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Body Failure

Body Failure: Medical Views of Women, 1900-1950

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 456
  • Book Info
    Body Failure
    Book Description:

    In this energetic new study, Wendy Mitchinson traces medical perspectives on the treatment of women in Canada in the first half of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6527-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-17)

    Body Failure: Medicineʹs View of Women, 1900–1950 is in many respects a sequel toThe Nature of Their Bodies: Women and Their Doctors in Victorian Canada. As with the earlier book, it focuses predominantly on English Canada and examines the life cycle of women and some of the perceived health problems connected with it. In this study, however, I do not address childbirth per se, having done so in a previous study.¹ What I do examine is the medical ideal of motherhood and how it was visited on women according to the most up-to-date medical information on breast feeding....

  6. 1 Womanʹs Place
    (pp. 18-42)

    ʺWoman … is not man at all.ʺ She differs from man ʺstructurally [and] functionally … In physical origin she is an animal and human as man is but in … variational tendency so differs from man as to be unique in kind.ʺ¹ With those words, J.D. Logan in the January 1913 issue ofCanadian Magazineencapsulated the thinking of many Canadians, both lay and medical, on women. They compared woman to man and by seeing woman asnotman, emphasized the differences between them. Biology wasthedeterminant of those differences and, consequently, of womenʹs and menʹs social destinies.


  7. 2 Growing Up and Facing Puberty
    (pp. 43-68)

    Contemplating the birth of her first child in 1912, Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote of her secret desire, ʺAnd will it be a little son or a daughter? Of course I want a boy first.ʺ¹ But how did she envision a boy or girl – physically or psychologically? What were the differences that made her prefer a boy for her first child? At what age did the differences between the sexes become significant or were they so from birth? For medical practitioners looking at such questions, the dividing line was puberty. They recognized differences at birth and throughout childhood, but compared...

  8. 3 ʺYou canʹt be at your best when youʹre sitting in a swampʺ: Menstruation
    (pp. 69-90)

    InGynaecology for Nurses, Canadians Archibald Donald Campbell, gynaecologist and obstetrician-in-chief, Montreal General Hospital, and Mabel A. Shannon, supervisor of the gynaecological ward, Montreal General Hospital, blamed women for not knowing or keeping track of their menstrual cycles since ʺaccurate knowledge of the dates of uterine bleeding is of the utmost importance to both the patient and the physician.ʺ¹ But it appears that it was more important for physicians. They saw it as a central phenomenon that distinguished women from men and, in the patient files they kept, were careful to detail the menstrual history of women who consulted them....

  9. 4 Understanding Sexuality
    (pp. 91-111)

    In 1919, W.H.B. Stoddart, author of a text on mental disorders, pointed out that ʺmany doctors, who presumably regard themselves as scientific men, consider the strictly scientific study of sexual matters to be improper.ʺ¹ His remark illuminates the tension felt by many practitioners about sexuality. As physicians and ʺscientists,ʺ they knew the power of sexual urges and they accepted them as part of the physiological make-up of humans, both men and women. But as citizens, as men, they also feared that power and the consequences if expressed in an inappropriate way. In looking at medical views of sexuality, it is...

  10. 5 Advice on Marriage and Motherhood
    (pp. 112-135)

    In 1903, the Ontario Medical Association meeting in Toronto announced that ʺ[t]he medical profession should educate the public on unsuitable marriages, and the disaster to the children that may be born.ʺ¹ Seven years later Dr John McCullough, the Ontario Board of Healthʹs chief medical officer, examined the issue of infant mortality and blamed it not on poverty or poor sanitary conditions but on the ignorance of mothers.² Both comments address the significance that many practitioners placed on marriage and motherhood and the need for education to meet the needs of both. Just as practitioners incorporated sexuality into the ever-widening definition...

  11. 6 ʺOn the fringe of knowledgeʺ: Infertility
    (pp. 136-158)

    ʺThe value of the uterus is to be estimated by its probable sterility or fertility.ʺ¹ These words, written in 1944 by James William Kennedy and Archibald Donald Campbell, respectively surgeon-in-chief to the Joseph Price Hospital, Philadelphia, and associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, McGill University, focus on two themes. First is the significance of infertility in the period under study. Second is that the problem of infertility was often directed at the woman. Not only did her body represent the problem but the problem affected her worth or the worth of her uterus, one of the major organs that differentiated...

  12. 7 Controlling Fertility: Birth Control and Abortion
    (pp. 159-188)

    Not all women were interested in becoming mothers in the way that the ideology of motherhood suggested. Some wanted control over the number of children they had and when they had them. Others, a minority, made the decision not to have children at all, perhaps for health or personal reasons. For all such women there were few options. The Criminal Code, section 179 (c) of 1892, was unequivocal. It was an indictable offence ʺto offer to sell, advertise, publish an advertisement of or have for sale or disposal any medicine, drug or article intended or represented as a means of...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 8 ʺThe … mischievous tendency of specialismʺ: Gynaecology
    (pp. 189-214)

    Winnipegʹs J.N. Hutchison summarized womanʹs situation. Her female system was a source of ʺstrength and powerʺ but ʺif neglected and mismanaged [her organs] retaliate on their possessor with weakness and disease.ʺ¹ Such a view revealed the centrality of the reproductive/sexual system in physiciansʹ understanding of womenʹs health. The system was strong but strong in a way that dominated the well-being of women for if it weakened, became ill, broke down, then womanʹs very life was compromised in a variety of ways.

    This chapter examines the specialty of gynaecology and what some saw as the ʺmischievous tendency of specialism.ʺ² Up to...

  15. 9 The Womanly Body: A Cancer Threat
    (pp. 215-238)

    The images of cancer are not positive. Early in the century physicians considered it a ʺdreaded diseaseʺ with an ʺinsidious nature,ʺ resulting in ʺsuffering and great mortality.ʺ Even when doctors considered the curative rate improving, Canadians remained caught in their fear of cancer, as its incidence rate continued to increase with thousands of Canadians dying from it each year.¹ This chapter examines the way in which physicians dealt with cancer in women, focusing specifically on cervical and breast cancer.² In doing so, several common themes with respect to the two cancers emerge. First was the way in which doctors perceived...

  16. 10 The Mindʹs Health
    (pp. 239-260)

    Harold Atlee wrote movingly in the interwar period about the way in which womenʹs lives could result in various neuroses. He acknowledged the

    tremendous inhibitions they lived under with regard to sex up to the time of marriage, and the difficulty they labor under to achieve full satisfactions in the career field of this manʹs world. From the time they are little girls there are so many things they may not do that their brothers may. Once they menstruate and begin to take an interest in the opposite sex, the pressure put upon them to preserve their virginity is tremendous....

  17. 11 Menopause: The End of Womanhood
    (pp. 261-283)

    In her 1916 advice manual Alice Stockham described what women could look forward to at menopause: ʺSkin diseases, … constipation or diarrhoea, swelled limbs or joints, swelled breasts, headaches, … dizziness, dimness of vision with floating specks before the eyes, loss of voice and aching at the base of the tongue, insomnia, strange cravings, difficult breathing, neuralgia, hysteria, etc.ʺ¹ The negativity of the list is overwhelming. Stockhamʹs book suggests that women in the past were concerned about menopause and perceived the ʺsymptomsʺ largely as physical in nature, which not surprisingly attracted the gaze of the medical profession.

    Over the last...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 284-292)

    In looking at the medical perception and treatment of women in Canada from 1900 to 1950, I have been particularly interested in tracing the way in which physicians perceived womenʹs bodies and how that perception affected the treatment offered. The two are closely related and there is no reason to suppose that is not still the case, albeit with slightly different perceptions and treatment. By looking at medicine in this way, my intention is not to measure it by any ideal concept that I may have about how medicine should work, but rather to point out how medicine in the...

  19. Notes on Sources and Methodology
    (pp. 293-298)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 299-404)
  21. Index
    (pp. 405-414)