Chapter 2 – The female organs leave us ripe for various and sundry complaints. He’s especially concerned with married and pregnant women, because these disorders trend to crop up in them more often. I think he’s not concerned with young unmarried women because they don’t yet serve a purpose. Their lady parts have not yet been manhandled.
Any inflammation of these parts can lead to suppuration, or pus. Sometimes, the labia can become gangrenous. I researched this, and whilst it occurs in many books of this time period, it is actually pretty rare in this day and age, which leads me to believe they were referring to something else. Like genital herpes.
A little bit of swelling sometimes occurs, and when it is itchy, is scratched, which leads to further irritation. The doctor claims that this tends to be more prevalent in those who do not bathe or wash during their menstrual cycle. He advises to wash the parts daily with warm water, especially after the flow is ceased, or if there is unusual discharge, or fluor ablus – white vaginal discharge, essentially. This is where I decide not to read any of this book whilst eating.
Now, the good doctor claims that the external parts are more likely to develop tumors, especially the labia minora, or nymphae, as they’re referred to throughout this book. This is especially likely when they extend outside the outer labia. Yes, but are they longer than a spaniel’s ears?
When the nymphae, or labia minora, become enlarged, they sometimes are studded with painful lesions. Yup, gotta be genital warts. The patient should rest, and be purged, or leeched, if it is suspected that the blood has been involved. Here’s a new thing we haven’t seen: the affected part should be subjected to a soft bread and milk poultice, at least every three to four hours, especially in warmer weather. Apparently, even today, some people swear by this old-wives remedy. I will be honest and tell you, reader, that I had never heard about it until now.
When all else fails, try mercury! However, nothing works better, sayeth the good doctor, than keeping the parts dry and exposed to the air. Wha? It’s obvious that they had no idea that herpes goes away and recurs of its own accord. Prepared chalk helps draw out the moisture, too, apparently, as he relates in the case of a woman who had been given venereal disease by her husband. Wait, so they knew it was sexually transmitted? It appears that he knows this and mentions it at times, but not at others. Hmm. Perhaps they were unaware that the “warty tumors” were part and parcel of the same “venereal disease.”
Sometimes, these tumors need to be surgically removed, and it’s all perfectly safe. Even removing the labia minora is of no consequence, as no large blood vessels are involved. The Bosjesman (Bushman) women have labia minora that extend several inches, if the words of travelers are to be believed, he writes. And here we have a reference to female circumcision, from Abyssinia and Egypt. He treats it as no consequence, but come on, it obviously is very painful. However, women give birth, so this is NOTHING.
Dr. Dewees occasionally sees cancer affecting the clitoris, which is generally hopeless, unless the entirety can be removed. It was thought to be caused by the pleasure derived from rubbing or scratching at the area, and this, according to a Mr. Churchill (who wrote another book on midwifery a decade or so prior), is what leads to nymphomania. “The frequent mention of this complaint,” responds Dr. Dewees, “has induced me to the belief, that it is no uncommon occurrence in both Great Britain and France, but which is surely not the case in this country.” Of course not, because only European women would be so depraved as to seek their own pleasure.
There are no such thing as hermaphrodites, by the way; the doctor says so. It’s just a really enlarged clitoris that resembles a baby penis. Hermaphrodites are impossible. Even though they have been seen in other mammals, that doesn’t mean that they are real!
In very young children, it is sometimes found that the labia minora are adhered together. They might have been born like that, but the doctor is more inclined to believe it occurs from a want of cleanliness in that particular area. Especially in “fat or lusty” children. I think he’s saying they’re too lazy to wash their pudenda properly. Or perhaps no one ever taught them. If their mothers are adverse to using warm water on their vaginas . . .
The child’s private areas should be throughly cleansed, then dried, and dusted with hair powder. All of this will ensure that the parts become “hardened” against much disease from early infancy. Apparently, adhesions of the labia minora still occur today, and for the same causes. Then, as now, it can become a serious problem when urine, and later in life, menstrual fluid, cannot pass through the aperture. The parts then need to be divided by hand, with a bistoury, or a long, narrow surgical knife just made for these types of incisions. Then, a small portion of lint moistened with “sweet oil” was put between the two lips, and left alone to heal, usually in two to three days.
This sounds rather painful, but it seems a bit better than a Dr. Denman’s way of doing things, which involves a more, shall we say, “hands-on” approach. He advocates taking a labial lip in each hand and pulling them apart. Dr. Dewees, the author of this book, basically says in response that, while Denman is a respected personage in his field, this methoid is not one that he, personally, would advocate. Good to know that not everyone was TOTALLY insane back then.
This book is getting pretty painful to read, and impossible to make amusing, as I cannot help imagining all of this stuff and it’s making me exhale audibly and wonder how anyone made it to an age to procreate.
If the patient was in considerable pain, laudanum was given. The doctor says, however, that this does not always ensure rest. No, but more than likely, you helped addict that person to opiates.
Pregnant women in this time period had so much more to fear. Not just from the obvious. If it should have happen that they developed edema, so much so that their labia were involved, doctors were advised to do a little blood-letting, and if that and the “nitre” (presumably potassium nitrate) didn’t ease the swelling, they were to do some puncturing, on the “inside face.” Great, right where the baby will touch! Not only that, but bed rest and little food were prescribed.
During this time period, there was actually a debate about whether the hymen existed. Because some doctors could not find it in patients when they were actively searching for it. Dr. Dewees relates several instances where patients had hymens that were imperforate, leading to an inability of the menstrual blood to evacuate the body, This led to pregnancy-like symptoms in these females, until incisions were made to let the fluid flow freely. Which, they were starting to slowly come to the realization at this point, was not like regular blood.
Women sometimes have itchy pudenda, and scratch away at it. They had no idea why this happened. The yeast beast had been found, but not yet correctly named. He advised washing the exterior of the ladyparts with borax, and then washing the interior with the assistance of a syringe. He found that this worked in many cases, but also relates a case wherein he had to apply LEECHES to the affected area, and administer lime-water, as well. An ammonia douche was also sometimes helpful, especially in pregnant women with candida.
Do not confuse the scratching for relief from yeast infections with masturbation, or furor uterinus. For that is just lascivious desire, and has nothing to do with the other condition. I think Dr. Howe would disagree with you there!