The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation. Mary Putnam Jacobi.
The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation
The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation
The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation
The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation

One of the First Serious Medical Books on Menstruation, Owned by a Woman Physician

The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation

Notes: An important work in the history of gynecology and feminism—a scientific argument by one of the first American women doctors against the standard prescription of total rest for women during their periods. This medical practice sidelined middle- and upper-class women for several days each month (poor women have always worked through their entire menstrual cycles, and Jacobi specifically excludes Black women working in agriculture in the South from this study; see p. 19). In 1873, a Harvard physician, Edward Clarke, published a book that offered rather thin evidence that women were subject to severe consequences, including sterility, if they exerted themselves during menstruation.

Even in the medical community there was a feeling that Clarke had gone too far and so the Boylston Prize Committee at Harvard solicited essays on the question of rest during menstruation. Jacobi anonymously submitted her response "in masculine handwriting" and won the prize for 1876. In her book, she first reviews the literature on menstruation, and then she reports the results of her research, including written surveys from several hundred women and various objective measures recorded on each day of her subjects' menstrual cycles. Her conclusion? There is no evidence that rest is needed or does any good.

Jacobi also offered two other advances in understanding female fertility: she challenged the predominant theory that menstruation and ovulation occurred simultaneously and established that women had a wave (cycle) shown by measurably different vital signs depending on how many days remained before the onset of menses. (According to Clara Bittel, in Mary Putnam Jacobi and the Politics of Medicine in Nineteenth-Century America (2009), Jacobi's book spurred new research into menstruation, particularly around her wave theory, which became known as Stephenson waves, after a male doctor who published a study inspired by Jacobi's work).

After graduating from public school, Jacobi pursued pharmacy, becoming the first woman to graduate from an American pharmacy school. She then enrolled at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania and did service in the medical corps during the Civil War. After the war, she set her sights on the Ecole de Medecine of the University of Paris, becoming in 1871 the first woman graduate of that institution. She went on to a brilliant medical career and published 120 papers and several books based on scientific research. This, her first book, was published by her father, George Palmer Putnam.

[viii], 232, [2 publisher ads] pages.

References: Garrison-Morton 11912; the Boylston Prize Essay of Harvard University for 1876.

Edition + Condition: First edition (first printing). A very good or better copy in the publisher's original pebbled green cloth (also seen in terra-cotta) with light shelfwear along the bottom edge of the boards. This copy has the ownership inscription, dated May 26th, 1877, of an early American woman doctor, Elmira Y. Howard, the first female physician in Cincinnati. Dr. Howard has underlined a few passages, most heavily in the section discussing ovulation and menstruation.

Publication: New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1877.

Item No: #307591

Price: $2,500

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