Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




May, Allyson

2nd Supervisor

McKellar, Shelley


The history of menstrual education has typically been overshadowed by other aspects of Victorian sexuality and female reproductive history. This thesis seeks to shine a light on menstrual education in the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth century in England. More specifically, it examines the role that male and female physicians played producing and disseminating information on menstrual management. Despite a scarcity of documented experiences outlining the reality of menstrual education and menstrual management, an analysis of surviving literary materials, including health advice literature, periodicals and magazines, medical studies, new letters and pamphlets, help indicate cultural conceptions of menstruation. It becomes clear that there is a correlation between menstruation being promoted as an illness with females seeking employment and educational opportunities. Male physicians used educational resources on menstruation to attempt to keep women within the domestic sphere. It was not until the early twentieth century and the rise of female physicians that menstruation began to be viewed as a natural physiological process.

Summary for Lay Audience

In recent years, menstruation has increasingly been in the news and the media. Gradually, a conversation surrounding menstrual taboos and practices is being opened to a wide public audience. However, historically, this has not always been the case. Although menstruation has become a wide area of interest in different sects of the academic community, the history of menstrual education has remained relatively unexplored. This thesis, therefore, seeks to explore the history of menstrual education in mid-nineteenth century to early-twentieth century England. This time period and country were chosen as the focus as I was initially interested in sexual education throughout the nineteenth century. Eventually, I realized that historians have heavily analyzed nineteenth century sexuality, but menstrual education and the production and dissemination of educational resources dealing with puberty had yet to be thoroughly examined.

This thesis takes form in three body chapters. The first chapter briefly examines menstrual education practices of the past and then focuses on menstrual education resources aimed at mothers to educate their daughters. The second chapter examines the advice physicians gave adolescent girls themselves about managing their health during puberty. The final chapter examines the emergence of female physicians and how they worked together to normalize the physiology of menstruation.

Together, these three chapters present an picture of male anxiety over the prospect of females entering into the public sphere through paid employment and educational opportunities. There is a direct correlation with the emergence of a female emancipation movement in England and the insistence that menstruation was an illness that required rest by physicians who wrote health manuals. Therefore, menstruation was used as a tool to keep middle-class females within the home during the nineteenth century and to prevent them from seeking opportunity within the traditionally male spheres of English society. Only when female physicians became more mainstream in English society did menstruation begin to be presented as a normal bodily function that did not require rest once a month. This thesis, therefore, seeks to not only chart the changes in menstrual advice but also to chart the changes and reactions to the female emancipation movement in England throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
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