Saturday, May 18, 2013

38. Nonsense: Anatomy Lessons

Nonsense by Becky Brown

 Ivory models revealed the secrets of female anatomy
for doctors.

Last fall's (2012) American political campaign reminded us that misconceptions and misinformation about female anatomy persist despite contrary scientific evidence. The mysterious biology of female private parts has been used to restrain women throughout history. Any stretch towards freedom---from saddles to sewing machines--- has been characterized as dangerous to the nether regions by opponents of change.

Charlotte Smith, president of the Women's Rescue League warned against the bicycle. 
“My views as to the unhealthfulness of the bicycle have been pooh-poohed by many persons who talk more easily than they think.... I know, from information given me by doctors, of many surgical operations for abscesses and other troubles engendered by the bicycle. The saddle is a fruitful source of injury. I am not putting the case too strongly when I say that bicycle-riding is ruining the health of tens of thousands of women in this country, incidentally involving the physical welfare of generations yet unborn."

The treadle sewing machine could produce "morbid effects" warned the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in 1871. 
"Two young women, sisters, who, in consequence of the prolonged use of the sewing machine, were made sick, the one with metritis, the other with a very rapid development of an ovarian tumor. In these two apparently dissimilar cases, two different diseases sprang from the same cause, which had produced in each a congested state of the inter-pelvic ovaries. It is in fact by the production of a permanent congested state of the generative system that the use of the sewing machine brings about the most injurious and most undeniable morbid effects."

A century ago, advocates of the side saddle had a hard time finding medical opinions favoring the traditional female seat, which resulted in many spine-shattering accidents, but conservatives continued to argue that riding in that awkward position protected the virgin's hymen and the wife's fecundity.

Lady Greenall,  interviewed in a 1913 article in the Hobart (Tasmania) Mercury opined, 
"A woman has not the strength of a man, and, therefore, is not able to take advantage of the astride position." The reporter inserted his opinion. "Most good women riders in England hold that a girl should ride astride up to the age of twelve and then use a side-saddle. This ensures that the girl runs no risk of curvature during her tender years."

In England in 1913 King George V and Queen Mary refused to allow women to ride astride in any official parades or on Rotten Row (the Hyde Park track favored by the upper class). The same year General J.P. Hickman forbid women to ride astride in the Chattanooga reunion parade of a Confederate veterans' group.

Understanding that social context gives us insight into the statement that Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886-1916) is making in these photos. An excellent rider, she led the 1913 Women's March on Washington astride a white horse.
Inez Milholland. 
Although the cape hides much of her,
everybody could see she was astride the horse.

Another view of Milholland on parade.

Nonsense by Georgann Eglinski

Nonsense seems the perfect block to recall that context. It was given the name by the Ladies' Art Company over a century ago. 

BlockBase #2811

Cutting an 8" Finished Block

A - Cut 2 squares 3-1/2".

Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.
B - Cut 2 squares 3-7/8".
Cut with 2 diagonal cuts to make 4 triangles. You need 8 triangles.
C - Cut 4 rectangles 4-1/4" x 2-3/8".
D - Cut 1 square 3-1/8". (3-3/16" if you use the 1/16" default in BlockBase/)

Nonsense by Dustin Cecil

Cutting a 12" Finished Block

A - Cut 2 squares 4-7/8".
Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.

B - Cut 2 squares 5-3/16".
Cut with 2 diagonal cuts to make 4 triangles. You need 8 triangles.

- Cut 4 rectangles 6-3/16"" x 3-5/16".

D - Cut 1 square 4-1/2".

Queen Elizabeth II riding sidesaddle

Read a biography of Inez Milholland Boissevain at the Vassar College website:

Nonsense by Becky Brown


  1. Thank you for the history HERstory

  2. Thanks so much for sharing these blocks and the history. I particularly like the the way Becky Brown used the border print fabric in the first Nonsense block. I've got to search out some good border prints so I can try it myself.

  3. Thank you Barbara, for your block of the week projects. I enjoy making the blocks. If you'd like to see my progress, contact me and I will send you a photo.

  4. Again, thank you Barbara! I love reading this. If I might add - I guess wearing the incredibly restrictive corsets (as must be the case of the rider in the fifth image), was meant to preserve our mysterious inner workings as well . . .not! Take care, Byrd

  5. It is nice to think these things have changed. And yes, many have. Yet I remember being in high school in the late 1960's and not being allowed to run the length of the basketball court because it wasn't good for girls to get that much exercise. We didn't pass the ERA but we did pass Title Nine. All you youngsters can thank us.