“an evident distinction between the male and female”

Dr. William Buchan, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, is famous for a book called Domestic Medicine: or, a Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines, with an Appendix, containing a Dispensatory for the Use of Private Practitioners. Originally published in 1769, it ran to 22 editions and was translated into many languages. It was popular throughout Europe as well as in the American colonies. When Abigail Adams sailed to Europe to join John in 1784 she took a copy of Buchan along with her. The book is full of what seems to us today to be common sense advice: the value of cleanliness, a sensible diet, the benefits of exercise. Here is what Dr. Buchan says about women at the beginning of his chapter on the “Diseases of Women” which include “Menstrual Discharge. Pregnancy, Child-birth, and Barrenness”. It was common during that time to term these natural processes diseases. Giving birth was referred to as “being ill.”

Women, in all civilized nations, have the management of domestic affairs, and it is very proper they should, as Nature has made them less fit for the more active and laborious employments. This indulgence, however, is generally carried too far; and females, instead of being benefited by it, are greatly injured, from the want of exercise and free air. To be satisfied of this, one need only compare the fresh and ruddy looks of a milk-maid with the pale complexion of those females whose whole time is spent within doors. Though Nature has made an evident distinction between the male and female with regard to bodily strength and vigour, yet she certainly never meant, either that the one should be always without, or the other always within doors.

The confinement of females [constriction by corsets, etc.] besides hurting their figure and complexion, relaxes their solids, weakens their minds, and disorders all the functions of the body. Hence proceed obstructions, indigestion, flatulence, abortions, and the whole train of nervous disorders. These not only unfit women for being mothers and nurses, but often render them whimsical and ridiculous. A sound mind depends so much upon a healthy body, that where the latter is wanting, the former is rarely to be found.

I have always observed, that women who were chiefly employed without doors, in the different branches of husbandry, gardening, and the like, were almost as hardy as their husbands, and that their children were likewise strong and healthy.

Domestic Medicine can be read ONLINE. The excerpts in this post are taken from pages 521-22.

posted May 12th, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Childbirth, Health, Medicine

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