blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dr. Clelia Mosher

Dr. Clelia Mosher was born during the height of the Civil War. Her master's thesis disproved the belief of the day that women only breathed from their chest, rather than their diaphragms. Her research showed that apparel, namely corsets, were responsible for the erroneous assumption, and women were not inferior to men.

Afterward, Mosher attended Johns Hopkins in order to pursue a medical degree. She turned her attention to the subject of menstruation. She created breathing exercises for women who suffered from painful menstruation. Once again, her research showed that common beliefs about women were wrong, and that women who failed to stay active while having their periods usually had worse pain.

In 1900, Mosher received her medical degree, and she opened a private practice. During an era with few female doctors, she struggled to get clients and finally accepted a research position at Stanford in 1910.

Dr. Mosher is best known for her unique research that she began in the late-nineteenth century and continued through 1920. She surveyed forty-five married women about health issues. The questions ranged from background, education, and how many children. More interestingly, the topics she examined also explored sexual practices and birth control. By no means is the study an exhaustive, scientific one. All of the women were from the North or West, most likely white, and well-educated, clearly biasing the sample selection. But the study lends an extraordinary rare glimpse inside Victorian life.

Contrary to the stereotype of frigid Victorian women, Mosher's survey revealed that most women enjoyed sex. The women responding to the survey varied as to what they knew about sex before marriage from nothing at all to having read advice manuals of the era. All but four (two refused to answer) women admitted to using some sort of birth control. In fact, the women weren't shy and 75 percent admitted to having orgasms.

For some unknown reason, the survey got buried and wasn't rediscovered until the mid-twentieth century. Dr. Mosher's sex survey was finally published in 1980, forty years after her death.

Kim Murphy