Saturday, December 5, 2009

History of Women's Health: JASNA Lecture and my Powerpoint

Hello Again!
My Loyal Reader(s)!
(I'm saying that to pressure you into continuing reading. Haha Manipulation where would we be without you?)

The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) ( New York Region ( Meeting I attended on my birthday today (Dec 5th):

This was in the invitation email:

"Dr. Cheryl Kinney will explore the treatment of women’s

illnesses in Regency England, including childbirth,

infectious disease, and venereal disease. We will learn who

provided health care in the early 1800s in England and the

treatments available. Dr. Kinney will also discuss sickness

and health in Austen’s novels."

Here is the program I picked up upon entering the lecture room:

(Click on any of the images and you will be able to see them bigger)

The lecture was very easy to listen to and

understand, but it was very gross, as Dr. Cheryl

warned us before it started, with an apologetic look.

UGH! I am not entirely unfamiliar with the history

of healthcare having 1) read Middlemarch which

includes a Doctor character and several illnesses

and 2) made a mediocre powerpoint presentation

for health in 2006, and I've heard gross things

before... but can I just say: eeeeeeeeew! ouch!

Blllleeeeeeghck! [vomit]!

Her lecture covered consumption (tuberculosis),

pregnancy, childbirth, infection, various types of

cancers including breast cancer, forceps,

blood-letting (and how it was done and with

what instruments and where), purging with

"cloisters" and douches, STDs (such as cyphilis,

or gonorrhea, which came to be called "The

Gentleman's Disease" b/c so many wealthy

young gents were familiarizing with prostitutes

as well as their ladies and wives), protection

(mostly a skin pouch for just such gentleman to

try to avoid the STDs, nothing for the ladies of

course) and Birth Control some of the more

ridiculous methods include hopping

backwards three times after sex, putting bees

or wasps (i cannot remember which) in your

mouth after sex, taking certain herbs that

promised to summon up a period, crap there

were more but I can't recall), the prevalence

of abstinence used by women to avoid the

death that very probably accompanied

pregnancy (and here of course she put up a

picture of the disgusting Mr. Collins from the

1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice haha)...

leeches. The most disgusting one was

leeches. why? Because [DO NOT READ


order to bloodlet a woman they [I WARN


KIDS OR THE SANE] put apparently up to

eight leeches (it might have been 8 to 10,

but at least 8) [WATCH OUT HERE IT


vagina into her uterus, than put some

cotton cloth to stopper it so to speak so

the leeches couldn't come out - then the

doctor would go away for a while and

when he did come back he had some

nasty other instrument/ method to

extract them that I don't remember.

A common theme to this lecture was

gender, of course, because not only was

Jane Austen and all her protagonists

women, but in her time period there

were the peddler/ barber/ midwife/

apothecary/ physician debates.

In short, a large theme of the

history of midwives vs. doctors vs. other

male treaters of health (and that is a

category full of weirdos), was that most

doctors were given their liscenses

through wealth and connection, thus

MUCH more were unskilled than not,

and midwives were kicked out by law

to practice, even though midwives for

instance appear to be the first to have

anticipated the germ theory, as a

cooking/health 1800s book Dr. Cheryl

owns confirms. Also the ban against

midwives meant that a lot of women

were left to labor alone for days and

days. Or, were left with the help of

women such as preachers' (or

should i say rector's) daughters - not

bad, but not midwives.

I'm sorry if my description is hard to

read or a bit scrambled, but I forgot

to bring a pen to take notes and it

was my birthday (I added that last one

to avoid criticism). Three more tidbits.

1) A funny moment at the end was that

she said if we used some of the recipe/

treatments in her 1800s book, we would

have to use a lot less medicine today.

Now. She is a doctor. Gynecologist.

She has been rated one of the Best

Doctors in America (See the Program

above). She is not against modern

medicine. Heck, she knows how bad

it used to be because she researched

and gave that lecture! One woman

however then raised her hand and

said, "The British Department of

Medicine" (or some such gov. group

like that I don't remember exactly)

"has synthesized all that information.

They call it medicine." It was a tense

moment. Funny, but tense. Not as

tense as you might think; this was a

very friendly environment. Dr.

Kinney took it right at face value, by

saying woa there, let's just try and

avoid politics and debates and such.

-After all, it was just a lecture and

taking into account the fact that this

woman is a well-respected

gynecologist, I think her point was

more that during a time when men

thought injecting leeches in

private places was the thing to do,

at least some of the women's

treatments worked and could still

work if used today.

2) Forceps. They will be mentioned

in the health powerpoint on

midwives I will include later in this

post. Thus I had read about them

before I heard her lecture. Mostly

statistics on the number of deaths

caused by "doctors" attempting to

use them to aid in birthings. I

also had an image from the book

"Year of Wonders" which was

hard to shake off. I'm going

to try to look for it... okay. I found

it. It wasn't the regency period,

and it wasn't exactly a forceps

the man used, but it is a similar

idea, and as I said, an image

that hasn't budged. So of

course I will share it with you

now, because misery loves



I turned pale at this. My own

mother died in her childbed when

I was four years old. The baby lay

crosswise and she labored for days as

Mem Growdie tried in vain to

manipulate its position. In the end, with

my mother unconscious from

exhaustion, my father had ridden to

Sheffield and returned at last with a

barber-surgeon he'd shipped with as a

boy. The man, wind-burned and salt-

scoured, looked terrifying to me, and I

could not believe that his hard hands

were to be allowed near the tender body

of my mother.

He used a thatcher's hook. My

father had taken so much grog to damp

his own fear that he did not have the wit

to keep me from the room. I ran in

there as my mother came to conscious-

ness, bellowing. Mem grabbed me up

and carried me away. But not before I

saw the tiny, torn-off hand of my

stillborn sister. I see it yet: the pale,

folded flesh, the tiny, perfect fingers

open like a little flower, reaching out to

me. Even now I can smell the blood

and shit that stained that terrible bed,

and the terror of it was with me at my

own confinements.


-"Year of Wonders: A Novel of the

Plague" by Geraldine Brooks, pg. 118


Well. (And I read this books years ago. It

really stuck). You can see how the mean

terrible unskilled terror hook-using surgeon

man plus the terrible statistics I'd found on

forceps might have influenced me, how

they may have influenced you right now.

Anyhow, what I LEARNED was, that

apparently when forceps were first

invented they scaled down the number of

deaths in childbirth (for mother and child)

immensely because they lessened the

bleeding!!!! That led to it becoming

prevalent (good) which led to the

unskilled to use it borrowing its good

reputation (bad) which led to the

statistics I read and therefore the bleak

picture of the competency and

sympathy of male surgeons. (One male

surgeon I like in lady/gentleman literature

is Mr. Gibson from "Wives and

Daughters". Haven't finished the book

yet (it could kill a man its that huge) but

I have seen the movie series). So, reeling

back to my feminist topic, which I have

not overtly mentioned yet, this was a

lesson for me that, even when you know you are not

well researched (it was a health assignment for God's

sake), and you know that females aren't angels and

males aren't devils, you can still be guided by 2 data

points (which in math make a line) (the 2 being the

health project and the excerpt from the book), when

really you should have at least 3 (which in math

make 1 specific line or something), and most

definitley more, from more than just the context of

one time period, because it didn't occur to me that

forceps might have been a helpful and healthier

innovation at first that was corrupted later. Lesson

learned: There may be gender trends that

contradict the patriarchal archetype, but that

doesn't mean that men, because of their social

status and education, weren't more informed and

useful at certain adjacent periods. I didn't word that

quite right, but you see what I mean hopefully. :)

3) The last major point that Dr. Kinney made was

that Jane Austen, although she only had the

rudimentary education of a preacher's daughter

(still a Lady), she had a very scientific, and when

I say that I mean observant and methodical,

way of chronicalling the progression of her last

illness, which is why so many doctors and

researches figure it to by Addison's Disease,

just because the detail is so intelligent and exact

and pretty much exactly (literally) fits the

symptoms of Addison's disease, though it

wasn't discovered yet. And in that way, Dr.

Kinney said, she was the first to record the

case and symptoms of Addison's disease.

Cool, right?

(P.S. The blue image up there is the three

raffle tickets we bought to no avail. We

were crossing our fingers especially for the

"I'd rather be sleeping with mr. Darcy"

embroidered pajamas. Sigh. Oh well. My

sister proposed we make our own.

Seriously considering it! Especially

because de facto that means she is

offering to make them for us, mostly with

me nodding along as I watch her in

wonder. Mu-hahahahaha!)

OKAY. Now after all of that lecture stuff,

time for some fun pictures and details of

before it and after it :) It was my birthday,

after all. I love a good lesson but it

needs to be combined with fresh air haha!

Regency Dress for Silent Auction; it is also the room Dr. Cheryl Kinney gave the presentation in. We were in the front row in the seats you can immediately see; and there is the thingy for the powerpoint. I was going to bid but it was a size six!!!!! And considering basically no one in the room was that size... hardly anyone bid. But it still went up to $150. I still plan to get me a regency dress though!!!!

The chairs with the grey coats in the front row were our seats. Yep. We wore matching coats, my sister and I. -ahem-cough cough... and again you can see the powerpoint thingy (oh now I remember the name... projector! no that is the name of the machine. damn.)

Pictures of the mini-store (see the yellow and white book with "Persu" on it? It is "Persuasions" given to us JASNA members once a year, full of delicious essays on the books. Yum.) I didn't buy anything though I was considering the red book b/c it was this legit thing about how the myth of Paris created the culture and shape of literature following or something, but i chickened out and then my sister bought it haha. So I'll still get to try reading it (I was concerned i was not learned (pronounced learn-Ed, Ed like the short version of Edward) enough) without having to pay for it! shiz-am!!!!! I was supposed to get a free book because there was a colored dot sticker on my program (see above) but they had run out by the time I got down there! Not too large a loss. It was a popcorn book, if you get my meaning. At least that's the impression I got when they announced the title.

I was later in getting downstairs and thus missed my chance at the free book because I stayed in the room to catch the lecturer Dr. Kinney and beg both for a picture with her and that she send me her powerpoint! She said yes, only since its so huge she thought it would be a better idea to mail me a tangible disc. I gave her my address and name, and asked her if she was okay with my including her powerpoint in my blog once I recieve it. She didn't even hesitate when she said yes!!!!! She was so cool. Totally worth not getting a free popcorn book. And we had the same favorite Austen book: "Persuasion."

I also cannot wait to see this! We could have seen it on my birthday, but sadly we were worn out after so much Austenite Madness.

My Powerpoint for Health Class made Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006 (slides taken by screen captures, command shift 4. Only just learned that yesterday! What a time/ life saver! This is why you have to have friends. Not as a cure for loneliness. So you can learn tricks on your computer.)

wanna find more sources/meanings of words? check out:

The Sources so You can Actually Read them:



And here are the Cartoons so you can Actually Enjoy Them:
(though you CAN still click the picture for a bigger image)

okay so actually I'm too lazy to do them all. I had to find this independently on the internet and it is proving too hard.

my second blog entry is finished! o buoy o buoy!


  1. I remember: the method for removing the leeches was to use salt-water or some brine-based concoction. Yum...

    3 points make a plane.

    Great entry Jo! It really was fascinating! You have such an insightful yet understandable and down to earth way of putting things.

  2. Thank you!!!!!!!! Those two things were BUGGING my ASS off.