Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know, Part II," 24 Nov 1912.
Source: " New York Call, Nov. 24, 1912 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:0025."
This is the second article in an 12-part series. This is the eleventh article in an 12-part series. For Part I, "Introduction" seeNov. 17, 1912, for Part III, "Girlhood, 2" see Dec. 1, 1912, for Part IV, "Puberty, 1" seeDec. 8, 1912, for Part V,"Puberty 2" see Dec. 15, 1912, for Part VI "Sexual Impulse, 1" see Dec. 22, 1912,, for Part VII, "Sexual Impulse, 2" see Dec. 29, 1912, for Part VIII, "Reproduction, 1," see Jan. 2, 1913, for Part IX, "Reproduction, 2" see Jan. 19, 1913, for Part XI, "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence, 2" see Feb. 2, 1913, for Part X, "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence, 1," see Jan. 26, 1913 for Part XII, "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence, 3" see Mar. 2, 1913.
It has been said that the American girl between the ages of 12 and 13 is the most neglected girl in the world. Just why this is so, it is difficult to say, but I doubt whether she is alone in this neglect, for this is known as the ADOLESCENT PERIOD, and it is only within the last few years that this period has been at all considered, or its importance recognized in any part of the world.
The ADOLESCENT PERIOD is the time occupied between the ages of 12 and 22, when the physical development comes suddenly into prominence; when the mental faculties become independently active, and the sex of the individual strongly manifests itself. It is a period of the greatest importance to the girl herself, for her physical, mental and moral development during this time will have an important effect on her future life.
It is also a period of the greatest interest to the mother, provided there is sympathy, confidence and understanding between them. Too much importance cannot be attached to the necessity of an early confidence between the girl and her mother before this period arrives, for this will give the girl a sense of superiority, a poise, an understanding of herself and her nature. She will then be prepared for the changes taking place within herself, and consequently be practically immune from the influence of a bad environment, which otherwise might affect her in a way detrimental to her health and happiness. Up to this period there is very little manifestation of sex.
Fortunately we have come to recognize that healthy outdoor play is as good for the little girl as it is for the boy, and the ideas of our grandmothers' day -- that boys were to play ball, ride horseback, swim, shoot, etc., while the girls, play was restricted to sedentary pursuits, such as sewing, doll playing, etc.--have been placed on the relic heap, and the girl of today keeps pace with her brother in physical freedom and activity.
With the passing of those ideas passed also our ideal of the delicate girl, with a cough, small waist and dainty appetite, and the girl physically strong and healthy, with a broader view of life, has taken her place.
About the age of 12 there comes a sudden change in the girl, her dresses are outgrown, her form assumes shape, her bust and limbs develop, and, in the words of Stanley Hall, "hips, thighs, limbs, shoulders, and arms round out into contours more or less beautiful, curves always pre-dominating over angles." Thus we come to realize that the little girl has left us.
The physical development is not alone in this work; for the mental and moral instincts are developing so rapidly that it is difficult to understand this new and lovely creature who is neither the child of yesterday nor the woman of tomorrow.
There is often very little patience shown the adolescent girl, for neither parents nor teachers have been aware that this is a separate and distinct stage--this passing from childhood into womanhood--and as such must be recognized.
Let us first take the bony structure. It is a well known fact that there is not sufficient lime salts in the system to complete the bony structure until the 25th year. The bones are not completely hardened, which is the reason that so many deformities have their foundation laid at this time.
The first and most noticeable change in the girl at this age is the increase of height, which begins at the 11th year and ends about the 15th. There are girls who begin earlier and continue to grow for several years after this age, but it is with the average we deal, and the growth after the age of 15 is not so perceptible.
Many girls show almost no other signs of womanly development until after this growth has ceased. The bones at this time are soft enough to yield to pressure (being cartilaginous), which makes the wearing of a corset especially dangerous, for the pressure on the ribs interferes with the development of the lungs and tuberculosis is more easily contracted. Corsets should not be worn before the 21st year if possible, and then very loosely, for tight lacing is more harmful at this age than a few years later.
The girl who scoffs at the idea of the Chinese women binding up their feet, is doubtless ignorant of the knowledge that to bind up her own thoracic and pelvic structures, i.e., the chest, and abdominal portions of her body, in tight corsets is doing greater harm to her health and injury to her development than the binding of the feet could possibly do. As this rapid growth begins, the girl often finds it difficult to hold herself up straight, her shoulders become stooped, her head and neck are thrust forward in a most ungainly manner. As she becomes conscious of this, instead of correcting it, she is likely to slouch and assume the most awkward habits. Her arms seem longer to her; hands, legs and feet become new burdens to carry, and the desire to hide the hands behind the back, to fold the arms, to bend one knee in order to lessen the length of the body, and to lean on something while talking, are all signs of this consciousness.
With the invention of modern machinery and the monotony of specialized work in the mills and factories, it is natural that this should bring with it, if not entirely new diseases and deformities, at least a greater number than have heretofore been known. Consider the little children in the cotton mills, standing for long periods, with the wight of the body thrown on one foot -- a position which causes curvature of the spine. Again, consider the young girls still in their "teens" bending over sewing machines from morning until night from year to year; their premium for this work is right sided lateral curvature. Sitting with one leg crossed over the other as in sewing, carrying books under the arm to and from school, lifting and carrying heavy burdens, bundles, or small children, such as the abused and deformed "little mothers" spend their playtime in doing--all cause curvature of the spine.
Curvature is one of the most common deformities. Any position which throws the spinal column out of its natural line for any length of time is likely to produce it.
Regular exercise in the open air will do much to prevent this together with walking and dancing. If curvature is already noticeable, then it is best to get professional instructions and follow them closely.
Next to the rapid bony development, the changes in the heart and circulation are most noticeable. The heart grows more rapidly during the adolescent age than the arteries do, which increases the supply of blood in the arteries and causes general circulatory disturbance of which we see many outward signs such as blushing, nose bleed, headache, cold feet and hands, anaemia, loss of appetite, or an appetite so capricious as to drive one frantic trying to satisfy it, for it jumps from ice cream soda to dill pickles, according to whim. Some of these symptoms require special attention, particularly in the case of the girl at school or in an office, who finds her work a great effort, tires easily, and becomes pale and nervous. Such a girl should spend as much time as possible in the open air, and build up on milk and eggs. Sometimes a simple iron tonic will do much to overcome these disturbances.
Pimples on the face are also very common at this period. Physicians assert that with cleanliness of the skin and regularity of the bowels, these symptoms will disappear without the aid of medicines or cosmetics. The above mentioned symptoms are of great annoyance to the adolescent girl, who is just developing pride in looking neat and keeping up the appearance of daintiness, and she goes to unending trouble to rid herself of facial blemishes, which in turn seem to grow worse and if tampered with leave ugly scars.
The nervous system also undergoes great changes at this age, and the growing girl is subject to various forms of nervous affections, stammering, jerking, restlessness, etc. These are symptoms which, if allowed to continue unattended, may develop into permanent disorders. In short, the adolescent girl needs constant watchfulness and attention.(To be continued.)
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project