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For Women Only, 1912

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 30, 2010

Below is a lesson, marked “optional,” provided for discussion by the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association in 1912. I’ve never seen anything like it in printed materials for young men (unless Elder Packer’s “little factories” talk counts) — I’d inflict it on you to balance things out if I could find such a thing.

-oOo-

(This lesson … should be handled by some one who is interested in the betterment of physical man, one who has made some study of it, and can also interest others. It may not be that this woman is in your Mutual, but she is in the community and it will be wise to ask her to present [it] to the girls.)

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
And his mercy is on them that fear Him, from generation to generation.
He hath showed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and his seed forever. – Luke 1:46-56.

This is the great song of all womanhood – the song which every girl should sing, as Mary did of old, when God “regards the estate of His handmaiden” and her powers are perfected in glorious motherhood. God never intended woman to be a competitor of man and as such woman will fall by the wayside, for she cannot escape the truth of her own nature, by willing or acting in violation of it.

Woman naturally is stronger in endurance than man; and yet today untold numbers of them are physical wrecks, because women do not know themselves, because they fail to understand their needs; they reject the greatest gift to woman – children; they endeavor to compete with man in business; they care more for the frivolities of dress and society than for a true home sphere, which in their blindness they term narrow and stinted. yet to a normal woman in health, the care of home and family is and should be a joy. Latter-day Saints should rise in glory, sing the song of Mary and learn through our Father, the glory which the mother of the Savior saw, and lived for. If she was worthy to be the mother of our Lord, she is worthy of our emulation. To whom do we look for our ideals at home – our mothers – then shall we deny to the spirits which God has with Him, the right of having a body? this great privilege which we were granted?

Woman differs from man in the organs which rest in the small pelvic cavity, which is larger in woman than in man. This cavity is placed behind and lower than the chest and abdominal cavities; the weight of the organs being put upon ligaments and attachments. (See Fig. 1.) It is most important, therefore, that the pelvis be carried back and obliquely downward, when standing or sitting. Dr. Eliza R. Moser, after hundreds of examinations, tells us that she never has found a displaced uterus when the woman stood and sat correctly; nor has she found a woman who did not stand and sit correctly whose pelvic organs were in place. Stand with hips well back, knees back, lower spine relaxed, and ears high. Sit always with lower spine against the chair. All chairs, benches, etc., should be made to sit in, not to half recline in.

Carefully guarded in a wall of bone (the pelvis), are the bladder in front, the reproductive organs in the middle, and the rectum (the end of the large intestine) at the spine. Each of these organs opens into the floor of the pelvis (the perineum).

Suspended in the middle, between the bladder and rectum, enclosed in a membrane (the peritoneum), is the uterus, a pear shaped organ with its larger portion or body upward. It is supported by eight ligaments, two of which (the broad ligaments, one on either side) are attached to the pelvis. the broad ligaments hold the uterus in such a position that it would be very difficult for it to fall toward either side, but it can tip toward the front or rear. The mouth of the uterus opens into a canal, the vagina, which in turn opens at the perineum.

Lying in the folds of the covering (the peritoneum) just below the broad ligaments, on right and left side, are the ovaries, the most important of the pelvic organs. They are little round bodies, about an inch in length which produce the ova or eggs, which develop into the human bodies. the human ovum is the smallest egg in proportion to the size of the adult, being only one-hundredth of an inch in diameter. It is estimated that at puberty one human body contains about 40,000 eggs.

The organs of reproduction are not developed in childhood but take at least four years to mature, beginning from the twelfth to sixteenth years, and ending in the sixteenth to the twentieth year.

Dr. Clark tells us if from excessive study, too much excitement, late hours, or lack of proper nourishment, or exercise, the pelvic organs do not develop between these ages they never develop afterward, and the woman is unable to produce children – and the curse of barrenness is upon her. [“Sex in Education,” Dr. Clark – Houghton, Mifflin & Co.] All normal physical activities aid in producing healthy organs, while excessive nervous and mental exertions are detrimental to pelvic health and growth. yet, as girls, we have been taken from our out-door sports, and put in long clothes and made “lady-like” at this very period when we needed these activities most. If we want healthy girls, give them through this period plenty of out-door exercise, good food, and much sleep. Parties and theatres should be limited, and excessive school work should be avoided. Keep the girl young and a tom-boy as long as possible.

The period of formation is called puberty. Then all these organs of reproduction begin to develop. The eggs mature about every twenty-eight days, when the little hand-like ends of the tubes from the uterus grasp them and they are carried through the tube to the uterus and deposited there. During this time, also, a lining composed of a net work of blood vessels has been prepared in the uterus to receive the ovum. When in married life this ovum is attached in this membrane, the child begins to develop and takes about nine and a half months before it is able to exist in the atmosphere. How dear we must be to our mother when we lived nearly a year within her very body, and then we lived nearly another year on the food produced by her body. Think of this!

The cavity of the uterus, which is only the size of a kernel of an almond, has the marvelous power of growing and expanding until the full grown babe can live there, and then, when the child is born, the uterus returns to almost its normal size. Is it not wonderful!

In the unmarried woman the ovum will not fasten in the membrane of the uterus, and in consequence we have what is termed menstruation. In regard to this there are two theories. One theory is that ovulation and menstruation depend on each other; the other is that they are independent, it being only a co-incidence that they occur about the same time. this much is known, that the menstrual flow comes from the inside of the uterus; but whether the lining membrane is shed once a month or whether the blood vessels become so engorged that they burst once a month is a disputed question.

Every woman is a law unto herself and therefore menstruation may be more or less than twenty-eight days, but the period should recur regularly. this must be attended to. Then in a health woman the flow is not profuse, lasts no more than three days, and is without pain. This should be the end sought by all women, and to obtain it try to find out the cause of your trouble and remove it. Avoid all patent medicines and things sold at your door. Don’t read advertisements in the newspapers and conclude those symptoms are yours. Above all, don’t force the young girl, burdened with heavy school work and perhaps social excitement, to excessive menstruation, when the body cannot sustain the drain all these directions. If one feels well, let these functions regulate themselves.

The pelvic organs are not more subject to disease than other organs and a general good physical condition is necessary to a good pelvic condition. If you have pain or excessive flow, or feel languid, eat good food, dress correctly, stand and sit properly and above all rest during your menstrual period, and breathe deep the good fresh air. During the menstrual period the uterus is nearly twice its natural size; therefore women ought, during one day at least, to keep off of their feet and thus assist nature to do its work. Dr. Sargant of Harvard contends that most pelvic disorder may be cured by deep breathing. It is well to lie, when resting for this period on the abdomen, or if in great pain in knee-chest position – i.e., kneel on your bed and lie on folded arms, bringing your chest as near the knees as possible. This brings the organs, through gravity, in proper position.

For cramps take a hot sitz bath for ten minutes and get right into bed with a hot cloth on the abdomen and hot water bottle at the back, and remain quiet for one to three days. No girl can afford to go to a party, dance, or keep late hours during this period.

The women of Israel, the women of the orient, and savages, all rest during the menstrual period. Many factories, libraries, school boards, etc., are allowing the women in their employ one day from each month. thus women can do better work the entire month and it pays their employers. We should all work to accomplish this end in all places where women are employed.

Nothing can compensate for the want of sleep – “sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care – death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds –0 great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast.” Most of us, like Macbeth, do not appreciate this great gift until it is taken from us. Sleep restores all that has been lost in the day: it separates us from what is useless and pernicious.

The period of greatest growth – infancy – needs most sleep; next the period of puberty and most all need more than they get. One woman who has worked very hard, and kept very well and strong always naps a half hour after dinner – whatever comes. Most housewives would accomplish much more if they would have a half-hour each day; lie down, and if they could not sleep, rest and read. Girls from twelve to twenty should never be out late nights – and the old world idea of girls “coming out” is the healthy one. Here, in these mountains, we need more rest because of the stimulating altitude, and our young girls are in society, dances, etc., from almost babies – they cannot become strong, healthy women.

Sleep even rests the heart, and all the body is at peace.

“God has set labor and rest, as day and night, to men.”

QUESTIONS.

1. Why is motherhood the greatest sphere of womankind
2. What is the belief of Latter-day Saints regarding children?
3. How does the male pelvis differ from the female
4. Describe the position of the pelvic organs?
5. Will all the class attempt to stand and sit correctly. (Have some one who knows, correct and help in this.)
6. What do we mean by puberty?
7. What should be the activities during this period?
8. Why should girls not go to parties, dances, etc., during this age?
9. What is menstruation?
10. How often does this occur?
11. Why is the time not the same in all women?
12. Is excessive hemorrhage healthful?
13. Show the knee-chest position.
14. When should this be used?
15. What is good for “Cramps”?
16. Why is rest necessary to the body?
17. Why especially necessary at the menstrual period?

-oOo-

Some comments will inevitable address the growth in biological science over the past one hundred years. More interesting, perhaps, for the Mormon theme of Keepa, is what this might say about us as a people, then and now – Are you surprised to see such a detailed physical lesson, in contrast to the moral or religious nature of most of today’s YW lessons? Is there any need, or an expectation on anyone’s part, that such issues be addressed in LDS media today? I think YLMIA leaders in 1912 would have insisted that their attitudes and interpretations of women’s capacities were driven by a scientific, neutral understanding of women’s biology – do you think that’s the case, or do you think deep-seated beliefs about women’s spiritual and emotional nature drove their understanding of biology?

Or throw all my suggested discussion away, and bring up whatever the heck your reactions to this piece are!



8 Comments »

  1. I found the authors thoughts on menstrual pain quite perplexing. First, she states that pain-free is normal and girls with pain should strive to be pain-free. Then she suggests remedies for cramps- all of which are still recommended, by the way, except for bedrest.

    A few years ago I was living with a great, great aunt who advised me of the importance of spending the entirety of one’s menstruation in bed. “But you’re in nursing school, so you already knew that.” I just smiled and nodded. Boy have times changed since she was 15.

    I think a woman’s attitude toward biology as a creation of God really impacts her attitude regarding her womanhood. I cringe when I hear LDS (and other) women refer to menstruation as “the curse” and other such nonsense. I do think that the encouragement in this era to stay in bed, refrain from parties, etc was more driven by their understanding of women as inherently fragile/weak than by their biology, whatever they may have thought at the time. I remember having some distinctly and surprisingly (to me) feminist thoughts at my aunt’s advice- I’m a WOMAN! You won’t keep me in bed! I can do everything the men can do, no matter what time of the month it is! and so on, so my attitudes are probably somewhat shaped by my cultural understanding of women as well.

    Comment by Ariel — December 30, 2010 @ 8:35 am

  2. I really liked the line “Keep the girl young and a tom-boy as long as possible”, but was surprised by “Then in a healthy woman the flow is not profuse, lasts no more than three days, and is without pain”. It was amusing to hear what happens for married versus unmarried women.

    I know many LDS families that take their children out of the special “health” classes at school, many of which deal with this very issue, so it might be useful. The question becomes what age to address it. My school had this class for fifth-grade girls. A lot of girls start menstruating around 12, so maybe it’s better to start this lesson in Achievement Days than in Young Women? I say start, because I think it is always a good idea for people to learn more about their bodies.

    Comment by kew — December 30, 2010 @ 8:40 am

  3. Do LDS families really take their kids out of the sex-talk health classes?? Yikes! We never did, but sought to balance those with a discussion at home so that the health class would not come as a surprise.

    Comment by Paul — December 30, 2010 @ 10:13 am

  4. I think the reason that they want girls to not go to parties is because they know that girls are just as interested in sex as guys at that age and would probably prove the statement that “unmarried women cannot get pregnant” wrong!!! That would NEVER do. LOL

    Comment by Gail — December 30, 2010 @ 11:11 am

  5. Just a few points that I found extremely telling of the time. “Woman naturally is stronger in endurance than man; and yet today untold numbers of them are physical wrecks”. In Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication on the Rights of Woman; she centers on the idea that the employ of reason counters the argument that women and men are inherently unequal. The subjugation of women goes against the values of virtue and reason. A woman should be free to choose where her place is, whether within the home or without, but to state that her whole exhalted being is based on how well she keeps house and home is unfair to those of us who feel our calling lies outside that of mother and homemaker.

    Secondly, the statement that “Every woman is a law unto herself” is made to ensure that it is ok if your period is not the same length as everyone elses or if you happen to “bloom” earlier or later than others; but is not to be used as an excuse for having desires other than motherhood.

    “Parties and theatres should be limited, and excessive school work should be avoided.” Again in A Vindication on the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft uses the image of a flower planted in rich soil, “strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the falunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade disregarded on the stalk”. If talents of women aren’t cultivated to the fullest; we will have a group of mormon women who are very capable at tending house and nothing else. Does Isaiah 3:16 bring another image of blind piety to anyone else?

    “The women of Israel, the women of the orient, and savages, all rest during the menstrual period”. A guest post at Femeinist Mormon Housewives found here ( http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=3404) talks about how women are often referred to in the mormon church in an air of “noble savagery”. I found it interesting that the savages discribed her are the women of Isreal and those in the Orient. If those savages are able to rest during their periods, surely us much more civilized women should be able to!

    The feminist in me just screams for liberation from the suppression of patriarchy and subjegation of male diction.

    Comment by Brittany — December 30, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  6. Caution to commenters: Keepa has a tradition that is much gentler and more conservative than many ‘nacle blogs. Please respect that tradition; when in doubt, please err on the side of stuffy, boring, and I-can’t-believe-they-expect-me-to-wear-pantyhose-to-church oppression.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 30, 2010 @ 11:20 am

  7. I also thought that the encouragement to be like “savages” was odd.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — December 30, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

  8. I was actually a bit surprised by the comments about home life, as I wouldn’t perhaps have expected it this early in the century.

    I’ve seen references to sex education during and a little after this period in the Church. E.g., that it was an RS responsibility in the 1920s. However, I’ve never seen any of the instructional materials before. It is really quite interesting. The lesson seems fairly consistent with the standard medical treatments of the period, with which I am familiar (though I would have to go back and check to make sure). That is to say that I don’t think the scientific approach is particularly “Mormon.”

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 30, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

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