Notes: A very scarce guide to women's health, written by the first woman admitted to the American Medical Association. It is one of the first guides to women's health written by a female doctor. The Atwater collection of popular medicine included only the second and third editions, the annotations for which fill most of a page.
According to Atwater, "The editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association accorded Stevenson the rare honor of printing a photographic portrait with her obituary in the 21 August 1909 issue, and noted her 'hard fight in overcoming the early prejudices against her sex" within the medical profession." A long speech Stevenson gave on the subject of equality of education for female doctors is included as an appendix to this book.
Stevenson aims to demystify menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, and to assert that they are natural and not debilitating. She is particularly influenced by Dr. Mary Jacobi's work, The Question of Rest During Menstruation, and offers the commonsense refutation of many male doctors that middle class white women should spend their periods in bed: "Working women, as a class, never think of resting at this time." As a working woman herself, she was speaking from experience.
Stevenson also agreed with many feminists of the era that Victorian clothing for women was oppressive. "The whole status of the girl is made to depend not upon what she is or does, but how she looks. 'How do I look!" is the everlasting story from beginning to end of a woman's life. Looks, not books, are the murderers of American women."
Like all physicians of her time, Stevenson tried to understand women's reproductive organs without knowledge of hormones and other basic biochemistry. While many of her theories are factually wrong, she approached every question with the view that normal functions were normal and a belief that women's lives should not be governed by their uteruses.
A remarkable 19th century feminist book, and if one believes that women's medicine is medicine, The Physiology of Woman is a significant American medical book that offers a nascent modern approach to gynecology.
Edition + Condition: First edition. A near fine copy in the publisher's green cloth, stamped in gilt. With a few passages marked lightly in the margins with pencil.
Publication: Chicago: Cushing, Thomas & Company, 1880.
Item No: #307608