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Posted on Nov 23, 2017

Would You Have Survived Puberty As A Girl In The 19th Century?

Menstruation, hysteria, masturbation — 19th-century adolescence had it all.

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In 1878 The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife, and Mother by Dr. George H. Napheys was published. The book was basically a how-to guide for girls and women for everything from puberty to getting married and having children. In this manual, the doctor outlined best practices for raising a virtuous young woman through several important stages of her life.

Take this quiz and see if you can guess what puberty was like in the 19th century!

  1. A young woman's experience of puberty predicts what?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    The happiness or the hopeless misery of her whole life

    Napheys explains that the greatest years of puberty "seal for ever the happiness or the hopeless misery of her whole life. They decide whether she is to become a healthy, helpful, cheerful wife and mother, or a languid, complaining invalid, to whom marriage is a curse, children an affliction, and life itself a burden." But no pressure.

  2. Which of the following hastens puberty?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    All of the above

    Writes Napheys: "Idleness of body, highly-seasoned food, stimulating beverages, such as beer, wine, liqueurs, and, in a less degree, coffee and tea, irregular habits of sleep,—these are the physical causes of premature development." And that's not all! Furthermore: "Late hours, children's parties, sensational novels, 'flashy' papers, love stories, the drama, the ball-room, talk of beaux, love, and marriage—that atmosphere of riper years which is so often and so injudiciously thrown around childhood—all hasten the event which transforms the girl into the woman." In conclusion: Do almost nothing, for doing something could bring about an early puberty.

  3. What mental and behavioral changes come with puberty for young women?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Poor memory, listlessness, inertia

    In addition to the physical changes puberty brings, young women also experience the following mental and behavioral changes during puberty: increased interest in seeking solitude, crying, loss of interest in her studies, poor memory, disinclination to mental labor, listlessness, and inertia. OK, some of this actually sounds kinda accurate.

  4. Why should young women cultivate "a placid mind" and ground their emotions in "the firm leash of reason"?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Strong emotions lead to heavier periods

    "It is well known, too, that excitement of the emotions, whether of anger, joy, grief, hatred, or love increases the discharge." IT IS WELL KNOWN. Period.

  5. Hysteria is common in higher circles of society where girls' emotions are ______ and their constitutions ______.

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Over-educated, delicate

    Napheys explains that hysteria is a disease of the nerves that's more common in young women of the upper classes, whose emotions are over-educated and their constitutions delicate. [sideeye emoji]

  6. What is the author's euphemism for masturbation?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Secret bad habits

    Without naming it explicitly, the author warns that masturbation (aka "secret bad habits") has "disastrous consequences on soul and body" for young women. ?

  7. And just what are the disastrous consequences of masturbation?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Loss of memory, distressing nervousness

    The author explains that masturbation can cause a variety of ill effects, including "bodily weakness, loss of memory, low spirits, distressing nervousness, a capricious appetite, dislike of company and of study, and finally, paralysis, imbecility, or insanity." But prob worth it tbh!

  8. What does the author say should be avoided when menstruating?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Taking long walks and hot baths

    To maintain their health each month, Napheys says anyone who's menstruating should avoid all exertion, including long walks, dancing, and shopping. Anyone menstruating should take neither hot baths nor cold baths (though temperate baths are fine). Drinking cold water is also not advisable. Noted.

  9. What is the wisest time for a woman to marry?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    20-25

    "Science ... fixes a certain age at which it is wisest for woman to marry," says Napheys. And that's between the ages of 20 and 25, the age at which her body is ready to "perpetuate the species" and her mind is ready to choose a life companion. It is scientifically proven.

  10. During puberty, young women should eat ______, and avoid _______.

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Fresh milk / tea and coffee

    "Good fresh milk should be used daily, while tea and coffee should be withheld," says Napheys. Nutrition is important during puberty, when, without proper nourishment, a young woman can become feeble and open to the attacks of disease. Drink milk, avoid feebleness!

  11. What are some causes of painful cramps during menstruation?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    All of the above

    The causes of painful periods are various, the author says. And they include everything from overexertion in work and socializing, to being exposed to the cold, to a constitution generally susceptible to fevers (ague).

  12. How should painful cramps be treated?

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    With a heated flaxseed poultice and a small amount of an opiate applied to the abdomen

    According to Napheys: "A large, hot, linseed-meal poultice, over which a dessert-spoonful of laudanum has been sprinkled, or a large mustard-plaster, spread on the lower abdomen, will afford much relief." Doesn't sound too shabby actually.

  13. What is the author referring to here: "To him ... it is an episode; to her, it is the whole history of life"

    Correct! 
    Wrong! 

    Romantic love

    The author explains that to women, love is everything, and to men, it's merely one of many competing interests. "Love is one thing to a woman, another to a man. To him, said Madame de Staël, it is an episode; to her, it is the whole history of life. A thousand distractions divert man. Fame, riches, power, pleasure, all struggle in his bosom to displace the sentiment of love."

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