“Strange emotions set the young heart throbbing and mayhap seeking for a mate.”

More on Vitalogy later; for now, I thought I’d introduce you to the Ladies’ Handbook of Home Treatment, which I’ll feature more excerpts from as time goes on. (Note the new tag – “old books”).

The Ladies’ Handbook was published in 1905 in Melbourne. It’s a 787-page tome in the vein of similar “Home Treatment” handbooks, but aimed specifically at Ladies. You guessed it – it’s all about marriage, babies, and lady parts. The title page describes the book thus:

“The Ladies’ Medical Advisor. Invaluable for Mothers and Mothers-to-be. Containing the best modern methods for treatment of women’s and children’s diseases, with a comprehensive index of symptoms.”

But as is the custom for books of the time, F.C. Richards and Eulalia Richards just couldn’t restrain themselves from offering a little non-medical advice: on marriage, sex, the proper ways in which a young lady should conduct herself, the dire consequences of not conducting oneself in a proper manner, and Godly living in general.

The opening anatomy plates set the scene: this is what a Proper Lady looks like. After The Skeleton, The Muscles, The Nervous System and The Circulatory System comes The Internal Organs. Spot the difference from traditional anatomy texts:

The chapter headings sum up the scope and focus of respectable womanly life in 1905:

The Founding Of A Home
Making Marriage A Success
Outside The Marriage Circle
Sex Physiology and Hygiene
The Beginning Of A New Life
Care Of The Mother-To-Be
The Ailments of Pregnancy
The Care of the Infant
Feeding the Baby
Affections of the Newly Born
The Digestive Disorders of Infancy
The Healthy Child
Diseases of the Chest (then Heart, Urinary and Genital Organs, Nervous System, Skin, Nose Throat and Ear, Eye)
Simple Treatments
The Infectious Diseases of Childhood
Tuberculosis (Consumption)
On the Threshold of Womanhood
Dress and its Relation to Health
Menstruation (Monthly Flow)
Diseases of the External Genitals (then Vagina, Womb, Ovaries and Fallopian Tubes, Bowel, and Breasts)
The Change of Life, or Menopause

I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the first chapter – more of this tomorrow. And I’m happy to listen to requests on which chapter you’d like to hear from next!

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, health, history, Life, relationships

Tags: , ,

23 replies

  1. oh my god! it’s The Uterus That Ate The Intestines And Kidneys! run for your liiiiife!
    i, for one, would love to hear about “dress and its relation to health.” is that like, “if you don’t wear a scarf you’ll get the flu,” or is it more like “if you dress like a floozy you’ll end up like the masturbation-crazed vitalogy dude”?

  2. Since I am 50-something and live in Texas where having a hot flash in 100-plus degree heat Farenheit is a real treat, talk to me about “The Change of Life, or Menopause”.

  3. Glad that there’s no external access to the internal organs – that would be disgusting. I agree that ‘Dress and its Relation to Health’ sounds like it could be interesting. ‘Sex Physiology and Hygiene’ sounds worryingly intriguing.

  4. And no doubt there will be some gems in the sex physiology and hygiene section too. But you can always just thumb through it and post whatever looks good. I love these old books.

  5. I definitely want “On The Threshold of Womanhood”.
    I also want a uterus that big. I could stop carrying a purse.

  6. Oh yes – can’t show a non-pregnant uterus at its normal size now, could we? If we did that, it might not look like the most important organ.

  7. Possible caption for the anatomy picture: No external genitalia for you, young missy… That would be indecent! Also: Remember, domesticated females, that your uterus is your only reason for living.
    (Btw, did you check out the IBMP’s “exciting updates” yet? Veeeeeeeery interesting. I’d love to dialogue with you about it, but I’m still not sure if the [redacted] email account is yours. Now the IBMP’s goal is to: “…improve access to health care and nutrition for infants in impoverished nations.” Funny, I don’t think that was the goal before; their goals seem to change. I thought before it was, “to ensure that not one drop of breast milk is wasted.” Or something. I smell a big publicity stunt coming up… Stay tuned…)

  8. Personally I’m dying to hear about Making Marriage A Success and Outside The Marriage Circle (perhaps this refers to steamy affairs??)

  9. Is there much information available on what society was like in 1905 – the context in which this was made?

  10. Question: Where is her vulva?

    Answer: The giant uterus swallowed it.

  11. Paul W: one of the reasons I’m blogging this stuff is as a glimpse into what domestic life was like, the codification of advice was passed from mother to daughter.
    Men’s working life is well documented; women’s working life, much less so. And when we do hear about “women in history”, it tends to be a an acknowledgement of outliers – activists, suffragettes, rebels, those who stepped outside of the box; other women are invisible. For a little context, here’s one potted history of the period:
    ”Sex, class and the road to women’s suffrage”
    You might find these suffrage pamphlets interesting too.

  12. I think you’re right that history tends to focus on those small percentage that were “modernish” or protested the system – the 90 percent that lived with the corsets and satin and lace and conformed to their culture don’t get talked aboout or are treated as “weak” and as people to be ashamed of which does them a great disservice i would say.
    It was interesting to learn that corsets were largely enforced by mothers – my great-grandmother would have been kept in corsets etc regularly by her mother – you saw similar things in old China where it was the mothers who did the foot-binding.

  13. Women have ever taught their daughters how to survive within the patriarchy.
    Framing this as the mothers being the ones enforcing painful, restrictive, expensive beauty rituals erases the actual source of women’s and girls’ oppression.

  14. Well, traditional history always overlooks the commonplace in favour of the unusual: famous individuals are famous for doing something extraordinary, whether men or women. It’s just that opportunities were historically so constrained for women that simply deciding not to get married when one was highly eligible was enough to make a woman famous (or notorious) in some circumstances.
    As for corsets and foot-binding, most cultures seem to have some essential beauty ritual without which young women will be deemed unmarriageable. The peculiarities of beauty rituals vary from culture to culture, but they are invariably time-consuming and expensive, and often painful to boot (one notes pragmatically that these practises consume time and resources for women that could otherwise be used pursuing self-sovereignty). Ensuring that daughters are marketable in pre-industrial and pre-consumerist societies is always delegated to the mother, so it’s not surprising that it’s mothers who enforce the beauty norms, just as contemporary mothers enforce the beauty rituals of today (even though young women usually find their own husbands in consumerist societies).

  15. Comments crossed, Lauredhel.

  16. I didn’t mean to be offensive in any way – it just struck me as interesting when i read that it was the mothers who enforced it – i didn’t know the bigger picture. I’m physically disabled so i have my own problems with discrimination and society at large.

  17. The way that the human hierarchy encourages those in the lower ranks to enforce their own oppression is indeed fascinating, Paul.

  18. Comments crossed, Lauredhel.

    S’ok, you explained it better anyhow. I was doing a quick soundbite on my way to school pickup.

  19. Ah, LOLfeeds always makes me laugh. See what it did with these two thread titles:


  1. “The sensible maiden will, like the wise virgin, fill her lamp with oil before the bridegroom cometh.” at Hoyden About Town
  2. Fish-wives, savages and the curse of Eve at Hoyden About Town
  3. “Let us remember that we are not our own.” at Hoyden About Town
  4. Calling for votes at Hoyden About Town
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