About this collection

The Women's Health Collection comprises over 500 books and pamphlets documenting all aspects of women's health, particularly in regard to marriage, sexuality and birth control. The collection contains publications with a focus on the history of women's health as well as on changing attitudes towards women's health and women's place in society. The principal strength of the collection is the coverage of material published between the two world wars, but some nineteenth-century and earlier publications, as well as some more recent works are also represented.

The collection includes particularly good runs of the writings of three of the most important figures in this field - Marie Stopes, Margaret Sanger and Havelock Ellis.

The collection includes classics of medical literature including works by Acton, Bernutz and Goupil, Graham, Hamilton, Jones, Pozzi and Roberton.

The principal subjects dealt with in the collection include: birth control, contraception, diet, eugenics, feminism, gynaecology, homosexuality, hygiene, infertility, intermarriage, marriage, menopause, menstruation, motherhood, population, prostitution, psychiatry, psychology, sex, sociology, venereal diseases, water cures, women's emancipation, and women's place in society.

All aspects of the birth control argument are represented. The 1920's and 1930's, a period in which the collection is particularly strong, saw a growing movement to make birth control information, advice and equipment more readily available to women.

The works within the collection are also a rich source of information about other aspects of women's lives, such as diet, nutrition, leisure activities, and attitudes towards work and fitness.

There are health and sex manuals, as well as many works on eugenics - a very popular subject in Britain before World War II.

The oldest book in the collection is Domestic Medicine by William Buchan, published in 1779. There are a small number of titles published in the 1800s including a 5th edition (1850) copy of On the Diseases of Females: A Treatise Illustrating Their Symptoms, Causes, Varieties, and Treatment Including the Diseases and Management of Pregnancy and Lying-in by Thomas J Graham and the 1845 work A Treatise on the Diseases and Special Hygiene of Females by Colombat de L’Isère, translated from the French, with additions by Charles D. Meigs.

There are also several first editions in the collection.

Amongst the works in the collection worthy of special mention are:

Marie Stopes' Mother England (1929). This book is justly famous for its letters from poor women in need of contraception

Ray Pierce's The People's Common Sense Medical Adviser in Plain English (1895). With its testimonials from satisfied patients, this book is a gold mine of women's own descriptions of their illnesses and disabilities as well as the remedies they tried with varying degrees of success.

Stewart Warren's The Wife's Guide and Friend: Being Plain and Practical Advice to Women on the Management of Themselves During Pregnancy and Confinement, and on Other Matters of Importance That Should be Known by Every Wife and Mother (1904). This book contains advertisements of particular interest, including illustrations of diaphragms, trusses, braces and a very early form of disposable sanitary protection. There are also letters from satisfied customers who ordered their contraceptives through the post, such as the following from a lady in Belfast, dated 28 March 1893.

'I use them quite unknown to my husband, who is very prejudiced but my health was so broken up by my previous confinements that I felt afraid of the result of another, so shall continue to use your [soluble vaginal quinine] Tablets and recommend them to my friends.'

A catalogue of the Special Collection on Women's Health is available. The catalogue is in two parts: Part 1 is an alphabetical listing of all titles under author, or by title for anonymous works and Part 2 is an alphabetical subject index based on Library of Congress subject headings. Within each subject entries are arranged by date, with the most recent first. Any special features or annotations in the works are noted in this catalogue.

What our Girls Ought to Know, Mary Studley, 1889
What our Girls Ought to Know,
Mary Studley, 1889

Back cover of Women's Change of Life, Dr G. Courtenay Beale, 19xx
Woman's Change of Life, Dr G Courtenay Beale, 19xx

The Wife's Guide and Friend, Stewart Warren, 1904
The Wife's Guide and Friend,
Stewart Warren, 1904

Social Science Studies: Sexual Behaviour in Society, Alex Comfort, 1950
Social Science Studies: Sexual Behaviour in Society,
Alex Comfort, 1950


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