Note I. Communication from Mrs. Dr. R. B. Gleason, in Catharine E. Beecher, Letters to The People on Health and Happiness (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1856), pp. 1*-16*

[Beecher's Intro] p. 1*: . . .This lady is a regularly educated physician, and has practiced, in connection with her husband, for ten years, confining her attention chiefly to patients of her own sex. She first studied with her husband, who is a graduate of the medical school at Castleton, Vermont. Afterward she took two courses of medical lectures at two of the small number of medical schools that allow these advantages to women, and received her diploma. In this lady are united more than ordinary talents, sound common-sense, benevolence, and refinement.]


Elmira Water Cure, N.Y., April 15, 1855.

[Begins with elaborate discussion, complete with diagrams, of "internal displacements" caused by "debility" and "tight-dresses." (P. 2*)

P.3*: The combined influences of bad air, bad food, excess in eating, want of exercise, and excessive stimulus of of the brain and nerves, produce a general delicacy and debility of the whole organism, in which the abdominal muscles especially suffer. . . .In this state of debility the present style of dress has done everything that can be done to deprive them of what little functional power would otherwise have remained. The result has been thousands and thousands of such distorted specimens of humanity as are exhibited in Fig. 43, on opposite page. A really perfectly formed woman, on the true model of beauty and proportion, designed by the Creator, and perpetuated in marble statues by artists [Fig. 42], is but rarely seen among our countrywomen. Every woman who has a waist to correspond with the fashion plates, usually has her interior organs in such a shocking and disgusting situation as is here portrayed, or is fast approximating toward it.

P. 4*: . . . This distortion brings on woman peculiar distresses. The pressure of the whole superincumbent mass on the pelivc organs induces sufferings proportioned in acuteness to the extreme delicacy and sensitiveness of the parts thus crushed. And the intimate connection of these organs with the brain and the whole nervous system renders injuries thus inflicted the causes of the most extreme anguish, both of body and mind. This evil is becoming so common not only among married women, but among young girls, as is a just cause for universal alarm.

How very common these sufferings are, few but the medical profession can realize, because these are troubles that must be concealed. Many a woman is moving about in uncomplaining agony who, with any other complaint, involving equal suffering, would be on her bed surroounded by sympathizing friends.

[Gleason next described the correct treatment: "simple diet, pure air, hard beds, proper positions, by night and day, and a regular, systematic training to invigorate the whole of the muscular system by appropriate exercise" (P. 5*) combined with "the medical use of water as a tonic to the whole nervous and muscular system." (p. 5*) In most cases, this would restore "perfect health."]

P. 5*: But, in bad cases, there must be added to all the above surgical and mechanical treatment for replacing the disarranged organs. And where inflammation and ulceration of the diseased organs have supervened, still more trying and painful operations must be resorted to.

[Gleason went on to note that "many physicians, who are not properly qualified to distinguish the various forms of uterine disease, are liable to attribute all pelvic pains to 'prolapsus;'. . .." These physicians then resort to "uncalled for manipulations" which "greatly aggravate these affections." [sic -- afflictions? infections?] ]

P. 6*: . . .after full opportunities for experiment, my convictions have constantly increased that, as a general rule, this method [of "mechanical replacement," i.e., the "uncalled for" massage of the vagina or uterus] is in most cases totally needless, and in many decidedly injurious. Other practitioners, who have made the same experiments, have arrived at the same conclusion.

P. 7*: This subject is important, not only in its medical but its moral aspect.

[Beecher added: In reference to the dangers here intimated, it is important that the public should be generally apprised of the fact that these and other objectionable methods have been introduced both into health establishments and private practice. At the same time, every woman should be cautioned not to submit to any kind of medical treatment for this class of diseases, which is a secret withheld from the profession, nor till she has the assurance of more than one physician that the method proposed is indispensable to her relief from great suffering.--C.E.B.]

P. 9*: Woman's trusting, confiding nature is beautiful; but oh! How much it needs to be protected by an intelligence on such subjects, that will enable her properly to exercise her own judgment! And surely in such cases, above all others, a woman should be sure that her medical adviser had had a proper education, and possesses a well-established moral character.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

6. Peculiar Instruction needed by young Children.

Pp. 12*-13*: Through information gained from my husband, from other physicians, from medical writers, and from the reports of insane hospitals, it has become clear to my mind that there are secret and terrific causes preying extensively upon the health and nervous energy of childhood and youth of both sexes, such as did not formerly exist, and such as demand new efforts to eradicate and prevent.

Parents and teachers all over the land need to be made aware that a secret vice is becoming frequent among children of both sexes, that is taught by servants and communicated by children at school. Indeed, it may result from accident or disease, with an innocent unconsciousness of the evil done, on the part of the child, while the practice may thus ignorantly be perpetuated to maturity. This practice leads to diseases of the most horrible description, to mania, and to fatuity [i.e. stupidity]. Death and the mad-house are the last resort of these most miserable victims.

To protect childhood and youth from this, it is not only needful to cultivate purity of mind and personal modesty, but to teach them, while quite young, that any fingering of [p. 13*] the parts referred to involves terrible penalties. No such explicit information should be given as would tempt the incautious curiosity of childhood, but the child should be impressed with a sense of guilt and awful punishment as connected with any thing of this kind,that would instantly recur to mind if led by accident or instruction to this vice.

P. 13*; In regard to those who have already become victims, . . .it is safest and best to assume that the sin is one of ignorance, and that the cure is almost certain if the directions given are strictly obeyed. Unstimulating diet, a great deal of exercise in the open air, daily ablution of the whole person, control of the imagination, and occupation of the mind in useful pursuits, will usually remedy the evil after its nature is understood.