Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/843

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EDUCATION AND THE HEALTH OF WOMEN.

EDUCATION AS AN AID TO THE HEALTH OF WOMEN.
By ELIZABETH CUMINGS.

"In education we should endeavor to make a man change from one habit to a better."—Theætetus (Plato).

THE relation between physical and psychical states is so intimate, and the effects of the latter so nearly simulate disease, that physicians are often led into grave errors in diagnosis and treatment. Nor is this the worst mischief; the secondary stage of psychical excitement may be actual disease, for the nerve-force expended is so much withdrawn from the processes of nutrition and assimilation, and continued morbid action of any of the functions has a tendency to establish organic change. How far education may act as a conserver of psychical, and secondarily of physical health, is therefore a legitimate object of inquiry.

Subject as the female organism is to a periodicity of alternate excitation and depression, the nervous system must respond in a degree to the increased or lowered tension of the veins and arteries. To this physiological cause of emotional excitability are added the effects of habitual in-door life, unhygienic dress, and avocations that are puerile, or that tax the physical strength to the utmost. Instead of correcting the natural tendency, the habits and pursuits of women superimpose upon it an acquired nervous sensibility and irritability, till lack of nerve equilibrium has come to be inherent in civilized women, and Sydenham, generalizing from this point, says, "All women are hysterical"—an assertion that thinking women, especially the mothers of girls, would do well to consider.

The social environment of women is, in its effect, somewhat like the drug mentioned by Dr. Clark in his volume on "Visions," that, taken into the system, paralyzes the nerves of motion, but leaves the nerves of sensation unaffected. An appearance of well-being and content is required of them, at the same time they are exposed, much more than men, to the hurts and wounds that touch what we call the feelings. Without the diversion of work that employs their intellectual faculties, they are constantly tempted to magnify the torments of wounded self-love and the petty griefs that a properly developed nature would not consider. Religion is their only solace, and that incites them to bear their troubles in the martyr spirit, that is, by sheer force of will, an effort that has a markedly anti-vital effect upon the organic functions, rather than with the "sweet reasonableness" which regards harassments as the common lot of all, and therefore determinately turns the attention away from them to higher things.