Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    How did menopause change from being a natural (and often welcome) end to a woman's childbearing years to a deficiency disease in need of medical and pharmacological intervention? By examining the history of menopause over the course of the twentieth century, Houck shows how the experience and representation of menopause has been profoundly influenced by biomedical developments and by changing roles for women and the changing definition of womanhood.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-03881-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In July of 1970, the Democratic Committee on National Priorities considered its agenda for the coming year. Committee member and congresswoman Patsy Mink urged her party to make the fight for women’s rights a priority. Dr. Edgar F. Berman, Hubert Humphrey’s personal physician, vehemently dismissed Mink’s suggestion, insisting that women’s physiology disqualified them from high level positions of authority and influence. To reinforce his claim, he implored his party to consider the consequences of a “menopausal woman president who had to make the decision of the Bay of Pigs.” Imagine a bank executive, he continued, making a loan under the...

  5. ONE “Menopause Is Not a Dangerous Time” Medicine, Menopause, and the New Woman, 1897–1937
    (pp. 14-39)

    In 1897, Andrew F. Currier, a New York City physician, proposed to set the record straight. He claimed that too little had been written about menopause, and what physicians had written “handed down the hoary tradition, which has been current from time immemorial among both the laity and the profession, that the menopause is an experience fraught with peril and difficulty.” In contrast, Currier insisted that “menopause is not a dangerous time or experience for the majority of women, any more than puberty is…. It is only the exceptional woman who has a hard time, and comes to the doctor...

  6. TWO “Endocrine Perverts” and “Derailed Menopausics” Gender Transgressions and Mental Disturbances, 1897–1937
    (pp. 40-57)

    In 1918, health and fitness crusader Bernarr MacFadden noted that menopausal women experience a pervasive “instability of the nerves.” He added that these women are “apt to lose their power of judgment and their power to think clearly; they become restless, hesitating, indecisive, moody and depressed. They sleep badly, are troubled with distressing dreams and may evidence fear that they are going insane.”¹ Earlier in the century, a physician described the same phenomena more succinctly: at menopause, he said, “everything is changed, the woman is not herself.”²

    As physicians came to explore the nature of menopause and the experience of...

  7. THREE “Consider the Patient as a Woman and Not a Group of Glands” Women, Menopause, and the Medical Encounter, 1938–1962
    (pp. 58-88)

    In 1947, a middle-aged Smith College alumna was preparing for a “long and difficult journey.” Although she had noticed a decreased, but more frequent, menstrual flow and some fatigue, only her need for a clean bill of health led her to call on a doctor. Her first doctor insisted that she needed “deep x-ray therapy” before he would provide a favorable medical report. The treatments, which presumably disabled her ovaries, made her feel a bit nauseated, dizzy, and generally unwell. After the initial symptoms subsided, she began experiencing frequent hot flashes. Her doctor suggested that she take small doses of...

  8. FOUR “The Change Emancipates Women” Menopause, Domesticity, and Liberation in the Popular Literature, 1938–1962
    (pp. 89-113)

    In 1949, endocrinologist Edwin Hamblen explained to women how they should understand the physical and social transition of the menopause. “The change of life,” he wrote, separated two equally important and active phases of womanhood. The first phase was for “procreation and for the fulfillment of racial responsibilities.” The era after menopause, however, provided a woman an opportunity for “the realization of her personal aims and aspirations. Released from her reproductive functions, woman … often enjoys greater health and more freedom of self expression…. These become her prime years of life.” Hamblen’s rosy depiction of the postmenopausal years offered hope...

  9. FIVE “Casting an Evil Spell over Her Once Happy Home” Menopause as a Family Disease, 1938–1962
    (pp. 114-132)

    In 1940, psychologist and sex educator Oliver Butterfield described a case of marital conflict:

    A New York judge tells of a case in the domestic relations court where a man and his wife had been having trouble, and in court the man complained that his wife had recently been “cold and distant” towards him. After a little inquiry the judge sent them both to a physician and in about fifteen minutes the verdict came back, “Menopause.”¹

    In this example, the verdict of menopause served as the final word in understanding this couple’s conflict. The blame was placed firmly on the...

  10. SIX “Why All the Fuss?” Middle-Class Women and the Denial of the Menopausal Body, 1938–1962
    (pp. 133-151)

    In 1950, two Smith college graduates, Dorothy Hamilton Brush and Heather Hoffman, had suffered through the worst of their unexpectedly “nerve-wracking” experiences with menopause. Blindsided by their experiences and propelled by their can-do attitude and the determination that the next generation of women should not suffer as they had, they decided to write a book about the pitfalls of menopause and how to avoid them. Putting their alumna connections to work, Hoffman and Brush turned primarily to their 1917 classmates for guidance and data. They sent out roughly three hundred questionnaires, headed by the following plea: “Two women, one married,...

  11. SEVEN Feminine Forever Robert A. Wilson and the Hormonal Revolution, 1963–1980
    (pp. 152-187)

    “The unpalatable truth must be faced that all postmenopausal women are castrates.” So began a 1963 article by physician Robert A. Wilson and his wife Thelma, which appeared in theJournal of the American Geriatrics Society. In this article, the Wilsons argued that untreated menopause robbed women of their femininity and doomed them to live the remainder of their lives as mere remnants of their previous selves.¹ Detailing the dire consequences of “Nature’s defeminization,” the Wilsons claimed that estrogen depletion, the cause of menopausal and postmenopausal afflictions, led to hypertension, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and arthritis. In addition, the Wilsons insisted...

  12. EIGHT “At the Will and Whim of My Hormones” Women, Menopause, and the Hormonal Dilemma, 1963–1980
    (pp. 188-208)

    In the early 1970s, a fifty-three-year-old woman responded to a survey about her experiences at menopause. Before menopause, she had always thought of herself as “a calm person,” someone who was able to “cope with the responsibilities and pressures” of being a minister’s wife and raising a large family. Although her mother and two of her sisters had sailed easily through menopause, it hit her “like a ton of bricks.” Suddenly, “the ordinary chores of the home seemed like mountains” and she was repelled by anything that required responsibility. She began to withdraw from everything and everyone. She couldn’t even...

  13. NINE “What Do These Women Want?” Feminists Respond to Feminine Forever, 1963–1980
    (pp. 209-228)

    In 1963, the same year that Robert Wilson declared postmenopausal women castrates, a part-time housewife, part-time journalist identified “the problem that has no name.” InThe Feminine Mystique,Betty Friedan documented the growing unrest among college-educated, middle-class, white women with the demands and limits of domesticity. While it clearly did not foment the feminist revolution,The Feminine Mystiquetestified to the smoldering dissatisfaction among women that led, within a few years, to the women’s movement. BothThe Feminine Mystiqueand Wilson’s 1966Feminine Foreverinvited women to reconsider the meanings of womanhood and their roles within American society

    The convergence...

  14. Epilogue Menopause at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 229-240)

    In September 2002, Phyllis Bogen of Cresskill, New Jersey, shared her dismay and confusion with readers of theNew York Times:“As a result of the flurry of negative data recently in the news media, I have discontinued [estrogen replacement therapy], but I am not sure I have done the right thing. It’s more confusing than amusing. How’s a women [sic] to know?”¹ Although so reminiscent of the confusion women felt in the late 1970s over the possible connection between estrogen replacement therapy and endometrial cancer, Bogen and millions of other women in her position were reacting to the latest...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 241-314)
  16. Index
    (pp. 315-328)