Diane Kalas, Inspirational Historical Romance Author

“But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works." Psalm 73:28 (KJV)






Saturday, March 24, 2012

From Diane's Antique Book Collection

A visit to a 19th century physician . . . Corseting, or Tight Lacing

“The most mistaken and pernicious practice in the world is tight lacing; it distorts the ‘human form divine,’ and causes destructive organic diseases, which never can be remedied, thus curtailing life, and disfiguring beauty. All the statues and paintings of the Romans and Greeks have left us of Venus, the ideal model of female perfection of figure, represent her with a full, round waist, as nature makes the most finished workmanship of her hands.


We hope this barbarous custom of murdering these fair proportions of the body will soon be heard of no more. There may be cases in which lacing is required to brace the enfeebled chest and limbs, but never to the degree of the fashionable system of excruciating the body into an hour glass, practiced by some young ladies, under the mistaken notion that they render themselves more fashionable, or that they may hear the marvelous exclamation uttered by some would-be exquisite or fool, that he can span round her waist.

In one of the annual reports of the Register General, on births and deaths, the following passage occurs: ‘In the year 1839, thirty-one thousand and ninety English women died of Consumption. This high mortality is ascribed partly to the in-door life they lead, partly to the compression, preventing the free expansion of the chest, by costume, or dress.’

Mr. Coulson, in his popular work on Deformities of the Spine, we select the following complaints and diseases, all caused by tight lacing: Headache, Giddiness, Pains in the Eyes, Earache, Apoplexy, Bleeding at the Nose, Inability to suckle, Scirrhus and Cancer in the Breast, Adhesion of the Lungs to the Diaphragm, Asthma, Spitting of Blood, Palpitation of the Heart, Water in the Chest, Cough, Abscesses in the lungs, Consumption, Loss of Appetite, Squeamishness, Flatulence, or Wind, Rupture, Sickness, Bad Digestion, Fistula, Jaundice, Calculi, Diseases of the Kidneys, Hysteria, and Eruptions. To these consequences are added, in respect to mothers, unhealthy, ugly children, and monstrosities, besides some other horrors, for which we refer to Mr. Coulson’s Summary.

Corsets are designed, partly as under-clothing and partly to display the general outline of the figure, or as it may be said, to give effect to the bust. These objects of their use may be gained without recourse to tight lacing.

On the subject of displaying the figure, a certain degree of display of the female form is not incompatible with correctness of manners. But there is a limit which, we believe, can not be exceeded without immediate detriment to public morals, and positive offense to delicacy. There was a time when a mode of dressing to display every personal charm was peculiar to an unfortunate class of beings, regarded as lost to all the modesty and dignity of the sex; but it is a melancholy truth, that this distinction between the lost and the reputable, no longer exists in our great cities, where leaders of fashion, and celebrated beauties, claiming the highest rank and character, are most remarkable for the solicitude with which they prepare their lovely persons to be gazed at and admired in all of the proportions by the passing crowd.

We sincerely hope that but a short period will elapse before they will strictly respect the boundaries established by good sense and good taste, around the lovely purity inherent in their sex.”


Gunn, M.D., John C., GUNN’S NEW DOMESTIC PHYSICIAN: HOME BOOK OF HEALTH, Ohio, Moore, Wilstach, Keys & Company, 1859

5 comments:

Cathy said...

I found an 1880s list of reasons for admission to an asylum which included many of these same diagnoses. The combination of physically difficult work - cooking over a fire, gardening, scrubbing laundry by hand - and restrictive clothing seems like a prescription for disaster!

Vickie McDonough said...

Very interesting article. I love writing about the 1800s but I don't know that I'd like living there much. Sooo glad I don't have to wear a corset.

by Pegg Thomas said...

Corsets were worn in place of a bra, to offer support. Then they morphed into the torture devise described here. Rather than consumption, I would think pneumonia would have been rampant, with such constricted lungs.

I wonder if the "ugly babies" were actually deformed by restrict growth space. That would be so sad!

Kiersti said...

Haha--very interesting!

Mary F. Allen said...

methinks the doctor was ahead of his time. I thank God I was born long after corsets were fashionable.