'Perfect Humanhood' - by Mina with an introduction by Vigilant, Westralian Worker, 15 November 1918, page 2

Vigilant wrote a short introduction to an article by a woman with the pen-name Mina. Fitzgerald comments:

“Vigilant” returns to aspects of “the sex problem”: robustly introducing…a contribution from “Mina”…not because “we”…share much of Mina’s concern about an imminent vogue for artificial insemination and despite “our” rejection of Mrs Benham’s (and Mina’s) belief that the states of mind of copulating couples affect or determine the quality of the offspring (“improvement in the human race”); but rather because the article helps to rebut the notion “that sex is a thing to be ashamed of, that sex relationship is unclean.” The article quotes Mrs Benham saying: “Passion is a right and normal force”….“Mina” says “we should be healthy animals.” Both women, that a loving couple should “thrill to all the vibrations…”, and Mina (at least) speaks of “the harp of a thousand strings.” Again associated with this recognition of women’s physical pleasure in a good sexual relationship is, the persisting demand for women’s independence, economic freedom, so as to eliminate the form of prostitution as well as slavery that may otherwise prevail in marriage. Both women deny “Mr Lockey’s reference to the animal side of our nature being low and degraded”; and Vigilant says this notion “is possessed of untold power for mischief.”

Editor/Vigilant has taken an opportunity to have women urging candor about sex as well as demanding independence and economic emancipation for women: both causes dear to Vigilant’s heart. [1]


Our Bookshelf graphic
Perfect Humanhood by Mina with introduction by Vigilant

(Some of our readers, no doubt, have found time to glance, and probably to smile, at the ideas recently promulgated by some post-war population enthusiasts under the name of “Virgin Motherhood.” Briefly put, the idea is that the male procreative element, done up attractively in test-tubes, should be purchased at a chemist’s shop by high-minded young ladies desirous of doing their duty to the State, but unwilling to be pestered by having a man about the house or unable to obtain a man owing to the presumed post-war scarcity of the genus.

We are not inclined to forecast any widespread popularity for the new idea. There is, however, an aspect of the subject that makes it well worth examining at greater length than it would appear to warrant. It implies that sex is a thing to be ashamed of, that sex relationship is unclean. Neither philosophic consideration nor medico-biologic facts bear out this notion, which is possessed of untold power for mischief, but it is nevertheless widely held and deeply-rooted. We, therefore, feel that, apart from its merits in other directions, the following review of a talented South Australian lady’s work, is not ill-timed. It is from the pen of a Melbourne lady, who, for many years past, has been closely associated with every advanced movement. One more introductory word – the South Australian authoress’ remarks upon pre-natal influence are, as some will no doubt notice, not altogether sound in view of the ‘dicta of Biology, but undoubtedly contain much truth when looked at from a psychological standpoint – “Vigilant”)

Some years ago Mrs. Agnes Nesbit Benham, a South Australian lady brought out a little book of the above title, which has perhaps not received the attention which it deserves, so reticent are we generally in adopting or giving expression to any but conventional opinions on sex questions of which Mrs Benham’s book treats in the most delicate the most reverential, I might almost say the most sacred way, the whole question of sex relationship, parenthood, love and marriage are treated in this little volume.

In the introduction the author quotes Mr. Lockey’s reference to the animal side of our nature as being essentially low and degraded, and comments on it thus: - if the act of love be sinful, how can the result be pure? And draws attention to another point of view, namely – “that the Creator has made nothing common or unclean, that there is no merit in being ignorant and that if we would obey the laws governing our physical necessities we must study to find out what they are.” In the opening chapter, “Love and Passion,” the author’s first statement – and one that colours the whole trend of her work, is that “Passion is a right and normal force,” and explains that when she speaks of passion she means “the sexual instinct united with love.” “Passion,” she says, “is a force which is purely unmoral, neither good nor evil in itself.” Again – “There could be no such thing as prostitution if passion were always united with love.” Prostitution, as I understand the author embraces not only the unwedded victims of man’s lust, but also those wives and mothers whose position is nothing more nor less than prostitution legalised by marriage, such as is depicted so vividly by Tolstoi in his “Kreutzer Sonata,” and which is more common in everyday life than many of us realise, or at least care to acknowledge. How “we overrate the marriage ceremony when we think it can make wrong right.” “One very prevalent false idea is that marriage sanctifies love, whereas it is love alone that can sanctify marriage. “All forces can be consecrated to the service of good and passion forms no exception. Passion transformed, not expunged, is the secret of ascension.”

“It is above all things desirable that we should be healthy animals. The natural man first, then the spiritual” says Mrs. Benham in her second chapter, “Marriage.”

  Here she shows that our ideas on morality are no more than conventions and are largely influenced by our birthplace and religion. In times of need for population, such as war wastage, etc., the ban has been lifted from the unmarried mother and the stigma from her child. If it can be lifted for utilitarian purposes, why not in normal times? Why the dread of divorce? Is it not mainly fear of Mrs Grundy? Or more often economic? With the economic independence of mothers and children divorce in cases of conjugal infelicity would become easy, and life be made happier for both parties and especially for the offspring; not only because it would be removed from an inharmonious environment, but also because, with the economic independence of women would come desired motherhood only, and that “supreme love as the master of passion is one, if not the only power which makes for progress and improvement in the human species.” This supreme love gives just that force and power to a new life which enables a child to feel with confidence that it has been well born. Well born in the sense that the highest, purest and noblest love were bequeathed to it at the time of its conception by both parents. In fact, that it has had bestowed upon it all those treasures of trust and love which must necessarily be lacking at the time of conception of the “scientific baby,” which is being advocated by some people at the present, and Mrs. Benham’s book – although written some years ago – is perhaps one of the most forcible arguments against any means of artificial procreation. Perhaps Mrs. Benham could be induced to have a second edition of her work published, as the present is possibly the most appropriate time for it to be again brought before a thinking public.

In “The Building of the House of Life,” the last chapter of “Perfect Humanhood,” the author says that “Thought is the body builder,” “the materials that thought employs are always essentially good,” it is the order of the arrangement of these materials that makes the result beautiful or the reverse. “It is wonderful that we have given not even a stockbreeder’s attention to the improvement of our own species, the human race. “That we have not made it a point of honour that parents should well match themselves for the sake of their ensuing offspring.” “The rarest of all unions, the highest and most enduring marriage, takes place whenever two unite that mutually thrill to all the vibrations that affect our varied and ascending planes of being, that find their complement in each other upon every level, that are married mentally, psychically, and spiritually, as well as physically.” From unions such as these and from no others can we expect improvement in the human race. Again, to hark back to artificial methods of conception, hear what the author of “Perfect Humanhood” says: “Spontaneity is the vital characteristic of passionate love, and it cannot be evoked at will. It is the outrush of creative energy, the “Fire” and “Wine” of life.” And again, “The supreme birthday gift, lasting for life, health, strength, energy, etc., greatly depend on the influences prevailing at the time of conception. What influences prevail when this takes place artificially? On the father’s side, at least, none. That “harp of a thousand strings is on his side mute.” The note that should be sounded then to which the child’s nature should forever vibrate is silent.

Mutual love should be the prevailing element if the foundation of the house beautiful is to be laid at the time of conception. Whether this love is to last the whole life of the parents or not does not seem to the author under consideration, to be of great importance. Nor does she consider that love in freedom would cause licentiousness. “Love,” She says, “is the universal redeemer.” “Give love a free hand.” “With love come all other virtues, Unselfishness, Courage, Fidelity, Truth, and the children of love shall rule the world.”


1. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Curtin: Book discussions (largely from Our Bookshelf), 1917 - 1988. JCPML00653/36