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Dangerous Adolescence

Returning to the themes of the impact of biology on women’s physical and mental health, this week we will focus on ‘disorders’ associated with female adolescence, a time of particular danger for women. Adolescence was associated with menstrual problems, chlorosis, anorexia nervosa, and hysteria, and was represented as a cultural and medical turning point for women.

I will bring some illustrative material and extracts from advice literature for women to the seminar, to open up the issue of how responses to female adolescence might have shifted around 1900.


Primary source

* Pat Jalland and John Hooper, Women from Birth to Death: The Female Life Cycle in Britain 1830-1914 (1986), Part 2.1-2.4.

Helen King, The disease of virgins: green sickness, chlorosis and the problems of puberty (2004).

* Elaine and English Showalter, ‘Victorian women and menstruation’, in Martha Vicinus (ed.), Suffer and be Still: Women in the Victorian Age (1980), 38-44.

* Vern Bullough and Martha Voight, ‘Women, menstruation, and nineteenth-century medicine’, in Leavitt (ed.), Women and Health in America, 1st edn, 28-37.

* Irvine Loudon, ‘Chlorosis, anaemia and anorexia nervosa’, British Medical Journal, 281 (20-27 Dec. 1980), 1669-75.

* Joan Jacobs Brumberg, ‘From psychiatric syndrome to “communicable” disease: the case of anorexia nervosa’, in Charles E. Rosenberg and Janet Golden (eds), Framing Disease: Studies in Cultural History (1997), 134-54.

* Joan Jacobs Brumberg, ‘Chlorotic girls, 1870-1920: a historical perspective on female adolescence’, in Leavitt (ed.), Women and Health in America, 1st edn, 186-95.

‘”Something happens to girls”: menarche and the emergence of the modern American hygienic imperative’, in Leavitt (ed.), Women and Health in America, 2nd edn, 150-71.

Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease (1998).

Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, (1998).

* Ann Chisholm, ‘Incarnations and practices of feminine rectitude: nineteenth-century gymnastics for U.S. women’, Journal of Social History, 38 (2005), 737-63.