What a Young Girl Ought to Know, by Mary Wood-Allen, Part One

First in the files is What a Young Girl Ought to Know by Mary Wood-Allen. Apparently, Ms. Wood-Allen was a doctor, which is quite a feat for a woman of her time. The publication date on this is 1905.


We begin with “Commendations from Eminent Men and Women,” consisting of a few pages of portraits with “reviews” of this title beneath them. Miss F.E. Willard, of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a stern, forbidding looking woman, hopes that this book will “be widely read by the dear girls in their teens and the young women in their homes.” Mrs. Stevenson, also of the W.C.T.U. finds this book to be “as healthy as a breeze from a mountaintop.” The pages following these show several more women (and a few men) praising the book and hoping that it will help open the lines of communication about such matters between mothers and daughters.


The next page is blank, which usually signifies the beginning of the actual work, but in this case, we have MORE recommendations from people, sans pictures this time. It seems as if Dr. Wood-Allen felt she had to add everyone’s review in order to bolster her work, instead of relying upon its own merits. Of note in these next pages: a Professor Earl Barnes of London, likening the book to a “tonic” (without the gin) for young girls.


Two blank pages more, and here we have a picture of the doctor herself, Mary Wood-Allen. She seems like a grandmotherly type, with gray hair in a severe twist. Her choice of dress is unfortunate, with copious ruffles and an ill-placed, fussy scarf that looks like it would eat her.

Mary Wood-Allen

Apparently, this version is the “New Revised Edition,” as shown on the facing page,wherein Dr. Wood-Allen extols her previous works, including “Marvels of Our Bodily Dwelling.” It also notes that this book was published by the Vir Publishing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which, from a cursory Google search, appears to have been the pusher of etiquette books and other related genres of the time.

Now, we have a dedication, which for some reason is formatted to resemble an inverted pyramid. The book is dedicated to “the thousands of girls whose honest inquiries concerning the origin of life and being deserve such a truthful, intelligent and satisfactory answer as will save them from ignorance, enable them to avoid vice, and deliver them from solitary and social sins.”


That sounds like an extremely lofty goal, Wood-Allen. Are you sure a woman is up to the task?


A very long, detailed table of contents follows, as one sees in older books, wherein a truncated outline is typed up for each chapter. I have just realized that this book is over 200 pages.


Ooh, perhaps we shall begin now? No, here is a preface. Dr. Wood-Allen pontificates on life, existence, and death, but in short, succinct sentences. “I am here. Was I always here?” Children are naturally curious. “And if they [queries about birth] are the result of observations of processes which cannot be kept hidden from the child,” well, then, I guess you have to tell them something. I assume the “processes” the author meant were watching farm animals in the act, but perhaps there were some children who saw their parents goin’ for yet another baby. That must have been supremely embarrassing.


Dr. Wood-Allen is a bit ahead of her time, perhaps, in saying that “ignorance and innocence are not synonymous,” that children can know of such things without being tainted. She reassures mothers that these books (there is a series) are the answer to their dilemma, with each book geared toward a specific age group. No reading ahead allowed!


With that out of the way, we have the introduction, wherein we meet a young girl named Nina who is on her way home after visiting her aunt for two weeks. Nina is surprised not to see her mother waiting for her upon her arrival home. Her mother is in her room, and shows Nina her new brother. The typical conversation ensues – “Where did it come from?” “All babies are beautiful.” blah bling blah, with Nina’s mother promising that when she is feeling better, they will resume their twilight talks again.


This is the format for the entire book, broken into chapters headed with “Twilight Talk #?” and it assumes the conversational tone of a mother to her daughter.


Twilight Talk I. “How do people come into the world?” Nina’s mother natters about how the baby brother wasn’t there a few weeks ago, and now he is, and so it goes with other people. Then she mentions Adam and Eve, and God’s plan for people, and mentions again about how people come into the world, as if that will be the next topic of discussion.


Instead, the monologue turns to organic and inorganic matter. Inorganic objects, such as rocks, don’t have life, but organic objects do. And now we have talk of grass and trees, and flowers, and if this was how my mother told me about sexual matters I would be like, “Um, yeah, I’m gonna go find a better book.” Of course, I’m being flippant, as there really WASN’T a better book, which is why Wood-Allen wrote this one. “We can make gardens, farms and parks at our pleasure” is the last sentence of this twilight talk, after a wind up about how God gave us seeds, and each seed does its own thing, and isn’t that wonderful?


Twilight Talk II. More about plants and the actual growing patterns of them. Because that’s SO MUCH how people reproduce. “Oak trees are strong, tough and durable” and aren’t you glad that Mother is telling you this? From this chapter, you can tell what kind of Christian Dr. Wood-Allen is, as she sees God not as a “tyrant who says everyone must do everything just a certain way, but like a kind parent.” Obviously she eschewed the fire-and-brimstone pulpits in favor of kindliness, or maybe she just didn’t want to scare children. Also, sweeping and dusting and placing the furniture cultivates your mind.

the more you know


Filed under sex ed books

7 responses to “What a Young Girl Ought to Know, by Mary Wood-Allen, Part One

  1. colleen thistle

    I have an edition if this book that belonged to my grandmother. It was copied righted in 1897 and printed in 1905. I would like to sell this book. It is in good condition. Do you know of anyone who would like to buy it?

  2. I would like to buy it. Email me through my website. Let me know how much you want.

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