Monday, February 21, 2011

Femal, Femals (for Female, Females)

If women were truly as feeble and frail as was commonly believed in the 19th century, perhaps they should have been called Femal instead of female. (It really was that bad.) One doctor of the day, however, who did not simply regard them as fainting and hysterical men manque was Clelia Duel Mosher, born in 1863 in Albany, New York. Her father was a local psychiatrist (or "alienist" as they were then known), and although Mosher herself was a contemporary of Freud's, she was more concerned with women's oppressed physiques than with their repressed psyches. Cornelius Duel Mosher encouraged Clelia's growing interest in science, but could not quite countenance her going away to college. This did not deter his daughter, however, who had saved up the tuition money on her own and was determined to enroll at Wellesley. She spent a year there, then went on to attend the University of Wisconsin, Stanford University, and Johns Hopkins, where she obtained her medical degree in 1900. She argued that women did not breath "costally" (from the ribcage) by nature, but would do so fully from their diaphragms, like men, once freed from the binding distortions of the corset. She also devised a series of exercises dubbed "moshers" to help women alleviate menstrual pain. But her most groundbreaking work was a fin de siècle sex survey, which lay gathering dust in the Stanford archives until 1973, where it was discovered by a delighted Carl Degler. (Entitled The Mosher Survey: Sexual Attitudes of 45 Victorian Women, it was finally published by Arno Press in 1980.) The survey dispelled a number of Victorian myths about female sexuality, with many of the participants freely admitting to enjoying sex, experiencing orgasm, and using birth control. One was bold enough to merit the following laconic notation: "Thinks men have not been properly trained." Like a cross between Alfred Kinsey and Emily Dickinson, Clelia Duel Mosher was a self-admitted loner, unable to find acceptance in her own time among either women or men. "Dear friend who does not exist," she once wrote. "I have given up ever finding you. I have tried out all my friends and they have not measured up to my dreams." We found seven instances of Femal in OhioLINK and 241 in WorldCat (along with 18 examples of Femals).

(Clelia Duel Mosher in 1892, from A szexologia Archivuma.)

Carol Reid

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yes, tell us more, Carol.