Weird Words of Wisdom: Attending to Our Bodily Housekeeping Edition

“Many girls feel that it is more delicate to neglect the care of the bowels than to attend to a daily evacuation, but if they would remember that it is just as indelicate to carry effete or dead matter around in the bowels as it would be to carry it upon the person in any other way, they would realize that it was only politeness and refinement to see that this part of their bodily housekeeping was attended to.”

What a Young Woman Ought to Know, 1913
By Mary Wood-Allen

Today, I would love to blog about a book with a Halloween theme. Unfortunately, Vincent Price never wrote an advice book for teens. (He did, however, write a cookbook.) So, the scariest thing that we can do is travel a century into the past to see what the day’s leading authorities were telling girls.

About this Book and Its Author: Born in 1841, Dr. Mary Wood-Allen was a physician and the World Superintendent of the Purity Department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (isn’t that an imposing-sounding title?). She was a leading light of the social purity movement in late 19th and early 20th century America, and wrote many books advising girls and women about sexuality and health. Though her views seem far removed from today’s feminist thought, many feminists of her era supported the social purity cause. Social purists believed in giving young women information about sexuality (though they usually did so in an oblique way—they popularized “the birds and the bees” method of explaining reproduction). They also attacked the prevailing double standard that demanded purity from women but found it acceptable for men to visit prostitutes. Their alternative to the double standard was imposing Victorian standards of purity on both sexes.

Wood-Allen was in great demand as a lecturer, as an interesting biographical sketch from 1897 shows:

“At present Dr. Allen has her home in Toledo, Ohio, whence she goes forth into the lecture field. Glorious as has been her work for temperance, that which she has done, and is doing, for social purity is more beautiful. Upon this subject, so difficult to handle, she has spoken Sabbath evenings in many pulpits, and has received the unqualified praise of such noted clergymen as Dr. Heber Newton, Dr. Theodore Cuyler and Dr. Pentecost in the East, and Dr. McLean upon the Pacific coast. She manifests a peculiar fitness for giving wise counsel to girls, and has done acceptable work in this line in schools and colleges. During several winters, by invitation of Miss Grace Dodge, she has spoken to the Working Girl’s Clubs of New York City…Her mission in the work of reform and philanthropy demands a peculiar talent which she possesses in an unusual degree; a scientific education which enables her to speak with authority ; a winning presence ; a musical voice which makes itself heard in the largest building with no apparent effort, and which by its sympathetic quality arrests attention and touches the heart, while her words appeal to the reason, and a gentle womanly manner which converts the most pronounced opposer of woman’s public work. To those who hear her on the platform or in the pulpit, she is a living voice, alluring her hearers to lives of truth and purity, and to those who know her personally she is a sweet womanly presence, the embodiment of those graces which are the power in the home.”

Wood-Allen cites the views of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg several times in this book, and her general views on health seem to accord well with his: Enemas are good, coffee is bad, and “self-abuse” is a dire threat to physical and mental health.

Quotes from What a Young Woman Ought to Know

“The influence of tight clothing upon the pelvic organs is to displace them and create a great many difficulties which we know as ‘Female Diseases.’”

“If you waken unrefreshed (after a night’s sleep), I should want to inquire into your habits of life. Was there opportunity for fresh air to enter your room? Was there in it no uncovered vessel, no old shoes in the closet, no soiled underclothing, nothing that could contaminate the atmosphere? Did you eat a hearty supper late in the evening? Is your system oppressed with a superabundance of sweets?”

“Dancing is a most fascinating amusement, and if it only could be conducted under proper circumstances, it would be very delightful. In itself it is not so objectionable as in its concomitants; the late hours, the improper dressing, the hearty suppers in the middle of the night, the promiscuous association, and the undue familiarity of the attitude of the round dance are what make dancing objectionable.”

“I would like to call your attention to the great evil of romance-reading, both in the production of premature development and in the creation of morbid mental states which will tend to the production of physical evils, such as nervousness, hysteria, and a host of maladies which largely depend on disturbed nerves.”

“The modern play concerns itself principally with a delineation of those phases of life which we condemn when they become reality, and the teaching power of the stage becomes a lesson in wrongdoing which to the young and inexperienced is potent in its suggestiveness.”

On card playing: “The young woman who respects her own intellectual and moral powers will see little charm in manipulating cards in a way to gain a momentary success over another and perhaps arousing unkind feelings, it may be even passions, that may culminate in bloodshed.”

“When girls are so sentimentally fond of each other that they are like silly lovers when together, and weep over each other’s absence in uncontrollable agony, the conditions are serious enough for the consultation of a physician. It is an abnormal state of affairs, and if probed thoroughly, might be found to be a sort of perversion, a sex mania, needing immediate and perhaps severe measures.”

“A young husband exacted of his bride a promise that she would never take a glass of wine except in his company, and when asked the reason, replied that he knew that no woman’s judgment was to be trusted after taking one glass of wine.”

“…the daughter of drunken parents, very often attractive to some men by reason of their excitable, vivacious, neurotic manner, should be carefully avoided by young men in search of wives.”

“Idiocy and inebriety are on the increase among civilized peoples.”

“…while in the human being the procreative act does not kill, it exhausts, and no doubt takes from the vital force of those exercising it. One can feel justified to lose a part of her own life if she is conferring life upon others, but to indulge in such a waste of vital force merely for pleasure is certainly never excusable…”

“A young man may assure you most emphatically that he respects you none the less, although you allow him to hold your hand, or kiss you at parting, but he knows it is not true, and he will admit it to others rather than to the girl herself.”

“…in wedded life, all that is lasting in affection, in tender courtesy, in most intimate companionship, in sweetest demonstration, is possible without the physical union, which in itself is the most transitory of pleasures, but which in unlimited indulgence becomes the most domineering of passions, exhaustive of physical powers and of mental vigor, and absolutely annihilating all true love.”

What a Young Woman Ought to Know is so full of weirdness that you might want to read the whole thing. It’s in the public domain and available for free.

Read the whole Weird Words of Wisdom series.