"You wish my views and experience in reference to instructions that should be communicated to the young, on such topics, at a more mature age.
"The terrible effects I have seen from simple ignorance, both on individual and domestic happiness, convince me that a great work is to be attempted in this direction. More than half the cases of extreme suffering which have come under my care could have been saved, had the course that is aimed at by you and your associates have been secured by them. I have been called repeatedly to lecture to young ladies,near the close of a school education, on subjects so important to their future health and happiness, and I never found the least difficulty, either on their part or my own.
"When the proper discriminations are made between true delicacy and propriety, and a fastidious and mawkish imitation of them, there is no difficulty in making them understood and appreciated. I have found, on such occasions, if a person was present known to be wanting in purity and delicacy, it was such only who made very offensive protestations against the course pursued in such instructions.
"In reference to social as well as secret vices of this description, it seems to me the protection of ignorance should be preserved as long as possible, and yet so that, when such knowledge dawns, there shall immediately recur the needful impression of danger and sin. These duties belong especially to parents and teachers; and the circulation of books and papers with the gross and pernicious information that many have recommended and practiced involves, as it seems to me, most hazardous results.
"The implanted principles which establish the family state are connected with the highest rewards when rightly regulated, and with most dreadful penalties when perverted or abused. And the prosperity of individuals, of families, and of nations, for this life and the life to come, depends more on the proper control and regulation of these principles than on any other social or moral duty.
"And yet there is no point of morals and religion so widely abused and so fruitful of misery and sin as much that is connected with these principles. Instead of being regulated by correct knowledge and well-formed habits of thought and action, all seems left to the mistakes of ignorance or the control of worldly fashion.
"One cause of this state of things is want of consistent rules and customs as to what constitutes true modesty. These are all dependent on a general principle of physiology either rarely recognized or inconsistently regarded. The principle is this:
"When the mind directs thought and volition toward any organ of the body the blood and nervous fluid tend to that organ. Thus, when the brain is used, or the eye, or the hand, the nervous fluid and blood tend to the organ to stimulate its action. If this stimulation is too frequent, or too long continued, or produced by unnatural methods, then debility or disease are the result. The capillaries of the misused organ become engorged, producing temporary or chronic inflammation or congestion.
"The same is true of those organs consecrated to marriage. Excess or unnatural abuse causes an engorgement of the capillaries, and then a resulting increase of excitement, and to a degree that sometimes baffles all efforts at self-control.
"It is owing to this physiological principle that the rules of personal modesty, of decorum, and of propriety in social intercourse have been established.
"On the principle above stated these sensibilities demand the control of the thoughts. For this reason it is that certain topics which lead to such thoughts are excluded from general conversation, or, if they are alluded to, are veiled in expressions that children do not understand. It is for this cause that novels, poetry, and pictures which direct the imagination to such topics are deemed objectionable, especially for the young.
"It is owing to this physiological fact that Jesus Christ declares that the guilt of adultery commences in the indulgence of the thoughts.
"Marriage is not allowable until there has been due instruction and a habit formed of regulating these sensibilities by rules of modesty, decency, and propriety, and also knowledge imparted as to the dangers consequent on neglecting these rules. And here is the place where the customs and practices of society are most inconsistent, false, and destructive to health and morals. For in one direction there is excessive and dangerous laxness, and in another false and dangerous strictness and fastidiousness.
"The rule to guide is this, that whenever health, life, or duty demand it, all connected with these topics should be spoken of and done without restraint or embarrassment; but when there are no such demands, they are to be excluded. Thus all these topics are spoken of plainly in the Bible and read in public worship, and also in medical, surgical, and hospital practice; and it is deemed false modesty and false delicacy to express opposition or disapproval. But when there are no such demands to serve health or life, or to protect from future dangers, conversation, poetry, jokes, or coarse expressions on such topics are vulgar, indecent, and sinful.
"Direct violation of these rules are now pervading not only our popular amusements, our poetry, and novels, but extensively the weekly and daily press is every day drawing attention to topics dangerous and forbidden except for necessary instruction and warning. The Bible as read in families and churches comes with solemn simplicity as instruction from God, and sins of all kinds are made known for warning and instruction. Very different in style and influence are the details of vices and crimes presented daily in newspapers, magazines, poetry, and novels.
"It would seem as if the Prince of Darkness had sent forth his minions to hide all that knowledge that would save from sin and suffering, and to expose all that tempts to danger and sin.
"In addition to the dangers of our popular literature, there is a wide-spread assumption that such is the constitution of man, that the unsullied purity of thought and conduct demanded of the weaker sex is not to be expected or scarcely required of the stronger. This pernicious opinion is not unfrequent-ly implied in medical writers, especially those residing in the centres of European licentiousness.
"Therefore it is very important for parents to know, in the first place, that constitutional diversities exist, involving more temptations to some than to others; and in the next place, that every child is so organized, that strict obedience to the laws of health, knowledge of danger from uncontrolled thoughts, useful occupation, and suitable moral and religious training, will secure the regulation of ordinary temptations, and self-control under extraordinary ones. Where in maturity this has not been the case, it has been owing to excess either in forbidden or in legal indulgence.
"There is nothing more difficult than to change customs and prejudices, especially in matters of delicacy and propriety. And it is woman more than man who has controlling influence in these respects. Whatever the cultivated and conscientious women of our country decide ought to be done, and will use their influence to have done, will surely be accomplished.
"The evils here indicated can never be appreciated until mothers and teachers gain that knowledge of the construction of the body and the dangers connected with the duties of the family state, which now is confined to the medical profession, while physicians, by the false customs and false modesty of women, are constrained to a dangerous reticence.
"I believe that the method proposed by your Association, of securing by endowments well-qualified ladies whose official duty it shall be to train the young to be healthy, and to communicate all the knowledge that will fit them to fulfill healthfully and happily all their future duties and relations, will, so far as it is carried out, effectually remedy the evils, and secure the benefits designed.
"Oh, that all parents and teachers who are to train the next generation could be made to understand these intimations, and save their daughters from the abounding anguish which has come upon such multitudes of those now upon the stage! Very truly yours, R. B. Gleason."
These views of Mrs. Dr. Gleason are in accordance with those of the most influential, learned, and benevolent medical men.
Dr. George T. Elliott, late President of the New York County Medical Society, says of muscular exercise (or, as Mrs. Gleason would say, "getting up and going to work"): "If this were properly carried out, the local treatment now so much in vogue, and the ever-ready resort to the speculum, might commonly be dispensed with."
Dr. Thomas suggests similar views in an address before the Medical Society of New York County, in which he speaks of "the wonderful improvement exerted on cases which have long resisted local means, by sea-bathing, or a few months passed in the country. He also says: "The fact is notorious that the local treatment of these diseases is not as successful as we could wish;" and of uterine injections he says: "My impression is, they have done, and are going to do, a great deal of harm. I see no necessity for them."
Dr. Peasely, of New York City, says: "Medical applications to the uterus are often used in conditions not justifying them."
The senior editor of the Pacific Medical Journal says: "It is hoped that the fashion of women having recourse to local treatment has passed to its culmination. The highest authorities have taken the back course, and condemn their own uterine surgery in some respects."
The editor of the Medical Record, of New York City, says: "In a majority of cases the speculum is used only because it is the fashion. The natural tendency of this is certainly demoralizing."
Dr. George H. Taylor, author of an original work on diseases of women, says: "A large portion of the women treated by me for pelvic disease would, in certain stages, be cured by loose dresses supported from the shoulders, domestic exercise, and proper diet. And the Movement Cure, to a great extent, consists of exercises that would in many cases be as successful, and more useful, if performed in domestic labor. Moreover, in my experience, not more than one case in twenty of cures by movements requires either local examination or local treatment. A large portion of my patients could, by obeying my directions, cure themselves at home."
Most medical men now agree that the modes of dress, and the excessive mental taxation of schools, unaccompanied by the healthful domestic labor of former days, largely account for the prevalence of diseases among young girls which formerly were confined to married women, and also for the alarming increase of such diseases.