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Oct. 28th, 2012 | 06:25 pm

In my last shift at Oxfam, I found and bought a book called The Complete Medical Encyclopedia and Household Doctor - no date given, but judging by the illustrations it looks like it's from the 30s. It's in surprisingly good condition (or it was, until I left Oxfam in a ferocious rainstorm and, despite my having an umbrella, the book got soaked and the red dye on its cover started to run). I love things like this - they're such a window onto the past. And, of course, some things are hilarious. Some highlights:

"In connection with diseases of the breast I may mention the condition known as flat chest or ill-developed bust, one which is frequently a source of annoyance and even unhappiness to women - especially those matrimonially inclined. The cause as a rule lies in the wearing of unsuitable corsets, though in many cases it forms part of a general constitutional thinness. The measures to be adopted for the correction of this deficiency consist in much sleep, or at least rest in bed, suitable exercises, particularly those known as breathing exercises, loose clothing, a proper diet containing plenty of fat, and massage with or without olive - or some other - oil, in a circular manner.

"The opposite condition, namely, an oppressive bosom is part of general obesity and can be combated in addition to general dietic precautions by suitable bandages and the help of a clever dressmaker."


(I suppose I should be wearing "suitable bandages".)

"As deaf-mutism is pre-eminently a hereditary disease, deaf-mute people should never be allowed to marry. Unfortunately, the offspring of persons affected with various disease, or addicted to alcohol, or otherwise mentally affected also exhibit deaf-mutism to a large extent, so in order to prevent deaf-mutism altogether it would mean that marriage should be prohibited to a large number of persons besides deaf-mutes, and this is at the present moment at any rate, not a practical proposition."

The 1930s, for all your eugenicist needs.

"So many people go about in constant fear of premature burial, and so many reports - most of them exaggerated, if not entirely untrue - appear of actual discoveries that persons supposed to be dead had been interred whilst in a state of trance, that too much attention cannot be devoted to the signs by which the fact that death has taken place is ascertainable beyond the slightest doubt."


Hysteria, you will be pleased to know, "affects chiefly the female sex" and is generally caused by "a bad home education supplemented by hereditary influences". Blame your parents, hysterical readers. On treatment: "the treatment of hysteria must be one directed chiefly towards strengthening the will-power of the patient. Often a sudden powerful emotion succeeds where years of ordinary medical aid have failed to produce the slightest effect. In this way one explains the miraculous-looking cures achieved by Christian Science and wonder-working wells like those of Lourdes".

On the topic of idiosyncrasies (allergies and phobias, basically), the author mentioned that "There is a case on record of a man who fainted whenever he was in the presence of beetroot". Wow.

The description of melancholia includes among the list of symptoms, rather wonderfully, "a desire to be left alone brooding over imaginary wrongs".

There is a "Health in the Home" appendix, including a section on "Preparing for motherhood". One of the details that really stands out in terms of making one think, "Hang on, things have changed a bit" was the description of the birth: "And then, at last, just as you are wondering how long it is going on and whether you can really bear it, the doctor is there, and there is a whiff of chloroform for you, and when you wake up, Baby has come and is waiting for you to take him in your arms".

There is a lot about breastfeeding, to my surprise. I was under the impression that it wasn't practiced hugely by middle-class women then, but clearly I'm a few decades out.
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Comments {3}

the smoke is briars

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from: highfantastical
date: Oct. 29th, 2012 02:16 am (UTC)

This is so funny, omg. I'm pretty flat-chested (A-cup) and strangely have never felt an urge to rub my breasts SUCH AS THEY ARE with olive oil. Wow.

.....also the eugenics? Ewww! I'd be for the chop, I suppose. Um, not that it would be okay if I personally were a strapping specimen of Aryan womanhood.

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from: littlered2
date: Oct. 29th, 2012 08:04 am (UTC)

I am going to refer to my breasts as "an oppressive bosom" now. And possible bandage them.

Eugenics = creepy. I don't suppose my being a bit mental would go down well. (Also I was born with a cleft lip, OMG DEFORMITY.)

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the femme dandy highwayman

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from: glitzfrau
date: Oct. 29th, 2012 10:00 am (UTC)

I too have an oppressive bosom. Fortunately, I am not among the matrimonially inclined, so need not worry!

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