"My Favorite Douching Positions" and Other Highlights From 1941's Woman's Personal Hygiene
Woman's Personal Hygiene
Author: Leona W. Chalmers
Publisher: Pioneer Publications
"Married women who disregard the natural laws of health and hygiene are apt to find themselves alone in the evening while their husbands seek the companionship of other wiser women." (page 75)
"Physicians tell of well-groomed, nicely made-up, perfumed women who, when placed on the table for examination, are found to have the vulva smeared with colon faeces with often a caked, cheese-like substance that must be dislodged by the doctor before he can complete the examination." (page 106)
Is there any less appetizing word that a writer could choose, when describing our fleshiest bits, than "cheese-like"? This is a serious question, one I pose only a week after learning of the phenomena of "breadloafing," which occurs when breast implants merge together.
That "caked" and "cheese-like" quoted above comes about halfway through Leona W. Chalmers' Woman's Personal Hygiene, a dated and muddled book that warned our mothers and grandmothers that petting while unmarried would lead to "vaginal discharges" that would cause constipation, make menstruation more painful, and, quite possibly, build up, congeal, and come to resemble dairy.
(Of course, for all her attempts to terrify women, the most disturbing word in that passage is no gross-out adjective. It's "he," as it is simply, naturally assumed that the only professional equipped to examine the vagina is someone without one.)
As in most hygiene guides from the first half of the last century, constipation is a much more serious concern than it would be for us today. "CONSTIPATION is almost invariably the result," Chalmers warns in a passage about the on-the-go diet of "girls in office jobs and behind the counters in department stores." (She gets around to citing their make-out habits as a contributor a couple chapters later.) "Something has to be done, and quickly," she continues, "because a constipated person is an inefficient person. Furthermore, this condition is almost invariable accompanied by a foul breath."
Chalmers offers lots of advice for forestalling this condition. This is her most memorable:
For all her interest in the troubles of the rectum -- she quotes Harvey Kellogg's claim that the final two feet of the colon are "the seat of the most destructive blockade that has ever opposed human progress" -- Chalmers' chief interest is the upkeep and maintenance of women's little cheesemakers ... and in encouraging all women to "contemplate the mysteries of her organism."
That is, of course, a noble endeavor, especially since American society preferred that those mysteries languish politely unplumbed. But for all her frankness about the makeup and maintenance of what she calls "the pelvic organs" and "the uterine-cervix," Chalmers still regards that organism with many of the assumptions of her age, like "Women's reproductive apparatus is as sensitive as a finely strung violin."
Or her belief that several times a month each cavity in a woman's lower half must be flushed clean, usually via the injection of soapy water and some rubbery device.
Here's how, incidentally.
She argues, "The question is not whether the woman should take a douche, but what she should use IN the douche water." There follows many pages about the types of neck and spray nozzle and syringes on various Flo-Baks and Va-Jettes that douchers and home-enema enthusiasts must seek out.
Weirdly, like an right-wing radio host, she insists that she is the only true source of information on her topic:
"Don't rely upon some friend or store clerk for information on such personal, impersonal needs. It requires years of research, study, and experimental tests to develop safe and effective appliances for this purpose, and store clerks cannot help you. This book, on the other hand, is probably the most complete of its kind."
Also, here's a fun craft project!
So, Chalmers claims a monopoly on knowledge about the size, shape, and needs of her readers' own cervixes. Elsewhere in her book, she:
- Quotes a doctor who claims ten shopgirls "in a nearby city" got syphilis from playing "kissing games" like "Letter in the Post Office."
- Declares that the use of a bidet "should be a nightly ritual for every woman, married or single, young or old."
- Further declares that "the BIDET" is a "godsend" to women who "have very objectionable odors about their personal parts."
- Insists that "good modern toilet soaps do not contain harsh chemicals nor animal fats, and therefore harmless."
- Says of newfangled, Hollywood-style facelifts, "If you need such an operation, you shouldn't delay, because it will do wonders for your morale and self-confidence."
In short, constant vigilance and fluids must be circulate through women's miraculous organs of reproduction, waste-voiding, and sexual pleasure. And speaking of which: Sexual pleasure isn't mentioned anywhere in the book, except when Chalmers points out that "sex in the normal male is a necessity," and that husbands are helpless like "beasts" for it, so therefore "An understanding wife, who is normal health, will not allow pregnancy to interfere with her duty to her husband."
Chalmers insists that much of the pain of menstruation is psychological, "a mental attitude instilled into the woman by her mother or some other older person when she was quite young."
This photograph of a "correct" rubber syringe for douching is somewhat interesting ... but not as interesting as the page's second photo, an "Action X-Ray" of a dilated vaginal canal -- an X-ray that some previous owner of this book actually took the trouble to tear out.
How hard up must the boy who snagged that been?