The Vagina Readers of the 1890s

A very short book excerpt

Joe McKendry

Efforts to study the meanings and manifestations of respectability have taken a wide variety of approaches. One method of assessing women’s respectability that gained interest in conjunction with phrenology in the 1890s consisted of reading character from inspection of the vagina. As a “genitologist” reported in the Journal of Orificial Surgery about one of his recent patients, she was a “woman of great power” who could “accomplish anything she undertakes … with great determination and energy … [She] has the power of an organizer and campaigner [and] possess[es] wonderful powers of observation.” He was certain that she exhibited “extreme force of character.” This method’s popularity was brief.

— Adapted from American Misfits and the Making of Middle-Class Respectability, by Robert Wuthnow