12 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice for 19th-Century Girls
By Sonia Weiser
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg did more than invent Corn Flakes and granola. The 19th-century physician was also the superintendent of West Health Reform Institute—later known as the Battle Creek Sanitarium—a medical institution devoted to Kellogg's concept of a healthy lifestyle. He advocated for shunning indulgences of any kind, exercising, living simply, and avoiding vices—especially masturbation, which he referred to as self-abuse. His 1887 book Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life (originally published in 1877 as Plain Facts About Sexual Life)—is a 654-page guide to Kellogg's philosophies regarding maintaining a healthy existence.
In it, he expounded on various ways for both boys and girls to be the best they can be. Here are 12 of his tips for girls.
1. Be healthy to be beautiful.
"No girl can long be beautiful without health; and no girl who enjoys perfect health can be really ugly in appearance. A healthy countenance is always attractive.”
2. Choose your friends wisely.
Kellogg was presumably pretty picky about whom the many children he and his wife fostered hung out with: "A girl will always do well to avoid a companion who is vain, idle, silly, or frivolous. Girls who have these evil characteristics are very likely to have others also which are worse. … No matter how pretty, witty, stylish, or aristocratic she may be, she should be shunned."
3. Don't read sentimental books.
And by sentimental, he means popular. "A confirmed novel-reader is almost as difficult to reform as a confirmed inebriate or opium-eater. The influence upon the mind is most damaging and pernicious. It not only destroys the love for solid, useful reading, but excites the emotions, and in many cases keeps the passions in a perfect fever of excitement." Kellogg goes on to say that popular parlor books, such as collections of Chaucer's poetry, led many to "self-abuse for the gratification of passions." So Nicholas Sparks fare is definitely out of the question.
4. Avoid certain foods, and don't even think about grabbing a coffee.
Kellogg believed that a diet of plain, bland foods was the best way to curb any base desires (his famed Corn Flakes were actually invented for just this purpose). "The use of stimulating and exciting articles of food" with "spices, pepper, ginger, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, essences, all condiments, salt, pickles … fish, fowl, oysters, eggs, and milk" and "late suppers, confectionery and dainties—all these have a very powerful influence in the wrong direction by exciting functions which ought to be kept as nearly latent as possible. The use of tea and coffee by young ladies cannot be too strongly condemned … The influence of coffee in stimulating the genital organs is notorious."
Now we know why office romances are so common. It's all the coffee-break excitement!
5. Get married at the right age to the right person.
"Physiology fixes with accuracy the earliest period at which marriage is admissible. This period is that at which the body attains complete development, which is not before 20 in the female, and 24 in the male."
And while the best age for marriage is still up for debate, it's hard to argue with Kellogg's advice for choosing a mate.
"Look well before you leap; consider well, carefully, and prayerfully. A leap in the dark is a fearful risk, and will be far more likely to land you in a domestic purgatory than anywhere else. Do not be dazzled by a handsome face, an agreeable address, a brilliant or piquant manner. Choose, rather, modesty, simplicity, sincerity, morality, qualities of heart and mind, rather than exterior embellishments."
6. Keep the engagement short and sweet.
"… long courtships and long engagements … are productive of no good, and are not infrequently the occasion of much evil," namely sex out of wedlock. "There may be circumstances which render a prolonged engagement necessary and advisable; but, in general, they are to be avoided."
7. Dress modestly.
"Maidenly modesty is one of the best qualities which any young lady can possess. A young woman who lacks modesty, who manifests boldness of manner and carelessness in deportment, is not only liable to have her virtue assailed by designing and unscrupulous men, but is herself likely to fall before the temptation to indulge in secret sin, which is certain to present itself in some way sooner or later."
8. Shun the latest trends.
Kellogg would be incredibly disappointed to see the popularity of skinny jeans and athleisure: "… the girl who disregards the laws of health … who carefully follows the fashions in her dress, lacing her waist to attain the fashionable degree of slenderness … insufficiently clothing the limbs in cold weather … may be certain that sooner or later, certainly at no distant day, she will become as unattractive and homely as she can wish not to be …"
And though he does have a point that corsets aren't particularly healthy, we're not sure that it's because it incites lust in the wearer. Kellogg continued: "Fashion requires a woman to compress her waist with bands or corsets. In consequence, the circulation of the blood toward the heart is obstructed. The venous blood is crowded back into the delicate organs of generation. Congestion ensues, and with it, through reflex action, the unnatural excitement of the animal propensities."
9. Don’t be a flirt.
"We have not the slightest hesitation in pronouncing flirtation as pernicious in the extreme. It exerts a malign influence alike upon the mental, the moral, and the physical constitution of those who indulge it. The young lady who has become infatuated with a passion for flirting, courting the society of young men simply for the pleasure derived from their attentions, is educating herself in a school which will totally unfit her for the enjoyment of domestic peace and happiness … She is surely sacrificing a life of real true happiness for the transient fascinations of unreal enjoyment, pernicious excitement." Just so we're clear—if you're a flirt, you will be deemed entirely unfit for marriage, which is the only source of true happiness.
10. Only dance for exercise.
This tip is basically his early script for Footloose: The Victorian Era. "Whatever apologies may be offered for other forms of the dance as means of exercise employed as a form of calisthenics, no such excuse can be framed in defense of 'round dances,' especially of the waltz. In addition to the associated dissipation, late hours, fashionable dressing, midnight feasting, exposures through excessive exertions and improper dress, etc., it can be shown most clearly that dancing has a direct influence in stimulating the passions and provoking unchaste desires, which too often lead to unchaste acts, and are in themselves violations of the requirements of strict morality, and productive of injury to both mind and body.”
11. Make mom your BFF.
"Make your dear mother your confidant in all your perplexities and trials. Go to her for information on all subjects upon which you find yourself ignorant. Let no foreign influence beguile away your confidence from her who is most worthy of your love and respect, and who is best prepared to instruct you on all subjects, no matter how delicate."
12. Daydreaming is dangerous.
"Those lascivious daydreams and amorous reveries, in which young people—and especially the idle and the voluptuous, and the sedentary and the nervous—are exceedingly apt to indulge, are often the sources of general debility, effeminacy, disordered functions, premature disease, and even premature death, without the actual exercise of the genital organs! Indeed, this unchastity of thought—this adultery of the mind—is the beginning of immeasurable evil to the human family." Did you hear that? Daydreaming can lead to premature death. Get back to work!