Dell Williams, Influential Sex Shop Entrepreneur, Has Died

Sex shop founder/entrepreneur Dell Williams (Refinery29)

Sex shop founder/entrepreneur Dell Williams (Refinery29)

Sad news from last week: Dell Williams, founder of the first woman-friendly sex shop Eve’s Garden, died at the age of 92.

Her origin story begins in the early ’70s, when she decided to purchase a Hitachi Magic Wand, “the Rolls-Royce of vibrators” after attending famed sex educator Betty Dodson’s “Body/Sex Workshop.” (Dodson was a huge proponent of the Magic Wand.) When Williams attempted to buy the device at a New York City Macy’s, she was shamed by a younger male sales associate.

She reported her lightbulb moment as follows:

Someone really ought to open up a store where a woman can buy one of these things without some kid asking her what she’s going to do with it.

This experience led Williams to build Eve’s Garden from her kitchen table, pursuing it as a side-hustle while working a 9-to-5 as an advertising executive. She was working on this at an interesting time: Discussions about female sexuality were beginning to bubble up, contrasting with the point that sex shops were run by, and catered pretty exclusively to men.

She showed an aptitude for entrepreneurship, as the thriving mail-order business (founded in 1974) grew into a storefront, and later went online. The site sells condoms, sex toys, and books, including Williams’ biography “Revolution in the Garden.”

Williams quickly became one of the go-to women to comment on sexuality changes amidst the larger society. In 1973, she organized a conference on women’s sexuality that received a lot of attention, and was consulted on sexual matters ranging from how to up the passion during Valentine’s Day to Britney Spears’ own ode to female masturbation “Touch of My Hand.”

But perhaps Williams was destined to go into the sex industry: Legend has it she was named for journalist Floyd Dell, who was an ardent supporter for Margaret Sanger’s work.

Williams started something that (thankfully) continues to thrive to this day: the woman-friendly sex shop, where women can go in and explore without fear of being shamed or side-eyed.

Above all, she knew the power of a sexually healthy and knowledgable woman (and how scared the rest of the world is of her). For her dedication in her biography, she wrote:

It has long been my unassailable belief that orgasmic women can change the world.  By this I mean that a woman who is unfettered sexually is unfettered politically, socially, economically and she is unstoppable.


#ThrowbackThursday: Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, 1923

Margaret Sanger's Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB) (The Margaret Sanger Papers Project)

Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB) (The Margaret Sanger Papers Project)

I found this photo on The Margaret Sanger Papers Project. One post notes that Sanger founded America’s first legal birth control clinic on Jan. 2, 1923. By the 1930s, the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB) served 10K+ patients per year, and “trained thousands of doctors and nurses.”

In the undated photo above, a nurse teaches other women…I assume birth control and/or family planning. I can’t say definitely if they were doctors, nurses or patients, but I’m confident they received the most accurate information of the day.

#ThrowbackThursday: Margaret Sanger’s “The Woman Rebel”

'The Woman Rebel' Volume I, Page 1

‘The Woman Rebel’ Volume I, Page 1

One hundred years ago, Margaret Sanger launched “The Woman Rebel,” a monthly newsletter that promoted contraception. (Tagline: “No Gods, No Masters.”) The newsletter popularized the now-common term “birth control” (the popular euphemism of the day was “family limitation”), and proclaimed that “each woman should be the absolute mistress of her own body.” Obviously, Sanger was way ahead of her time.

Seven issues were published before Sanger was indicted on violating postal obscenity laws in August 1914 (at the time, it was illegal to send obscene materials by mail). But this was part of her plan: Sanger wanted to provoke a legal challenge to spreading information about birth control by mail. Once indicted, she fled to England, while prepping “Family Limitation,” a more radical approach to birth control. The birth control cause stole the spotlight the next year when her estranged husband was thrown in jail for giving a copy of “Family Limitation” to a representative of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock.

Though Sanger’s ideas were inflammatory at the time, they laid the groundwork for modern feminism. And thank God for that.