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Wood-Allen, Mary.

What a Young Woman Ought to Know. Purity and Truth, Self and Sex Series.


Wood-Allen, Mary, M.D. What a Young Woman Ought to Know. Purity and Truth, Self and Sex Series. Philadelphia…: the Vir Publishing Company, 1898.
8vo.; endpapers offset; frontispiece portrait photograph, with tissue guard; ten portraits of "Eminent Persons" printed on coated paper in the front; maroon cloth stamped in gilt and blind; dust-jacket, edges chipped.
First edition of this treatise by Wood-Allen (1841-1908), the National Superintendent of the Purity Department of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. (The WCTU was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874, with the mission of protesting the sale of alcohol, while promoting the benefits of temperance and the importance of "protecting the home" from other outside evils.) A "revised edition" was issued in 1905, and again in 1913. A "new up-to-date" edition was published in 1928, and reissued in 1936. Over time it was translated into several languages. Wood-Allen's work is the companion volume to Sylvanus Stall's What a Young Man Ought to Know in The Self and Sex Series, whose other titles include What a Young Wife Ought to Know and What a Woman of 45 Ought to Know.
This volume opens with "Commendations of Eminent Persons": ten black and white photographs of highly moral men and women and their accomplishments, with captions below detailing their thoughts on the book. One such advocate, Elisabeth Robinson Scovil, the Superintendent of the Newport Hospital and the Associate Editor of the Ladies Home Journal, writes, "[the book] is one which a mother can place with confidence in the hands of her daughter. Reverent knowledge is the surest safeguard of innocence, and it is every mother's duty to see that the young girl committed to her charge is duly forearmed by being forewarned of the dangers that lie around her."
In her preface, Wood-Allen explains the necessity of writing this book to educate young girls and women about their bodies. She had received many queries about personal grooming and conduct from girls whom she describes as otherwise intelligent, but who were naïve when it came to bodily matters. "The truth is that many girls who have been taught in the ologies of the schools, who have been trained in the conventionalities of society, have been left to pick up as they may their ideas upon personal conduct, and, coming face to face with puzzling problems, are at a loss, and perhaps are led into wrong ways of thinking and questionable ways of doing because no one has foreseen their dilemma and warned them how to meet it."  
Thirty-two chapters of practical advice follow, divided into three parts: women's physiologies, diseases of women, and love and courtship. Some chapter titles include, "What Are You Worth?" "Care of Body," "You Are More Than Body or Mind," "Becoming a Woman," "Care During Menstruation," and "Responsibility in Marriage." While Wood-Allen is frank and common-sensical with her advice, she is also heavily influenced by an orthodox sense of conduct strongly guided by religion. At the end of the chapter titled, "Creative Power," Wood-Allen writes, "When we come fully to understand the deep significance of sex, we shall find in it a wonderful revelation of possibilities of development into a God-likeness that will stir our hearts to the very depth." Most of Wood-Allen's advice is sound and practical, however there are times when her suggestions are archaic. In the chapter titled, "Some Causes of Painful Menstruation," she warns, "I would like to call your attention to the great evil of romance-reading, both in the production of premature development and in the creation of morbid mental states which will tend to the production of physical evils, such as nervousness, hysteria, and a host of maladies which largely depend on disturbed nerves." She claims that this activity will "create abnormal excitement of her organs of sex" (p. 122).
Evidently, this sort of advice touched a nerve in at least one reader. In response to an anecdote about men losing respect for young women if they give in to their passion and "lose their virtue," the reader has docketed, in the margin in pencil, "true - every word" (pp. 158-59).  
Dust-jackets of this vintage are nearly impossible to find, especially ones of scholarly publications. In a blurb on the upper panel of the dust-jacket, Frances E. Willard, the late President of the World's and National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, is quoted: "I do earnestly hope that this book, founded on a strictly scientific but not forgetting a strong ethical basis, may be well known and widely read by the dear girls in their teens and the young women in their homes." The lower flap of the dust-jacket prints other titles by Wood-Allen that were published by the Vir Publishing Company. They include, Marvels of our Bodily Dwelling, The Birth Chamber, Child Confidence Rewarded and Almost a Woman.

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