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Idiocy, As The Effect Of Social Evils, And As The Creative Cause of Physiological Education

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: January 1870
Publication: The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Diseases of the Nervous System
Source: Available at selected libraries

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If the present condition of women has such and other correlated influences upon the future generation, this evil must be made a valuable argument to change that position. But, what is the use of putting on the gloves of hypothesis, when we refer, to a great extent, the malformations, ill-nutrition, and anomalous tendencies, of children to the inactive, useless, and unreal education of women? The facts speak higher than our voice, when showing the most healthy, well-balanced and serviceable children to be born of women, hardly educated at all, but used to a hearty life. Truly, those who cause women to receive an anti-physiological education might dread fantastic procreations; and foresee, under the impossible forms of the young lady, the wavering penumbra of the idiot, insane, or epileptic.


The other evil is more complex, though having, too, its root in improvident education. We overburden women; they overburden themselves, and choose or accept burdens unfit for them. Besides, their uneasiness results from being moved by several inward currents, neither of them strong enough to cut an open channel through the social obstacles. Among others, is the current toward matrimony, swift sometimes, rarely strong enough to overcome the asperities of a day and night dependence, the heaviest of all; and marriage is that, or a lie. Another current is toward freedom. Being less subjected to animal instincts, and therefore not so easily subdued as women of other ages, heavier fed and less intellectual, those of to-day declare their independence and seek for it. But they do not possess, to the same degree with men, the two elements of it, capital and working capacity; so that most of these protestants against the rule of man are yet reduced to the, so far, only orthodox course -- of accepting the means of support from the envied sex. This is a very painful state of transition for both parties, in which men do rarely appear to have received, in feminine money, the equivalent of their would-be liberality; and women suffer from their incapacity of being, one way or the other, neither dependent with contentment, nor free with self-reliance. Children gotten under such moral and other pressures, cannot truly be said to be born from the union, but rather from the disunion of their parents; conceived in antagonism, they can only be excessive in their tendencies, or monstrous in their organization. This condition of family affairs will last till physiological education shall have fairly developed the tendencies of women; of some for motherhood and matronly station, of others for artistic talents of various grades, which can insure their independence.


There is nothing new in this position. On the contrary, it is so old that it seems to be entirely forgotten. Nobody seems to remember that once the laws, habits, and religions even, provided not for one class of women only, but for all classes. Such sayings as that of Taney about some men, that some women have no rights that we are bound to respect, is a modern infamy. Let us sooner recall the times of Pericles, when the greatest statesman of Greece was his unmarried friend and adviser, Aspasia, one of the hetairoe -1- of Athens. Then all classes of women were respected, or at least had their rights acknowledged, because all had their archetype in the Greek heaven, Olympus. But, as for us, we had only one type of womanhood; and our incredulity or its uselessness has broken it. Alas! The rekindled worship of the Virgin Mary does not protect the mothers better than the Madelines, and serves only as a delusive mirage to lull the despair of nuns. In our Blessed Lady, the impossible has killed the ideal. Truly, in a tradition which dates but of yesterday, we have carved, out of reality, a beautiful type of womanhood, whose reflex influence can be read on the countenance of American mothers. But Martha Washington's face, whose beauty is virtue, can be reached by the young woman only through an intermediate type of youthful perfection, that is yet to come out from the development of the national character. In the absence of that educational type, it is fortunate to be enabled to say that so many young women resist expensive necessities by the sole power of their inward excellence. But, of course, treating of idiocy, we meet with the unfortunate exception.


-1- See the learned researches of L. T. Brockett on the historical conditions of women, in his book, "Woman's Rights, Wrongs, and Privileges."


The foregoing causes of the increase of idiocy and kindred infirmities should be particularly investigated; and if it is demonstrated that these causes produce, generally, the disastrous consequences which the writer has observed in his limited experience, those causes ought to be combated with all the force of our moral and professional character, as well as with the arguments drawn from past experience and knowledge. For this emergency, the domain of physic becomes commensurate with the want of society; not by any assumption of our own, but because it happens that, in the present period, no other men, as a body, possess, to the same degree as physicians do, the cyclopedic elements of judgment.

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