The Dangers of Bare Arms in Godey’s Lady’s Book

From Health Department – By Jno. Stainback Wilson, M.D. in the November 1861 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Godey’s Lady’s Book was one of the most popular lady’s books of the 19th century. Each issue contained poetry, beautiful engraving and articles by some of the most well known authors in America.

The magazine was intended to entertain, inform and educate the women of America. In addition to extensive fashion descriptions and plates, the early issues included biographical sketches, articles about mineralogy, handcrafts, female costume, the dance, equestrienne procedures, health and hygiene, recipes and remedies and the like.

Health Department

A distinguished physician who died some years since in Paris declared:—

“I believe that during the twenty-six years I have practised my profession in this city twenty thousand children have been carried to the cemeteries, a sacrifice to the absurd custom of exposing their arms naked.∞ I have thought, if a mother were anxious to show the soft, white skin of her baby, and would cut out a round hole in the little thing’s dress, just over the heart, and then carry it about for observation by the company, it would do very little harm; but to expose the baby’s arms, members so far removed from the heart, and with such feeble circulation at best, is a most pernicious practice.

“Put the bulb of a thermometer to a baby’s mouth; the mercury rises to 99 degrees. Now, carry the same bulb to its little hand; if the arms be bare and the evening cool, the mercury will sink to 40 degrees. Of course all the blood which flows through these arms and hands must fall from 20 to 40 degrees below the temperature of the heart. Need I say that when these cold currents of blood flow back into the chest the child’s general vitality must be more or less compromised? And need I add that we ought not to be surprised at its frequently-recurring affections of the lungs, throat, and stomach? I have seen more than one child with habitual cough and hoarseness, or choking with mucus, entirely, permanently relieved by simply keeping its arms and hands warm.”

We have before warned our readers against the “most pernicious practice,” the dire effects of which are so forcibly presented in the above extract; but so prevalent is this evil, and such is the bending power of fashion, that the subject cannot be too often or too strongly urged upon the attention of mothers. The above remarks are as applicable to every part of our country as to the city of Paris, for from Paris we receive our fashions, and with Paris we must suffer the dreadful consequences of following the senseless requisitions of vanity and folly in preference to the plain dictates of reason, physiology, and common sense. Mothers can never expect health for themselves and their children until they make the laws of health their guide, instead of the decrees of fashion; until they study physiology and hygiene more, and French fashion-plates less.

∞ These and the following remarks are equally true of bare legs.

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