Jensen was a contemporary of the better known British and American campaigners for birth control, Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger, but in spite of some similarities, comes across as a very different figure. She seems to have been an admirable woman, active in the provision of birth control and sex education (contextualised within a belief in the need for broader sexual reform), a pacificist and a committed friend to refugees from Nazi Germany. Her involvement with syndicalist socialism led her to advocate grass-roots self-help organisations and cooperative solutions rather than top-down models of either state or philanthropic intervention. Norwegian by birth, married to a Swede and mostly active in Sweden (and internationally) during the latter stages of her career, she seems far more benign, less bitterly embattled, less defensively arrogant than her more famous contemporaries, a diplomat rather than a fighter, said to have been beloved by all who knew her (except perhaps Sanger, with whom she crossed swords over the direction of the policies of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, prizing individual self-determination over Sanger's increasingly conservative population-paranoia). To some extent this may be attributable to the very different situation in Scandinavia: Ottesen-Jensen ('Ottar' to her friends and colleagues) was operating in smaller and far more socially homogenous countries than the UK or the USA, lacking in particular the powerful Roman Catholic lobby against which both Stopes and Sanger had to struggle. There is also, of course, a belief that the Nordic countries were far more sexually enlightened far earlier than the countries to the South, an image which this account does not entirely bear out. Leftists and female reform groups may have been discussing sexual issues with a freedom seldom found in comparable British or American circles, nonetheless Ottesen-Jensen found that openly advocating ideas found in the sexology of the time caused her to be spat on while riding the streetcar in Bergen. The Lutheran State Church and dissenting Protestant sects opposed birth control while pronatalist conservatives argued that a populous nation was a strong nation. In her work as a radical journalist and peripatetic lecturer Ottesen-Jensen uncovered a massive amount of sexual ignorance and suffering in supposedly enlightened Scandinavia. Linder's book has retrieved an enormous amount of information, so much so that at times the reader is in danger of bogging down in minutiae, and some passages read as if rather too literally translated from a Scandinavian original. The chapters on the internal machinations of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, while illuminating the rather different ideas about the role it should play among the European stalwarts of the birth control movement and those of the USA, perhaps do not entirely succeed in blending organisational and personal history. In spite of the amount of detail, there are a number of gaps. Much of Ottesen-Jensen's personal life remains shrouded in mystery. Her autobiography, written when she was nearly eighty, evaded such painful topics as the tragic history of her sister Magnhild, whose bearing of an illegitimate child, exile from the family, and consequent mental derangement had been influential in Ottesen-Jensen's break with the beliefs of her clergyman father, and the difficulties of her personal life (it would appear that the archival record is also uncommunicative on this latter subject). Before the First World War she entered a common-law marriage with Swedish pacifist and socialist Albert Jensen, bearing him a child who died shortly after birth. In 1931 they finally married, following his divorce from the wife from whom he had been separated since 1904, but in 1935 she discovered that he was having an affair with a younger woman living in their household, and in spite of her pleas for a reconcilation, they separated in 1937. She later generously argued to sympathetic friends 'How could anyone be expected to stay married to a wife who was never at home?' referring to her active career as a lecturer and educator. Apart from an early engagement, apparently terminated after the accident during her dental training which seriously damaged her hands, no other sexual or romantic relationships are mentioned, though many friendships. Her own account emphasised passionate idealism and a desire to serve rather than any personal needs influencing her choice of career, but perhaps this concealed any contradictions perceived between life and mission. Linder's title positions Ottesen-Jensen as 'Crusader', suggesting a commitment to a cause transcending personal gratification, but perhaps, ironically, this dedicated fighter for sex education found pleasures and satisfactions other than the sexual were more important to her

Lesley A. Hall

Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine