German Women in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History

By John C. Fout | Go to book overview

The Civilizing Tendency of Hygiene
Working-Class Women under Medical Control in Imperial Germany*

UTE FREVERT

In recent years, many scholars have stressed the important, if not to say decisive, influence that the medical profession had on the self-esteem and role performance of middle-class women in the nineteenth century. In France, Great Britain, and the United States, historians, mostly women, have pointed out to what extent physicians were concerned with women's pathology, in a practical sense and theoretically. 1 Consequently, medical doctrines which claimed the female body suffered from physiological deficiencies (and was in fact inferior) were used as a justification for excluding women from certain professions and spheres of action. At the same time, however, medical opinions which espoused the notion of "character due to sex" 2 held out elements of identification which women were eager to accept. If their physical constitution was so frail indeed, making women the victims of the uterus and the vicissitudes of the menstrual cycle, they could take advantage of those arguments and at least temporarily escape from their daily household and conjugal duties by claiming they were too ill. 3 Moreover, health propaganda opened up a new and highly esteemed field of endeavor for the wives of the bourgeoisie. Considering themselves responsible for implementing the new rules of health in their homes, they upgraded their domestic and

____________________
*
My thanks to Ute Daniel and Claudia Huerkamp for critical suggestions.

-320-

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