Rising damp of the womb: more Ladies’ Handbook

Further to “Fish-wives, savages and the curse of Eve”, and “So in studying the human figure we must have a standard of grace and beauty with which to compare the abnormal figure.” I bring you part 3 of “Dress and its Relation to Health”, from the Ladies’ Handbook of Home Treatment, Melbourne, 1905.

Ladies Handbook of Home Treatment book cover



The amount and nature of the clothing worn at any given time should depend largely upon the state of the weather. As little clothing as possible should be worn in hot weather, and if any portion of the body may with propriety be uncovered, let it be so. But in cold weather great care should be taken to see that all parts of the body are maintained at an equal temperature.

During the winter season a large number of women suffer constantly from cold hands and feet. This is regarded by many as merely an uncomfortable condition, whereas in reality it is a much more serious matter. In order to understand fully the significance of cold extremities, it will be necessary to inquire into the arrangement of the circulatory apparatus. The accompanying diagram simplifies the matter somewhat. (See Plate XII).

Blood Circulation. The uterus is prominent and is the only internal organ that features.

It will be seen that the large arteries which supply the lower extremities with blood send also large branches to supply the womb and other pelvic structures. Now, if the feet are chilled through insufficient clothing or exposure to dampness, the arteries in these parts are contracted, and the blood is dammed back upon the branch arteries in the womb and pelvis. The result is either an acute or a chronic congestion of these internal parts; acute if the chilling of the limbs is only temporary, chronic if the feet are usually cold.

The question may arise in the minds of some, If chilling of the feet produces internal congestion, why are cold applications so frequently made to the limbs in the treatment of disease? The explanation is simple. The primary effect of cold upon surface blood-vessels is to contract of partially close them, thus driving the blood back to the internal parts. But if the cold application be very brief, and if it be immediately followed by vigorous friction, reaction occurs which means a return of blood to the surface with a consequent glow of warmth. If, however, the application of cold be long continued, reaction does not occur, and the internal congestion is inevitable. While the primary effect of cold upon the skin is to close the surface vessels, the first effect of heat is to relax the skin vessels, thus bringing more blood to the surface. By applying this principle to the question in hand, we see that by keeping the limbs warm, internal congestions may be largely prevented, and that by applying heat to the lower extremities, internal congestion, if already present, may be greatly relieved.

It may be said in passing, that the lungs are in somewhat the same way related to the arms and chest surface, so that a chilling of these parts is likely to result in a congestion, or inflammation, of the lungs. It will be seen then from the foregoing that there is a scientific reason why women should dress their limbs warmly in cold weather.

Almost all women transgress in this matter, though perhaps ignorantly. The average woman in cold weather clothes the central part of the body excessively, while the extremities are but lightly covered. This is a reversal of the proper method. The arms and legs being small in circumference as compared with the body, and being also further removed from the centres of vitality, are much more easily chilled than the trunk. For this reason they should be more warmly clothed than other portions of the body. In conclusion, the woman who would clothe herself healthfully must during cold weather discard transparent yokes, short sleeves, thin stockings, and light, thin-soled shoes.


TIGHT COLLARS. — A tight collar is not only uncomfortable, it is positively harmful. Even slight pressure upon the large veins of the neck hinders the return flow of blood from the brain. As a result, the impure blood, which should return to the lungs to be purified, is dammed back upon the brain, producing a sense of dullness, and in many cases a congestive headache. That the headache is caused directly by the constriction of the neck vessels may in many cases be demonstrated by merely loosening or removing the collar. As soon as the pressure is removed, the blood flows freely, the brain clears, and the pain disappears.

OVER-CLOTHING THE NECK. — A mistake frequently made by delicate women is that of over-clothing the neck when going out in cold weather. In many cases the wearing of fur around the neck results in harm. The neck becomes overheated, and then when the fur is removed on entering the house, chilling results. Chronic inflammation of the tonsils, larynx, or even of the lungs has in many cases been wholly accounted for by the pernicious method of over-clothing the neck.

GARTERS. — The wearing of elastic bands around the legs either above or below the knee is one of the important factors in the causation of varicose veins. The large veins of the legs lie very close to the surface, so that even slight pressure may seriously retard the return of blood to the heart. If the blood is thus hindered in its onward course, the veins become greatly engorged, and finally weakened to such an extent that they are unable to support the column of blood. Chronic varicosity of the veins is the result. In addition to the usual discomfort, there is always an element of danger in varicose veins. A slight blow on the leg might rupture on of the enlarged veins, producing a serious hemorrhage, or a varicose ulcer might form, which would perhaps require months of even years for healing.

IMPROPER BOOTS AND SHOES. — The natural foot is a thing of grace and beauty, but the deformed foot of the average woman is anything but beautiful. The two most deforming features of the conventional shoe are the pointed toe and the high heel. A glance at the accompanying cuts will show how pointed-toe shoes crowd the toes together, producing corns, bunions, and ingrowing toe-nails. (See Fig. 106.)

Natural foot, and deformities caused by improper shoes

And not only this, but the pointed shoe greatly lessens the power of the foot by turning the toe out of line with the heel in a most unnatural fashion. Thus the body’s base of support is decidedly altered. Its centre of weight falls not upon the arch as it normally should do, but upon a point within the inner edge of the foot. The wearing of high heels only aggravates this condition. In order to balance the body, the foot is forced to turn more or less onto its inner side, an awkward gait and unnatural carriage resulting. As a result of this displacement of the body weight, the arch of the foot gradually weakens, growing constantly longer and less elastic until at last the condition called “flat-foot” results. A “flat-foot” is extremely ungraceful, painful, and inconvenient. It is usually necessary to have a metal arch fitted into the boot, or to undergo a surgical operation for the relief of this condition. If this condition becomes chronic, it is almost impossible to effect a perfect cure.


Next up, my favourite bit of this chapter, the prolonged scolding that is “OBJECTIONS WHICH ARE SOMETIMES OFFERED TO THE HEALTHFUL MODE OF DRESS”.

Categories: Culture, education, gender & feminism, health, history

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1 reply

  1. The anatomical drawings are fascinating… it’s as if the uterus is the only internal organ there! It is our only excuse for existing, after all.

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