Tag Archives: Women

Life – Psst, you stink!


Lifebuoy soap – good for both men and women, you say? Yes, but let’s look at how sexist this advert is. Ladies, if you don’t use Lifebuoy, you have B.O. and no man will want you. However, no woman says “Ew” about the tough beard stubble of the men in the bottom panels. Even though they SHOULD, because it’s rough and scratchy! Turn the tables, women; just say NO to five o’clock shadow.

—From Life magazine, February 15, 1937

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Women and Their Crazy Diseases, Part Eight

Chapter Eight – Of the Signs Which Usually Accompany Pregnancy. This is important information to know, not just because of the obvious, but also to tell if a woman is lying when she commits crimes and tries to escape prison or death by claims of being with child. Firstly, the menses are no longer present, but this is not always true, and cannot be relied upon as the sole condition, for other issues can cause the menstrual cycle to cease. Doctors were divided on whether or not a woman could be pregnant and still menstruate; some believed that this meant the woman would be sure to miscarry, as the menstrual blood must contain part of the ovum. Dewees did not believe this, however.

Nausea and vomiting are other signs, but not always apparent of pregnancy. The breasts become enlarged, as well as darkening around the nipples, but only in cases of the first pregnancy, as Dewees believe that the darkening could be due to nursing the child, or some other reason. The woman must expose her whole breast to the doctor, not just lift it up and out, as that sometimes irritates the skin and shows a sign that isn’t there. There might be milk production during pregnancy, although it sometimes does not begin until after. However, Dewees cautions against using this as the yardstick by which to measure pregnancy alone, for some women secrete milk that aren’t pregnant. He also heard of a man who could breastfeed. He also proved the innocence of a woman who wasn’t pregnant, but was accused of being so, solely because she was lactating.

During pregnancy the abdomen becomes enlarged, but again, that can also be due to other factors, such as an issue of the uterus. He cites an example from his own practice, wherein a mother contacted him for a second opinion about her young daughter. Her swollen abdomen was diagnosed as pregnancy by another doctor, who advised the mother to send her daughter to the country to hide her away. Not believing this to be the case, she sent for Dewees, who discovered that she was still a virgin, so it could not be true, it was probably just a case of “deranged menstruation.”

In addition to the abdomen, the uterus also becomes enlarged and also the navel juts out, but can also be due to other causes, as described above. Finally, the woman spits frothy mucus, and salivates a lot, which I thought was crazy, but apparently, is true.

Therefore, the only sure way to tell about pregnancy is to examine the woman and feel for the movement of the fetus. However, some women can move their abdominal muscles in such a way that they can mimic fetal movements. He then goes into a lengthy explanation of “quickening,” which is the period when the woman can actually sense the fetal movements inside her. This varies from woman to woman, and even pregnancy to pregnancy. He debunks a medical journalist named “Medicus” for quite a few pages, and it gets pretty jargony, so we shan’t go into it.

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Women and Their Crazy Diseases, Part Seven

In order to wash our brains from the peril that is Fifty Shades, let us go back to medical texts of yore, with Dr. Dewees and his Treatise on the Diseases of Females.

Chapter 7 – Of Menorrhagia. We take this to mean an abnormally heavy period. Dewees claims that this is different from the “regular” menstrual discharge, as this is actually blood, and that is, well, whatever that is. He posits that the menorrhagia is caused from different vessels than that which brings the menses, but in the end, it doesn’t matter, he says, because it still wouldn’t help fix it. If it all stems from the same place, that just makes it more confusing! Because once the menses are done, they’re done, right? Gardien disagrees with him. Dewees hopes that someday soon, they can figure it out and prescribe something to help these women.

Yet again, menorrhagia is blamed on many things – foot stoves, living in cities, drinking tea and coffee, and dancing too much. Women in Holland are very prone to this complaint, he says, for the above reasons. Oh, those Dutch damsels!

For cures, the same things apply as in previous cases that we’ve seen: milk and vegetable diet, abstaining from alcohol and spices, leeches, and also sleeping in a cool room on a hard bed with very few, if any, bedclothes. Liberal doses of lead acetate (highly poisonous) with opium was prescribed. If the patient vomited due to this, it could always be given as an enema, replacing the opium with laudanum.


A more recent treatment was a tincture of secale cornutum, which is a fungus from the rye plant. It is still used today in homeopathic remedies, in very small doses, as it can be poisonous. It was given in water until the woman experienced uterine pain, and then they’d do it AGAIN, at longer intervals, I suppose to continually irritate the system until it bled itself dry. Some doctors also applied cold whiskey or vinegar to the vulva, or even ice. If all else fails, stick some lead acetate in a syringe and wash out the inside of your vag. Yay, poisons!

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The Sensuous Woman, a wonderfully dated manual

I struck paydirt again. Months ago, whilst browsing through another book sale room at the library, I found The Sensuous Woman, by “J.” “The number-one bestseller” is emblazoned on the cover. Back cover describes a “secret, step-by-step program that allows every woman to free her body . . . and realize her tremendous feminine capacity for giving and receiving pleasure.” Publication date? 1969. I pretty much dumped out the contents of my purse for fifty cents to purchase this novelty, nestled innocuously in a basket of other less-exciting books (except for one, but we’ll get to it at a later date).

So, who was “J?” Apparently, her real name is Joan Theresa Garrity, and she worked in publishing. She also struggled with bipolar disorder. Not much seems to be known about her, really.

Our author tells us that, even though she’s not considered by conventional standards, and she never dresses provocatively, she still gets lots of men. Basically, this book is a how-to manual for women to embrace their inner sexiness and become what she calls the “sensuous woman.”

Reading this book with a 2012 liberal feminist mindset, some of the statements in this book seem well-known today; some are wildly dated and sexist; and a few are cringe-worthy, knowing what we know about diseases.
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Women and their crazy diseases, part five

Chapter 6 – Deranged Menstruation. I know that that word had a different connotation at the time of this book’s publication; nevertheless, it still makes me giggle.

Dewees lists six ways in which the menses can become “deranged,” or abnormal: tardy appearance, interruption of the regular monthly flow, excess quantity, menorrhagia (which is an excessive period, so it seems to be a repeat of the third way), dysmenorrhea (or painful periods), and finally, its irregularity towards the later years of a woman’s life (menopause today).

On average during this time period, the arrival of the first menstrual period was at the age of fourteen or fifteen years. However, every woman is different, and he is concerned that some of these young women’s mothers and friends decide to take doctoring into their own hands when the menses do not arrive on time. If the body has not developed to the proper point, it won’t happen, so he advises these women to wait and not use emmenogogues, or herbs which stimulate bleeding, as these may have deleterious effects on the body. He cites an example of a young lady, whose mother, concerned that her “courses” weren’t being “brought down,” sought the advice of the doctor. Dr. D told her to give it time, and the mother seemed to understand. Some weeks later, however, the doctor was called to the bedside of this same young woman, who was now vomiting blood. The mother had changed her mind and decided to seek the advice of a quack doctor who prescribed what turned out to be oil of savin, a poisonous substance made from the juniper plant. He advises his fellow doctors in a footnote that, if a patient’s mother insists on her being prescribed something, “bread pills” can be given, which I suppose, were a placebo made of breadcrumbs.
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Women and their crazy diseases, part four

Chapter 5 – Of the History of Menstruation. This affliction only concerns the human female. And, perhaps, monkeys. Other mammals have some sort of effluence that emanates from their genitalia, but that’s not really menses. Some doctors of the time were under the impression that the menstrual discharge was not a “normal” function of the body; rather, it merely appeared one day as people now eat too much and garner too much blood inside them. So, according to those crazies, this is why men had some unexplained hemorrhages and women menstruate. Some doctor by the name of Roussel claims that Brazilian women don’t get periods. Dr. Dewees thinks he’s wrong, so perhaps he has some sense. However, he quotes another doctor who says that other mammals do experience a form of menstrual discharge, and Dewees thinks he puts too much into this hypothesis, and goes to great lengths to supposedly prove him wrong.

Some women begin very early. The doctor tells us of several girls between the ages of twelve and thirteen who have lukorrheic discharge for a few instances before the menses begin in earnest, along with the standard backaches and whatnot that all of us women still suffer from today. In all of these early instances, he claims the girls had diseases of the spine, and wonders via text what the relation there might be. He also cites several instances where he claims to observe women who have ceased menstruating, yet bore children at advanced ages, such as 61. Obviously, such women were not quite completely menopausal, but that was probably something that doctors at this time did not fully understand. A few paragraphs down, Dr. Dewees pretty much admits that, while they know that the cessation occurs, they don’t understand what causes it.

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Women and their crazy diseases, part three

Chapter 3 – The vagina can become diseased, as well. A very short chapter wherein he describes a woman who was basically born with a cul-de-sac down in the valley. She didn’t appear to have a uterus upon examination; well, then, how is that a disease of the vagina? Moving on

Chapter 4 – Leukorrhea, which is basically a white, milky-like discharge from the vagina. I never knew it had a technical term. He has all these theories about the different types, and how they affect certain types of women. Shut up, dude, it’s normal unless it smells or is a different color. They thought that women of idle dispositions, or who drink thin “unnourishing” drinks like tea or coffee, or those who indulge too much in warm baths or the use of foot stoves, were most susceptible to leukorrhea. They had no idea where it came from. They stuck sponges in women’s girly bits to attempt to shed some light on its origins.

So, what cure does the good doctor advise? Wash the pudenda, eat a milk and vegetable diet, and indulge in some bloodletting – you know, the usual. This is to reduce the pulse, and when that has been done to satisfaction, then tincture of cantharides (Spanish fly) until the patient experiences strangury, which is the painful, frequent voiding of the bladder to little effect (essentially, straining to only pee a few drops, at best). Usually, Dr. Dewees would make a patient undergo two rounds of this, and then the leukorrhea would disappear. Gee, I wonder why! If the strangury was very bad, the doctor advises flax-seed tea, or barley water, or gum Arabic, or LAUDANUM, and bed rest. I presume these were all orally taken, as the next direction advises an enema of CAMPHOR, LAUDANUM, and starch.

This treatment was usually followed by an astringent injection, usually of zinc acetate (what we normally see today in anti-itch creams). However, one should wash out the vagina with SOAP and water thoroughly prior to this. Soap? Soap?! No wonder these women had problems!

And then, on top of this, they advised no meat, as it was considered a “weak” ailment, and therefore, foods normally doled out to invalids were administered. The more I read these old books, the more thankful I am to live in modern times . . .

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