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Thoughts on Love, Dating, Marriage and Divorce from 1870

While reading this article in The Atlantic about parenting advice as it has changed over the centuries, I stumbled across a curious tome from 1870 entitled The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife and Mother. It was written by a man (of course) named Dr. George H. Napheys, who published a second edition in 1878. Dr. Napheys was born in Philadelphia in 1842 and as a young man fought in the Civil War. After the war he received his medical degree and began to practice in Philadelphia, where in 1869 he started his tome on the health and well-being of the fairer sex.

A lot of the opinion and certainly the medical knowledge in The Physical Life of Woman is laughably outdated and anti-feminist. However, much of the advice Dr. Napheys gives still holds up today. Take a tour through his thoughts on love, dating, marriage and divorce and see for yourself how much yet how little has changed in 143 years:

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  • On puberty 2 of 14
    On puberty
    At a certain period in the life of the female, she ceases to be a girl, and becomes a woman. Hitherto she has felt no distinction between herself and the boys, her playmates. But now a crisis takes place, which is for ever after to hedge her round with a mysterious, invisible, but most real barrier from all mankind.

    This period is called the age of puberty. Its sign is a flow of blood recurring every month; its meaning, that the female has entered upon that portion of her life whose peculiar obligations are to the whole race—no longer to herself alone.

    Image: iStock

  • On female hysteria 3 of 14
    On female hysteria
    There is a disease of the nerves to which girls about the age of puberty are very subject, particularly in the higher circles of society, where their emotions are over-educated and their organization delicate. It is called hysteria, and more commonly hysterics. Frequently it deceives both doctor and friends, and is supposed to be some dangerous complaint. Often it puts on the symptoms of epilepsy, or heart disease, or consumption. We have witnessed the most frightful convulsions in girls of fourteen or fifteen, which were brought on by this complaint. Sometimes it injures the mind; and it should always receive prompt and efficient attention, as it is always curable.

    Image: iStock

  • On single life 4 of 14
    On single life
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  • On dating 5 of 14
    On dating
    A wise provision of nature ordains that woman shall be sought. She flees, and man pursues. The folly of modern reformers, who would annul this provision, is evident. Were it done away with, man, ever prone to yield to woman's solicitations, and then most prone when yielding is most dangerous, would fritter away his powers at an early age, and those very impulses which nature has given to perpetuate the race would bring about its destruction.

    To prevent such a disaster, woman is endowed with a sense of shame, an invincible modesty, her greatest protection, and her greatest charm. Let her never forget it, never disregard it; for without it she becomes the scorn of her own sex and the jest of the other.

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  • On love at first sight 6 of 14
    On love at first sight
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  • On the right age to marry 7 of 14
    On the right age to marry
    We have placed the best age for woman to marry between twenty and twenty-five years; for similar reasons, man is best qualified to become a husband between twenty-three and thirty-three years.

    Let us sum up with the maxim, that the husband should be the senior, but that the difference of age should not be more than ten years.

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  • On long engagements 8 of 14
    On long engagements
    They are hurtful, and they are unnecessary. Is love so vagrant that it must be tied by such a chain? Better let it go. True love asks no oath; it casteth out fear, and believes without a promise.

    If we are asked to be definite, and give figures, we should say that a period not longer than a year, nor shorter than three months, should intervene between the engagement and the marriage.

    Image: iStock

  • How to choose a wedding date 9 of 14
    How to choose a wedding date
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  • On honeymooning 10 of 14
    On honeymooning
    The foundation of many an unhappy future is laid on the wedding tour. Not only is the young wife tried beyond all her experience, and her nervous system harassed, but the husband, too, partakes of her weakness. Many men, who really love the women they marry, are subject to a slight revulsion of feeling for a few days after marriage. 'When the veil falls, and the girdle is loosened,' says the German poet Schiller, 'the fair illusion vanishes.'

    Yet it is every way advisable that the young pair should escape the prying eyes of friends and relatives at such a moment. Let them choose some quiet resort, not too long a journey from home, where they can pass a few weeks in acquiring that more intimate knowledge of each other's character as essential to their future happiness.

    Image: iStock

  • On a woman’s right to refuse 11 of 14
    On a woman's right to refuse
    There are times at which marital relations are eminently improper. We are told, I Cor. vii. 3, 4, that neither husband nor wife has the power to refuse the conjugal obligation when the debt is demanded. But there are certain legitimate causes for denial by the wife.

    A condition of intoxication in the husband is a proper ground for refusal. Fecundation taking place while either parent has been in this state has produced idiots and epileptics. This has happened again and again. The cases on record are so numerous and well-authenticated, as to admit of no doubt in regard to the fatal effect upon the mind of the offspring of conception under such circumstances.

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  • On divorce 12 of 14
    On divorce
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  • On never escaping your first marriage 13 of 14
    On never escaping your first marriage
    We have said love is a necessity in the life of either man or woman to complete their nature. Its effects, therefore, are eternal. We do not intend this as a figure of speech. It is a sober statement of physiology.

    From the day of marriage the woman undergoes a change in her whole structure. She is similar to her former self, but not the same. It is often noticed that the children of a woman in her second marriage bear a marked resemblance to her first husband.

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  • On second marriages 14 of 14
    On second marriages
    Science, therefore, seems to say to woman, 'Your first husband is your eternal husband.' How, then, about second marriages?

    If a woman cannot love two men equally,—and she cannot,—other motives, worthy of all respect, justify her in entering the marriage life a second time. True love may first dawn upon a woman after one or two husbands have left her a widow. Orphan children, widow-hood, want of property, or the care of property,—these are sad afflictions to the lonely woman. Do not blame her if she accepts a husband as a guardian, a protector, whom she can no longer receive to her arms as a lover. She is right.

    Image: iStock

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