University of Delaware Library - Special Collections Department

Defining Her Life: Advice Books for Women

Health & Recreation

Lydia Maria Child.
The Family Nurse; or Companion of the Frugal Housewife. Boston: Charles J. Hendee, 1837.

Mrs. Child, a novelist, abolitionist, and best-selling cookbook author, wrote this practical book of hints and remedies based on her reading of major medical books. The Family Nurse is written in a plain, straightforward manner. In her preface, Child explains: This volume is very obviously not intended for the drawing-room. If written in language plain enough to be understood, it could not in the very nature of the subject, be otherwise than indelicate, in the world's estimation… As the world becomes wiser and better, I trust the various functions of the human body will be spoken of with more philosophical purity, and regarded merely as temporary mediums for the growth of the soul.
O. S. Fowler, 1809-1887.
Fowler on Matrimony, or, Phrenology and Physiology Applied to the Selection of Companions for Life: Including Directions to the Married for Living Together Affectionately and Happily. New York: O. S. & L. N. Fowler, 1842.

O. S. Fowler and his younger brother, Lorenzo Niles Fowler, were the leading proponents of practical phrenology in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Phrenology is the study of the shape of the skull to determine mental development and attributes of character. Although Fowler based his discussion of selection of a mate on phrenology, his findings were the traditional ones-don't marry for money, make sure your fiancé is healthy, live in harmony with each other.

Dr. A. M. Mauriceau.
The Married Woman's Private Medical Companion, Embracing the Treatment of Menstruation ... Pregnancy ... Discovery to Prevent Pregnancy ... to Prevent Miscarriage or Abortion ... New York: 1847.

Mauriceau was thought to be a pseudonym for Madame Restell, a notorious abortionist in New York. This widely-distributed book was essentially an advertisement for her services, as well as for "Morand's Elixir" and other contraceptive devices sold through the mail. Restell, who was not a physician, advertised her services openly in the newspapers.

Aristotle, pseud.
The Midwife's Guide: Being the Complete Works of Aristotle. New York: Published for the Trade, 1849.

This mid-nineteenth century midwives' guide, supposedly by Aristotle, was actually written in England in the seventeenth century. The Midwife's Guide became available in America in the mid-eighteenth century and was reprinted many times during the next hundred years. The book was not scientifically accurate, but was full of superstition and misinformation.

Mary R. Melendy.
Perfect Womanhood for Maidens-Wives-Mothers. Chicago: Monarch Book Company, 1901.

Perfect Womanhood combines health information for women and children with religiously inspired sentiments on women's role as wife and mother. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union and its crusade against alcohol are an important aspect of Melendy's approach to healthy living.

Elizabeth Blackwell, 1821-1910.
The Laws of Life with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls. New-York: G. P. Putnam, 1852.

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States. Because no hospital would allow her to practice, she began to see women and children in her home. As she developed her practice, she also wrote lectures on health, which she published in 1852 as The Laws of Life.

Mary Wood-Allen, M.D., 1841-1908.
What a Young Woman Ought to Know. Philadelphia: Vir Publishing Co., 1905.

Dr. Wood-Allen was the World Superintendent of the Purity Department, Women's Christian Temperance Union. What a Young Woman Ought to Know is one of a series entitled "Self and Sex." The text deals with the care of the body, building brains, menstruation, female diseases, friendships, marriage, and the effects of alcohol, tobacco, and immoral behavior. In the front of the book are testimonials from leaders in education, social services, and medicine, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Mary Wood-Allen, M.D., 1841-1908.
What a Young Girl Ought to Know. Philadelphia: Vir Publishing Co., 1905.

These "Twilight Talks" explain the facts of life to a young girl entering puberty. In addition to bodily functions, there are suggestions for behavior, education, and friendships. The discussion of sex includes the birds and the bees, but does not include any illustrations or discussion of intercourse.

Margaret H. Sanger, 1879-1966.
What Every Mother Should Know, Or How Six Little Children Were Taught the Truth. New York: Max N. Maisel, 1916.

Founder of the American birth control movement, Margaret Sanger fought for the revision of archaic legislation that prohibited publication of facts about contraception. In her early career, Sanger practiced nursing among the impoverished families of New York and became aware of the interrelationships between overpopulation, high infant and maternal mortality rates, and poverty.What Every Mother Should Know was first published as a series of articles in the radical journal The New York Call in 1911. The preface to the book explains, "The idea is that the child be taught the process of reproduction and absorb such knowledge without realizing he has received any "sex" instruction."

Sister Matilda.
Home Nursing. Little Blue Book No. 137. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Co., circa 1923.

Home Nursing was one of the two thousand titles in the Little Blue Book series of reference and literary works published by Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius, a socialist and reformer. The books sold for a nickel and contained brief but accurate information on a wide variety of topics.

Adolphus Knopf.
Aspects of Birth Control. Little Blue Book No. 209. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Co., circa 1923.

Dr. Adolpus Knopf, a prestigious physician from the New York Academy of Medicine, was sympathetic to the birth control movement and believed that medical institutions should help in the investigation and practice of contraception. He was among the first in the medical field to express interest in the work of Margaret Sanger.

Maude (Richman) Calvert, 1892-
Everyday Living for Boys and Girls. Atlanta: Turner E. Smith, 1925.

Everyday Living urges mothers to instill good habits in their children at an early age. The book covers correct eating and health practices, good manners and everyday thrift. It warns mothers that these habits are easily formed in childhood, but hard to correct in later life. Calvert was the State Supervisor of Home Economics for the state of Oklahoma.

The Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
Our Bodies Ourselves: A Book by and for Women. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1971.

Our Bodies Ourselves began as a simple self-help guide for women during the women's liberation movement of the nineteen sixties. Its coverage of sexuality, health care, and self-esteem in a candid, non-judgmental manner was quickly adopted as a guide for millions of women. The book has been revised several times in the past twenty-five years and is now available in nineteen languages.

Benjamin Spock, 1903-1998.
Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. 7th edition. NY: Pocket Books, 1998.

Since it was first published in 1946, Baby and Child Care has become the standard guide for raising children for generations of American parents. It has been translated into thirty-nine languages and sold more than fifty million copies, making it second in sales only to the Bible.


A Course of Calisthenics for Young Ladies… Hartford: H. and F. J. Huntington, 1831.

Written as a series of letters to a friend, the book stresses the importance of physical exercise for young women. Students can be injured during their education by the uncomfortable chairs, excessive amounts of homework, and the fashion of tightly-laced clothing. A series of very gentle games and exercises are suggested to alleviate these problems. The author rejects "the idea that it is unlady-like to be active and healthy. The etiquette of society is opposed to every thing like natural emotion. In fitting girls to appear well in this society whose watch-word is 'gentility,' they often become dull and stupid; mere automata."

Mademoiselle St. Sernin.
Healthful Sports for Young Ladies. London: Printed for R. Ackermann by W. Clowes, 1822.

The author, Mlle St. Sernin, remains elusive, beyond the fact that she was a French governess. The beautiful illustrations are by Jean Demosthene Dugourc (1749-1825). The "sports" illustrated included tossing a ball and riding on a see saw.

Anna M. Galbraith.
Hygiene and Physical Culture for Women. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1895.

Galbraith was a physician who trained at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and was an Attending Physician at the New York Orthopedic Hospital. She wrote several books on the mental and physical development of women and stressed the importance of education and exercise for well being.

Dodd, Mead Publisher's File Copy Collection.

Marie E. Ward.
Bicycling for Ladies. New York; Paris: Brentano's, 1896.

The bicycle was a symbol of liberation for women at the end of the nineteenth century. It allowed for movement into new spaces, literally and figuratively. The woman of the nineteenth century who had been given little opportunity to cultivate or express her autonomy now had a vehicle with which one could not only develop autonomous power, but do so while leaving behind the old reliance upon men for travel. As Marie Ward clearly states, "Riding the wheel, our powers are revealed to us..."

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