Things You Don't Know About Women's Health in the 1800s

Ever wonder what it was like being a woman in the 1800s? Well, even if you haven’t, I have.  I did some research about it, and I found some crazy information about what was considered Women’s Health in the 1800s!!!

Periods

Doctors in the 1800s believed that a woman’s period was a “purging” of the sexual desires that she didn’t need - because women during the time period had too much. The average age for a woman to get her period is between 15 and 17. If a woman started too early, it meant that she had too much sexual desire and she would need to be closely monitored. If a women started too late, it was because she was spending too much time educating herself which was taking energy away from the uterus. There were no products available for purchase until the 20th century. So, during the time period, women would pin a cloth to their undergarments or, if they were of a lower class, would just go without anything…

PMS

PMS was not “discovered” until the 1930s, so when women were being “moody”, disobedient, or were having “spells” of depression, all were considered to be mental illnesses. In some cases, they were placed in psych wards by their husbands. In the late 1800s, a man named Dr. Weir Mitchell created the rest cure for women who were experiencing symptoms such as hysteria and deep depression. This cure would consist of women being placed on extreme bed rest (they couldn’t even turn over if they wanted too, they needed a nurse to do it for them).

Birth Control

There were plenty of different types of birth control methods discussed but, as we have learned with time, they were extremely ineffective.  That being said, they are still interesting to mention.

The Pull Out Method – I think we all know what this is…

Douching – This is the process of cleaning out the vagina (which we now know is not very good for you) but it was to believe to get rid of any semen in the body and prevent pregnancy.

Rhythm Method – it is called a different term today but is still used now. This method is when women would try to track her fertility during her cycle. Now, with further research, this can be an effective method but in the 1800s, women were told to avoid having sex on their period and right before their period started (we now know these are they least fertile days in the cycle).

Voluntary Motherhood – This method was attempted to be used by married women in the 1880s. This method was simply not having sex with their husbands in order to prevent pregnancy. But, this was met with backlash because women were considered to be owned by their husband, which allowed for denying the wife’s right to consent.

Pregnancy

A women during the 1800s would have an average of 6 children, but she would experience an average of 22-25 pregnancies in her entire life. Because of the countless disease outbreaks, miscarriages, and complications during childbirth, this caused many miscarriages as well as stillbirths.

Abortion

Abortion did not become illegal until 1880 when doctors convinced the public to believe that the procedure to be too dangerous for women and due to the religious arguments around the subject. This was not true though, because an abortion procedure was the same risk that any surgery during this time period came with. The real reasons why doctors pushed for abortions to be illegal was to eliminate the competition of apothecaries and midwives out of the medical sphere so that doctors could dominate the entire field. After the illegalization of abortion, the number of abortions never decreased, causing women to turn to extremely dangerous methods.

So cheers to the progression of birth control, period products and safer childbirth procedures!