U.S. postal inspector Anthony Comstock, whose eponymous law limited women’s access to contraception for a century, had a murky personal life. I spent years trying to flesh out his motives and psychology while researching my book The Man Who Hated Women: Sex, Censorship, and Civil Liberties in the Gilded Age.

His basic biography is well known: he was born in New Canaan, Connecticut, into a deeply religious Congregationalist family. His mother, Polly Lockwood Comstock, was a direct descendent of the Puritans, and died when he was 10. He thought all women should be in Polly’s mold—devoted to husband, family, and God.