Able-Bodied Womanhood: Personal Health and Social Change in by Martha H. Verbrugge

By Martha H. Verbrugge

As city lifestyles and women's roles replaced within the nineteenth century, so did attitudes in the direction of actual wellbeing and fitness and womanhood. as a consequence learn of well-being reform in Boston among 1830 and 1900, Martha H. Verbrugge examines 3 associations that popularized body structure and workout between middle-class girls: the women' Physiological Institute, Wellesley university, and the Boston basic tuition of Gymnastics. opposed to the backdrop of a countrywide debate approximately girl tasks and overall healthiness, this ebook follows middle-class girls as they discovered approximately healthiness and explored the connection among health and femininity. Combining scientific and social historical past, Verbrugge seems on the traditional ladies who participated in well-being reform and analyzes the conflicting messages--both feminist and conservative--projected via the idea that of "able-bodied womanhood."

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6 Although one can easily locate those themes in nineteenth-century health tracts, it is much harder to gauge their impact on readers' lives. By charting the course to health, advice literature addressed the uncertainties of the middle class. An attentive audience, however, is not necessarily a compliant one. As social historians have come to appreciate, description cannot be inferred from prescription. The following discussion does not attempt to determine the extent to which middle-class Bostonians heeded the advice in health literature.

In particular, health reformers declared, people could neither blame heredity, nor defer to God, nor plead ignorance when explaining their illnesses. Conventional wisdom at mid-century stated that each person was born with certain capacities, disabilities, and predispositions. Given the prevalence of Lamarckianism, Americans believed that acquired traits were heritable; in other words, characteristics that parents developed during their lives could be transferred to their offspring. Popular thought, however, also maintained that judicious intervention, such as education and proper habits, could temper one's liabilities and strengthen one's better qualities.

The larger meaning of female sickness can be seen in the responsiveness of middle-class Bostonians to antebellum health reform. For many, women's ailments, and sickness in general, demonstrated the precariousness of urban life: the city teemed; children passed away; immigrants proliferated, spread epidemics, and died; women became invalid and infertile. That was physical evidence of deeper problems. Along with others in the urban Northeast, middle-class Bostonians sensed that their world was shifting: familiar routines held true less and less; traditional roles and values were strained; the structure of work, home, and neighborhood began to change.

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