A warning from Edward Clarke, M.D., a professor at Harvard: "There have been instances, and I have seen such, of females... graduated from school or college excellent scholars, but with undeveloped ovaries. Later they married, and were sterile."
He goes on to explain how reproductive organs fail to thrive.
The system never does two things well at the same time. The muscles [note: muscles = menstruation] and the brain cannot functionate in their best way at the same moment.
These passages are from Clarke’s book, Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance For Girls, published in 1873. The gist: Exerting oneself while on the rag is dangerous. Therefore educating women is dangerous. For a woman’s own safety, she should not pursue higher education. The womb is at stake.
Today, it’s easy to write off Clarke’s thesis as one doctor’s nutty ramblings. His descriptions of students—“crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia,” as a result of “our present system of educating girls”—sounds more like The Walking Dead than students at a university campus. But when A Fair Chance for Girls was published, administrators and faculty opposed to women in education hoisted up the book as a confirmation of their views, couched in an argument about safety.
Mary Putnam Jacobi thought the whole thing was hogwash. Jacobi, an American, was the first woman admitted to France’s École de Médecine. It took a bit of wrangling, but once she was in, Jacobi found her medical training thrilling. Certainly there were people who doubted her ability to succeed—even her mother did some hand-wringing over her schooling—but Jacobi proceeded with ease and humor. In 1867, she wrote home to assure her mother, “I really am only enjoying myself... the hospitals present so much that is stimulating, (and do not be shocked if I add amusing) that I am never conscious of the slightest head strain.”