You did it! We figured this one out! It is a truth universally acknowledged (by me for certain) that the Bitchery pretty much knows everything, and really, it's true. Scroll down to see the solution for this HaBO - and many thanks!
This HaBO is from Shannon, who is trying to track down one of the first romances she read:
This is everything I remember about one of the first romance novels I read sometime in the late 80s or early 90s and have not been able to find again.
It may have been in a Reader’s Digest condensed book. My grandparents had a stack of them and I’m sure no one thought anything about me reading them at 10 or 12, but it was quite an enlightening education.
East coast elite set during the late 1800s? The Comstock birth control laws play a large part. Two female doctors. One is named Sybil and is killed at some point. The other one marries rich man for unknown reasons (maybe he got her pregnant?). There was maybe a secondary male character named Nevada?
Rich man doesn’t want female doctor working when she is his wife. There is one scene where he let her have an office in their house, but had turned it back into a regular room without consulting her. Random scene of condoms being smuggled in a bustle from Europe. I learned what a “prophylactic” was from that.
Eventually the female doctor and rich dude husband make up and the final scene is them leaving for Europe to escape Anthony Comstock persecuting her for providing condoms and birth control advice. They leave by yacht while a decoy is in their private railcar and carriage that left the house while it was being watched.
I can remember specific descriptions, but not something useful like a main character name. I thought it might be an author like Colleen McCullough or Belva Plain, but I can’t match anything.
Wow, that is a lot.