“It is a great mistake to allow the girl to attend lectures …”

Remember the Ladies’ Handbook of Home Treatment? It’s baaaack!

For Teh Portly Dyke, I present: “On The Threshold of Womanhood: Puberty, or Adolescence”. A careful explanation of a mother’s responsibility to guide and manage her daughter’s fragile pubertal state, so that she may be properly transformed into a useful, submissive, God-fearing housework and baby machine.

Bold is mine.


That short period in a girl’s life which forms the connecting link between childhood and womanhood is often spoken of as the time of puberty, or adolescence. These words are both derived from Latin words which mean growing, developing, maturing.

The period of puberty is characterised by various changes both physical and mental – changes which are likely to bewilder the young girl who is untaught as to their true significance. During this time the true mother will watch her daughter’s development with loving interest, striving to guide the young feet safely over the threshold from childhood into the realm of womanhood. Happy is the mother who has retained her daughter’s confidence from earliest childhood. The mother who has frankly and wisely answered all the little girl’s puzzling questions can now lovingly and discreetly explain to the growing girl the mysterious changes that are taking place within her. Happy is such a mother; safe is her daughter.

The change from girlhood to womanhood comes about so naturally and gradually that ofttimes the mother is surprised by the realisation of the fact that her little girl is at last a woman. Before noticing the changes which characterise puberty, let us consider the significant of this period of development. While the child simply grows into the woman, the woman is not merely a grown-up child. She has within her new powers and possibilities which were wholly absent during childhood. As the girl develops into womanhood, no new bodily organs are acquired, but certain organs which before were quiescent now develop and become functionally active. During childhood the active organs are those which are necessary to the preservation of life – the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and excretory organs – these all being controlled and directed in their work by the nervous system. Then there comes a time when the organs necessary not for the preservation of life but for the reproduction of life, develop and become active. When this development of the reproductive organs is complete, the girl is no longer a child, but a woman. It is now possible for her to become a mother, to be a partner in the production of a new life.

Let us notice the changes which accompany the development of the reproductive organs, the first and most marked of which are perhaps the physical changes. The girl’s form becomes more womanly; she grows taller, the chest broadens, and the breasts become full and firm. There is also a broadening of the hips, while the limbs grow more round and graceful. The girl’s face changes; new beauty is acquired; the lips grow more full and rosy, the eyes more bright. While these various outward changes are occurring, the reproductive organs, the womb and ovaries, are developing and taking on new activities. The external genital organs also increase in size, and become covered with hair.

In some cases the mental changes accompanying puberty are scarcely less marked than the physical. A girl who has previously been bright and active may for a time seem dull and indifferent; one who was warm-hearted and loving may become reserved and even irritable; one who before revelled in childish sports may now become dreamy and sentimental, preferring a book of fiction to a game requiring physical exertion. These and many other changes may become more or less marked.

It may seem to the casual on-looker that there is no adequate explanation of all these changes; but to the close observer it is not so. The awakening of the girl’s reproductive system for a little time disturbs her whole vital economy. The rapid development of the womb and ovaries, together with the marked growth of the body, makes a considerable drain upon the vital resources, and especially upon the nervous system. This is shown in the feelings of fatigue, lassitude, and nervous irritability so often complained of by the growing girl.

After a period of time, varying from a few months to one or more years, the development of the reproductive organs is complete, the menstrual periods are established, and the girl, if all has progressed normally, gradually becomes herself again. But she is now more womanly, having passed childhood and entered into the realm of womanhood with its increased capacity for joy and usefulness.

THE CARE OF THE GROWING GIRL’S HEALTH — Whether or not the young girl is to become a strong, beautiful, useful woman depends to a great extent upon how she passes through the trying period of puberty. It therefore devolves upon the mother or the adviser of the girl to instruct her carefully concerning the care of her health during this time. The growing girl should also be surrounded with the most favourable influences possible. We may outline the duty of the mother or responsible person as follows: –

1. As the mother sees in her daughter the signs of approaching puberty, she should early find an opportunity of talking with her confidentially. If she has held the confidence of her daughter from childhood, she will experience no embarrassment in speaking to her of these things. But if, as is the case with many mothers, she has allowed her daughter to drift away from her, it will take some courage now to speak to her. But speak she must if she wishes to regain the confidence of her child. If necessary, she may call to her aid the help of some good book which deals with these matters in a pure and simple manner. A mother may often place a good book in the hands of her daughter when for some unexplainable reason she shrinks from speaking to her. The book may thus serve as a link to bring the mother and child together again. The physician is frequently consulted by woman who have been life-long invalids because as young girls they were kept in deplorable ignorance concerning themselves and the care of their health during the trying time of puberty. We hold that the mothers of such girls have much to account for in that they have withheld from their daughters knowledge which they as mothers were eminently qualified to give.

2. The mother should see that her daughter is provided with wholesome, appetising food. During puberty a tremendous demand is made upon the girl’s physical resources. This demand cannot be met unless the girl partakes of nourishing food. Unfortunately, at this time her appetite often becomes variable, and special effort must be made by the mother to see that while the food provided is wholesome, it is also appetising and attractively served. The diet at this time should consist largely of well-cooked cereals, nuts, fruits, the finer vegetables, and dairy products. Eggs should be used sparingly, and tea, coffee, and other nerve stimulants should be excluded from the diet.

3. The mother should see that her daughter has an ample supply of fresh air both day and night. The girl should not be allowed to work in a shop, office, or in any place where she will be deprived of daylight and fresh air. To work under such conditions is always bad, but it is particularly so at the time of puberty. The girl’s sleeping-room should always be well ventilated, or better still, she should sleep on a balcony or verandah in the open air.

4. The growing girl must be provided with clothing that will in no way hinder the proper development of her body. As this subject is one of great importance, it will be considered at length in the following chapter.

5. The girl must be encourage to take a proper amount of suitable exercise. While she should be carefully guarded against over-fatigue, light exercise will be found conducive both to her health and happiness. Light household duties will afford admirable exercise, while their performance will furnish the young woman with knowledge which will be invaluable to her if she is ever the mistress of a home.

6. The mother should carefully supervise her daughter’s reading. While the young woman need not be strictly confined to scientific or religious literature, she certainly should not be allowed to read whatever she chooses. Girls often acquire a great fondness for fiction. If allowed to indulge in this class of reading, the soon lose their interest in books which elevate the mind and ennoble the character; they become the victims of a sickly sentimentality which disqualifies them for the responsibilities and realities of life. More than one girl has been brought to ruin through the pernicious effects of novel-reading.

7. During the period of puberty the growing girl should have an abundance of rest and sleep. The great drain made upon the body resources at this time renders this necessary. It is a great mistake to allow the girl to attend lectures or any form of evening entertainment which would interfere with her retiring at an early hour.

8. The mother should faithfully instruct her young daughter in the care of her health during the monthly periods. This instruction should include the following:

When the menstrual discharge appears for the first time, the girl should be shown just how to arrange her clothing. The napkin should be attached not to a tape or narrow band fastened tightly around the waist, but to a wide band which is fastened around the lower part of the abdomen just below the level of the hips, or better still to a suspender which passes over the shoulders.

She should be taught to maintain strict personal cleanliness throughout the period by changing her napkins as soon as it is much soiled, and by cleansing the person with warm water each time the napkin is changed. Some women make themselves quite offensive at the monthly period by neglecting personal cleanliness through fear of catching cold, or of arresting the menstrual discharge. There is no possible danger of harm resulting from the free use of warm water during this time.

She should be instructed to avoid cold baths, either general or local, during the monthly period. As a rule, a woman cannot react to cold applications so readily during menstruation as at other times, and for this reason she is likely to suffer ill-results from cold bathing. There are strong women who can with impunity continue the daily cold bath regardless of the periods, but as these cases are exceptional it is best to follow the instruction given above. There is no reason why a woman should not bathe with warm or tepid water during menstruation; but either cold or very hot water may disturb the course of the menstrual discharge.

She should be impressed with the importance of keeping the feet warm and dry during menstruation. Young girls are very likely to be careless about this matter, as they do not properly realise its importance. Physicians are frequently consulted by women who each month suffer great pain, and from no greater cause than habitual cold feet. During cold weather the feet should always be warmly clothed, but especially so during menstruation. If the shoes and stockings get wet, they should be changed for dry ones as soon as possible. It is a simple matter to exchange wet boots for dry ones, but it is not so easy a matter to cure the serious inflammation of the womb which may result from a neglect of this precaution during the menstrual period.

She should be urge to avoid excessive exercise during menstruation, especially running, dancing, bicycle riding, and in some cases even the use of the sewing machine. Light exercise during the monthly period is not incompatible with health, and it is always best that the girls mind be pleasantly but usefully employed.

She should be taught the importance of giving due attention to the condition of the bowels. Temporary constipation during menstruation is not uncommon in young girls, and care must be taken to prevent its continuing through the month.

She should be encouraged to overcome the feelings of depression or nervous irritability which so frequently accompany menstruation. Hundreds of girls and women suffer from an attack of the “blues” at each monthly period. If only girls could remember that to feel depressed during menstruation is so common as to be almost universal among civilised women, it might help them to take a brighter view of the world at these times.


Categories: gender & feminism, history

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7 replies

  1. More than one girl has been brought to ruin through the pernicious effects of novel-reading.
    Alas, its true. If I hadn’t spent so much of my youth reading novels, I’d probably be a genteel mother of five with an impeccable house in the country, rather than the childless housework-hating suburb-living science (and SF)-loving woman I turned out to be. Oh well, too late to change now.
    Peggy’s last blog post..Women Barefoot Engineers

  2. I haven’t been ensuring that my feet are warm and dry during menstruation! No wonder I’m a wreck.
    (Of course, they are usually dry enough, but I’ll have to break out the fluffy socks, obviously.)

  3. I tried sleeping on the verandah once, in the middle of summer. It was awful. I think I lasted an hour.

  4. Peggy: I think you have hit on something, there! I don’t think any of the novel-addicted teenage girls I knew have turned out to be useful, obedient domestic slaves. The correlation is indisputable.
    Plus, love your blog.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..?It is a great mistake to allow the girl to attend lectures ??

  5. ‘More than one girl has been brought to ruin through the pernicious effects of novel-reading.’
    Did this make anyone else think of Northanger Abbey? But I fear that occurs to me only because I have read too many novels.
    Kirsten’s last blog post..Death by essay.

  6. and in some cases even the use of the sewing machine.

    For those who have forgotten, the old sewing machines were pedal powered.

  7. For those who have forgotten, the old sewing machines were pedal powered.

    Or powered with a handwheel – I used one of these myself to sew as a teenager. (NO, I’m not that old!) Either way, (a) they’re not particularly hard work, and (b) of course, menstruating women can do hard work without hazard to their physical and mental health in perpetuity.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Re-victimisation for fun and profit: more Goliath, less David

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