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Reposting for my other peeps:

Antique Infant Feeding devices:
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Public record of the labor and delivery of a Iberian woman, 1490:
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The second part of Alexis, p. 20.

A verye profitable remedye for the hardenesse of wemens breast after they be brought a bed.
You must take Wheate Bran, and seeth it with the iuice of Rue, and laie it upon her breastes that be hardened after her lying downe, and they will waxe softe and supple. The like remedie is also verye good againste the bitting of Venimous beastes.

To make wemens milke encrease.
Take Fenell seed, and seeth it in barley water, and give the woman drinke of it, and her milke shall encrease abondantly. Also the broth or water that ciche peason be sodden in, is very good for the like thinge.

Rue can cause a dermatological reaction... not recommended.
Ciche peason would be chickpeas (garbanzos).
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Recollections of Full Years, by Helen Herron Taft (Mrs. William Howard Taft):
The members of my family, and especially my children, are prone to indulgence in good-natured personalities and they like to make the most of my serious attitude toward my domestic responsibilities, saying that I make them three times as difficult as they need to be by a too positive insistence on my own methods...
p. 347, ch. XVII, "The White House"
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Translating into English from a reprint of Yale Medical Library MS. 47...
Cut for LOTS of period Girly TMI!
Read more... )
bunnyjadwiga: (Pika)
The herbal history fantasy group are prone to claim that herbs as medications were 'driven underground' by the Christian Church and/or the Medical Establishment during the middle ages and Renaissance.

Nancy Siraisi, in Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice, p. 141, discusses the types of medication in the medieval physician's arsenal:

Of the three instruments of medicine, medication was the principal form of active intervention by which physicians sought to combat disease. The choice of appropriate medicinal substances and their compounding in proper proportions were central areas of medical knowledge. The foundation of medieval European pharmacy -- as of traditional herbal medicine in other societies-- was the attribution of medicinal powers to commonly available substances, usually plants and often those that might also be used in cooking. Sharp taste, pungent aroma, and unusual texture as well as readily perceptible action of some kind (for example, as a laxative or opiate) were all properties that might lead to the classification of a plant as medicinal. Unquestionably, consistent use of of certain common European plants as medicines began in antiquity and had a continuous history thereafter. But in western Europe, even in the early Middle Ages, this simple "kitchen-garden" medicine was never purely empirical, local, folkloric and handed down by oral tradition-- although these characteristics must surely have been present to some extent -- but seems always also to have contained elements derived from Greek medicine by way of written sources. From the early Middle Ages to the high Renaissance, medicinal recipes were the commonest form of medical writing.
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People often backwards-generalize the division between a symptomatic or disease-focused 'scientific' medicine and an alternative 'holistic' or 'whole person medicine' seen in today's culture to the middle ages. To be completely blunt, this is bunk.

Even a little study of the methods and studies of physicans in the medieval and early modern period (pre-Vesalius, for instance), shows that they used holistic, whole-body, mind/body theories such as the theory of humors, astrology, and Galen's writings about the bowels (what foods and activities were contrictive, and what laxative) and strove for moderation in their patients' lives. Such theories let to activities such as bloodletting, cupping (applying hot cups to the skin to bring blood and lymph toward the surface), sweating, and emetic, purgative and/or laxative treatments to expel contents of the stomach and bowel from one end of the digestive tract or the other.

Medieval and early modern empirics, or folk medicine practitioners, used combinations of holistic, symptomatic, and symbolic medicine-- but their medicine was almost never *more* holistic than that of the physicians. Even the simplest scan through the recorded documents shows this. Though Culpeper's English Physician is in places 'holistic' by modern medical standards, it was the document of an empiric-- a non-guild-recognized apothecary -- writing based on the usual treatments described by the physicians of his day. But other authors, such as Gerard, who writes of what the common folk do with this herb and that, or even, to reach back to ancient history, Pliny, don't describe holistic medicine. Pliny, in fact, is famous for having written down any superstition or folk belief that people would describe to him, and one sometimes wonders whether his informants for the Natural History succumbed to the temptation to pull his leg about certain beliefs.

There was, it is true, a 17th and 18th century fad for belief in the Doctrine of Signatures, which holds that substances display their medicinal uses by some distinguishing feature. However, the first appearance of the Doctrine of Signatures is in Pliny, and it was taught and discussed in universities as a way of organizing knowledge, so many educated men, philosophers, and physicians of the middle ages and Renaissance knew of and subscribed to it. The last hurrah of the theory was probably in William Coles' Art of Simpling, whose use of the theory was hotly contested.

I am often told that we can have no idea how medieval women, or in fact any peasant empirics, used herbs, since they practiced only in secret, and never wrote anything down. (Thus, of course, the Lore mentioned by Diana Wynne Jones.) This is convenient, as one can thus make any claim one desires and it cannot be refuted by the documentary evidence.

However, it seems unlikely to be true, as references to home-made remedies appear in documents relating to the less prosperous, and we also see references in botanical and medical writings of the period to things the authors learned from peasants, old women, folklore, and etc. Furthermore, there is a certain intersection between those uses for herbs recorded on the extant herbals and texts, and uses recorded by ethnographers in the 19th and 20th centuries, and claimed now as the rightful herbal lore. To me, at least, it seems plausible that the ancient crafts of the herbalists (to blatantly twist poor Budge to my uses) as used in the middle ages do not remain entirely undocumented.

One curious exception is that of Willow bark, a source of salicylic acid. One can hardly turn around or stub one's toe in a fantasy novel without being offered willow-bark tea. (For reasons unknown, fantasy willow-bark tea, unlike its modern NSAID equivalents in real life, can be drunk as much as needed without stomach effects or increasing bleeding in wounds.) While the Egyptians and Hippocrates appear to have suggested willow bark for pain, it drops out of the written medicinal record after that, until 1763, when Reverend Edmund Stone tried powdered willow bark for fevers and arthritis. Allegedly, it was the theory of humors that led him to do so, since willows grow in the same damp low-lying places that are associated with fevers and arthritis. Oddly enough, however, meadowsweet, another source of salicin, is mentioned by medieval and early modern herbalists for fevers, though other herbs of varying usefulness such as camomile and mints were prescribed for fevers and agues in written works.
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I'm going to take a minute to look at the various witchly activities that Sprenger & Kramer were concerned about. The first is of course causing damage to people and animals; this concept of ill-wishing or bewitching someone's body or property is a fear in most cultures. There is also the specific accusation of raising storms, hail, etc. (A good fantasy example of this is The Wind-Witch by Susan Dexter.) Casting love spells. And the specific midwife-related issues: hindering generation/conception, including causing abortions, and offering babies up to the Devil either by killing them and using their bodies in demonic rites, or by consecrating them to the Devil at birth. And lastly, removing bewitchments and other 'good magic', which could be witchcraft if the assistance of the devil was invoked, or merely heresy.
because this is long )
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(Sorry if y'all are bored. You may have figured out that I'm re-creating my notes here preparatory to writing it all up in a single doc. Zing me if something sounds wrong or more than usually overgeneralized.)

Another major force behind the emergence of the idealistic herbalist-healer in fantasy was the resurgence of interest in herbs, and herbal medicine in particular.

This also was somewhat related to the women's movement, as there was a strong backlash against "traditional," scientific-style medicine in the women's movement. That backlash was definitely justified; the problems with women's healthcare in that time period are amply documented in many studies and first person narratives from healthcare providers and patients of the 1960s.

In particular, male medical establishments' control over women's health was a major issue. (Though I'm not from that period, I can remember going on the Pill and my personal struggles with having to jump through the hoops of authority to control my body.) The question of herbal contraception (did/does it exist? work safely and reliably?) is one that continues to be disputed. John Riddle's Eve's Herbs argues that there were safe reliable contraceptives used 'under the radar' before the modern period; I personally don't buy his arguments, but some people do. We do know that people used contraception, of some type, off and on from the Roman, through the medieval and modern periods. Catherine of Siena, the 30th 23rd child of her parents, railed against those who practiced it (a clear case of self-interest there!) In fantasy and science fiction, of course, there's nearly always a safe reliable contraceptive of some sort.

During the 1970s and their climate of distrust of modern medicine, interest in herbs went through a renaissance. Around the turn of the 20th century, herbs had become devalued in society, though there was a resurgence in interest in the 1930s and 1940s led by scholarly garden-club women such as Eleanor Rhode and Rosetta Clarkson, leading to the foundation of herbal guilds and societies. However, by the late 1960s, most people knew and cared little about herbs as garden plants, seasonings, or medicines. This began to change when the counterculture (and, to a certain extent, the pre-bicentennial celebrators) embraced and promoted the study and growing of herbs, and the use of herbal medicine.

The old woman who lived in the woods, either as a good or bad witch, or the miraculous young woman who dispensed magical healing, were alread features of the folk and fairy tales ardently collected and dispensed by 19th century ethnologists. But in this time period, studies such as the Foxfire Books brought the 'cunning' and 'wise' men and women who practiced folk healing in remote areas-- the Ozarks, the Appalachians-- as their predecessors in remote areas of 18th and 19th century Europe had practiced folk medicine. We'll call these folk healers 'empirics,' a term that was first used in the middle ages by University-trained physicians for those who were not informed by University knowledge and theory. An example of such a folk-healer, folk-witch appears in Nancy Springer's The Hex Witch of Seldom.

Women's studies historians were attempting to retrieve the history of the daily life of women ("the world's best kept secret: Merely the private lives of one-half of humanity" as Carolyn Kizer put it in "Pro Femina"). Women as nurses, nurturers, home doctors, were traced back, by these historians, to the suppression of the empiric medical practicioners and the witches; and here is where the witches come in to our narrative.
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Last week I finished reading Transcendental Wife: the life of Abigail May Alcott, by Cynthia H. Barton (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1996).

What I was most struck by was the combination of entitlement and almost co-dependence on Abby's part. She left her parents' home on bad terms with her father and stepfather, and eventually married a penniless educator; she stood by him and raised his children and supported him emotionally and sometimes financially for years. And yet-- she comes across as demanding, critical and whiny. Barton points out how hard it must have been for Abby to take charity from family and friends-- but she didn't just ask for it, she demanded it, perhaps because she couldn't bring herself to do it any other way.

She struggled with her husband's principles, and the financial ruin that brought them to repeatedly, but she stood up for him and believed that she and her children should live in poverty rather than ask him to compromise his principles. She seems to have been almost pathologically devoted to her nuclear family as a cohesive unit, and unable to tolerate outsiders, but she forced herself to endure (crankily and probably being very difficult to live with) con-sociate living arrangements and the taking in of boarding students time after time.

It sounds as if she struggled with what we would label depression, but I'm increasingly confused about what we wouldn't label depression any more. Still, the anger management issues combined with her mistrust of herself, and her own voice, seem to have loomed large in internal family life. By Barton's (and by Bronson Alcott's) standards, she seems to have adopted a somewhat attachment-parenting outlook to raising her girls. She said of her oldest as an infant: "I have no rules save one great one-- to do what she indicates to have done- and she is so reasonable that I find no difficulty." Later on, as Louisa suggested in Good Wives, she seems to have had more trouble, especially as Bronson required a serene house; Bronson took over some childcare over her objections.

Eventually Abby did rebell against being destitute, and took various jobs, including that of an early social worker, in order to feed her family. Sometimes her charity endangered her family (as when they contracted illness from a client), but at least there was money coming in and Abby was living according to her principles, while Bronson lived according to his. It doesn't appear that Bronson was lazy, putting a good deal of physical labor into various self-sufficiency exercises; but philosophy tempted him away and left work for Abby. Eventually, Bronson learned that he could make a living at 'giving conversations' (speechwriting?) and things were more comfortable.

But I agree that Abby's troubles do seem to have to do with struggling to find her own voice and come up with a way of life which accomodated her own needs and principles as well as those of her husband and family. I do think that Louisa very much admired her mother, even if she wasn't the kindly Marmee of Little Women, and I was interested to see what (roseified) elements from Abby's life that Louisa used in Good Wives, such as marrying the kind Professor, keeping a school, Fruitlands/Plumfield, and the struggle over childraising.

I also noticed how reading this volume brought to the forefront of my mind my struggles to live my life without asking other people to compromise their principles, especially when it affects my homelife and workload. Hopefully I am not quite as snippy as Abby was; but I have less to do than she did, and more individual voice.
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Recently I plowed through Not in Front of The Servants: Domestic Service in England 1859-1939, by Frank Dawes. It was fascinating reading. The author, the son of a former indoor servant, collected reminiscences from former servants via a newspaper advertisement, and combined that with archival materials and printed instructional and statistical sources from the period. Some editions were subtitled "A true portrait of upstair/downstairs life." It's a fascinating portrait of the kind of work indoor domestic servants were expected to do, and their average working conditions.

It's pretty clear that indoor servants had very long working hours, and that their employers expected them to be ready to jump to service at a minute's notice. Housemaids, tweenies, and scullery maids as young as 10 or 12 worked steadily all day at a variety of physically demanding tasks. Working conditions could be, and often were, uncomfortable and degrading.

However, I couldn't help comparing the information given in Dawes' work about the work of domestic servants, with that given in other sources about women's work in their own homes in the time period described. It's certainly true that many of the upper-class women who employed multiple servants were women of leisure, and did not do any of their own housework. However, other sources suggest that the division of laboring to non-laboring women was not concise and clear as Dawes paints it, and that no matter what the public facade might be, a significant number of women both employed domestic help and did housework themselves. It's possible that this division was far more cloudy in America than it was in Britain.

But Dawes is not very familiar with the history of domestic service in the 16th & 17th century; some of the customs he suggests are unaccountable would be illuminated by a look at earlier custom- and ettiquette sources. My impression is that he also doesn't seem to grasp the scale of domestic work in even working-class households of the period. It never occurs to him that the tracts encouraging the domestic servant to be happy with her lot because she would work just as hard in her own home if she had one might have some truth in them. (As a male writing in 1974, Dawes would be unlikely to be familiar with the unending nature of housework.) As difficult and disadvantaged as employment 'in service' might be, there were some advantages (division of labor, for instance, so that one would not have to be chasing children and blacking the same time) and having a roof over one's head and, in a good situation, food on the table. Dawes quotes Florence Faux, "Most people thought service, where food and lodging were assured, a better proposition than working in a shop or factory under sweated conditions," despite the danger of being turned off without a reference.

Some of the letters that Dawes reproduced are on the web here:
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Parkinson, in the 1629 Paradisi in Sole, weighs in on the question of whether cabbage increases or decreases lactation:

It is thought, that the use of [Cabbages and Coleworts] doth hinder the milke in Nurses breasts, causing it to dry up quickly: but many women that have given sucke to my knowledge have denyed that assertion, affirming that they ahve often eaten them, and found no such effect. How it might prove in more delicate bodies than theirs that thus said, I cannot tell: but Matthiolus auetreth to increase milke in Nurses breastes; so differing are the opinions of many.

-- p. 504

I didn't see anything in Parkinson about the claim that cabbage leaves make a good poultice for breast engorgement, though the web gives the following citations:

Nikodem, V.C., Danziger, D., Gebka, N., Gulmezoglu, A.M., and Hofmeyr, G.J. (1993). Do cabbage leaves prevent breast engorgement? A randomized, controlled study. Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care and Education 20(2), pp. 61-64.

Roberts, K.L. (1995). A comparison of chilled cabbage leaves and chilled gelpaks in reducing breast engorgement. Journal of Human Lactation 11(1), pp. 17-20.

Roberts, K.L., Reiter, M., and Schuster, D. (1995). A comparison of chilled and room temperature cabbage leaves in treating breast engorgement. Journal of Human Lactation 11(3), pp. 191-194.

What do you think, should I ILL these articles?
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A couple of suggestions from the Rose Garden for Pregnant Women and Midwives, 1513, for increasing a woman's milk:

  • "seeds from pastinaca; parsnip in English"
  • "broth of barley, chickpeas, graypeas, and in that same broth . . . boil fennel root or seeds"
  • "eat sheeps udder with the milk that is in it"
  • "barley water with a dram of dried powdered earthworms"
  • "two lots of [dairy butter] stirred in wine"
  • "good meat, good broth made with cinnamon stick, mace, cardamom, and with egg yolks"
  • "milk and new cheese"
  • "good pap made with bean flour, rice and dry white bread with milk and sugar, and it would be good [to add] a little fennel seed"
  • "Three lots of well pounded roman caraway and boil it in four pounds of water with six lots of purified honey in a new pot until it is reduced by one-third; she should drink this water often."
  • "Take two lots of well-washed cabbage and one lot roman caraway, twelve lots of honey; pound the cabbage and caraway well, and make an electuary with the honey; the woman should take a spoonful of thise electuary when she goes to sleep, and also in the morning on an empty stomach."

There's more, but:
"Also these things increase the milk: dill weed and its seeds, aniseed, horehound, cardamom, new cheese and old whey, chickpeas, crystal powdered and given with honey, lettuce made into a salad, fennel seeds, wine in which rosemary has been boiled, or wild pennyroyal that is wild thyme, or houseleek".

Now, let me point out that neither crystal, pennyroyal, wild thyme or houseleek are Generally Regarded As Safe for nursing mothers, in fact houseleek is considered poisonous.

It seems to me that a lot of these recipes are sympathetic magic, such as the sheep's udder; others are good nutrition, such as bean flour. Lettuce and cabbage are continually suggested as folk remedies for paucity of milk up to the present day, as is fennel. The other carminative (anti-gas, anti-colic) herb seeds such as caraway, dill and anise may have crept in by association, or may have been deliberately added.

Hm... If I made the electuary, which should be mostly harmless, maybe [livejournal.com profile] galinalady would test if for me? *GRIN*
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Some notes from the 1513 midwife's manual:
In childbirth, a woodcut

Birthing Chair: Woodcut from Der Swangern Frawen und he bammen roszgarten, by Eucharius Rösslin, 1513.
Apparently a birthing chair was sometimes used, as well as a half-lying position and apparently a hands-and-knees position:

...She should lie down on her back, but she should not lie down completely and yet also she also should not quite be standing, but rather it should be somewhere in the middle . . . And in high German lands, and also in Italian lands the midwives have special chairs for a woman's labor, and these are not high, but carved out and hollow on the inside, as depicted here. And these should be made so the woman can lean back on her back . . . And if she is fat, she should not sit, rather she should lie on her belly, and lay her forehead on the ground and pull her knees to her belly . . .

Rösslin, Eucharius. When Midwifery became the Male Physician's Province: the sixteenth century handbook The Rose Garden for Pregnant Women and Midwives [Der Swangern Frawen und he bammen roszgarten] newly Englished. Translated by Wendy Arons. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1994)

NB: Bizarrely, the wife of one of my acquaintances was only able to give birth via natural childbirth when she assumed this position; and she's one of the skinniest women I know!


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