Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On the Ideology of "True Womanhood"

On the Ideology of "True Womanhood": In 1966, historian Barbara Welter published an article in American Quarterly titled "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820 - 1860." The word "cult" seemed too strong and incongruous at times, so I have replaced it with the term "ideology." Nevertheless, Welter argued that a majority of middle-to-upper class (white) women in nineteenth-century America (Britain and Canada) had agreed on what it meant to be a "true woman." To a certain extent, much of this ideology overlapped with the moral values emanating from the British Empire under Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Not surprisingly, "true womanhood" was pervasive in New England, where a large portion of white (Anglo-Saxon) Protestant women lived. Their values included piety, sexual restraint, proper etiquette, proper dress, spousal submission, and domestic (household) work. Of course, modernism developed mostly as a response to these "Victorian values." But what made "true womanhood" especially prevalent was the way it influenced basic elements of society such as architecture, art, fashion, and religion. For example, many upper-class houses at the time were built to accommodate the "separate spheres" of men and women, as men had their gun rooms and women had their sewing rooms. Even the purpose of the "parlor" changed under "true womanhood," as it became the house's primary space where well-to-do women greeted their male suitors.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On Synthesizing the Birth Control Pill

On Synthesizing the Birth Control Pill: Pictured above is Gregory Pincus, co-inventor of the birth control pill. As a Harvard-educated Jewish-American biologist, Pincus designed his hormone therapy experiments on previous research regarding menstrual disorders. Such research had been conducted in the 1930s, when organic chemists discovered how to synthesize hormones like progesterone from naturally occurring plant steroids. One of Pincus' main goals with his experiments was to reduce significantly menstrual discomfort by preventing ovulation altogether. Considered too controversial for Harvard in the 1950s, he moved his research to Central Massachusetts in an effort to attract private funding. It worked, as Pincus met Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, who was certainly interested in funding his research. He then elicited the help of Catholic gynecologist John Rock to conduct clinical trials on women with small doses of synthetic estrogen and progesterone. And in May 1960, the FDA approved the combined oral contraceptive pill (Enovid) for use with 10 mg doses. But there were serious side effects associated with these early pills, as blood clots (and birth defects) became the two primary consequences of suppressing ovulation with synthetic hormones.