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Flickan i medicinen: ungdom, kön och sjuklighet 1870-1930
Örebro University, Department of Humanities.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1882-4799
2007 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The main purpose of this thesis is to study and analyze how concepts of childhood and adolescence were constructed in scientific medicine during the period 1870 to 1930. The focus in the first part of the thesis is to study the sick girl as a stereotype in 1870–1900. In the late nineteenth-century, the poor health of girls was a popular topic in Swedish medical discourse. It was a well-established opinion that a substantial number of Swedish girls suffered from various diseases and ailments. Mass- and coeducation was under debate and physicians became interested in the impact of schools and schooling on children’s health. It is here shown that children, and in particularly adolescents, were de-fined as gendered creatures. The doctors emphasized the universal nature of adolescence and conceptualized pu-berty as a traumatic and risky stage of life and they also tended to focus on middle-class girls. Pubescent girls were seen as most vulnerable to external stress such as mental strain and physical demands. Physicians claimed that ill health inevitably followed when girls were educated in the same way as boys. However, boys and their health were discussed too. The most common ailments for both girls and boys were overstudy, anemia, headaches and disor-dered digestion. It was also shown in various studies, that poorer children were substantially inferior in weight as well as in height. Chlorosis was a common theme in late nineteenth-century medical discourse. Although it appeared mainly as a girls’ disease in medical books and in most sanitary journals, health studies for example, showed that chlorosis could also be a boys’ disease. However, sick boys were rarely spoken of. Medical opinions on overstudy, chlorosis and dress reform could be interpreted as a concern for unhealthy girls as future mothers of the nation. It is not my intention to advertise doctors as vicious oppressors, as opponents of female emancipation. In fact, the doctors often pointed out social factors and unequal circumstances of childhood and adolescence for girls and boys.

In early twentieth-century, the scientific opinion of girls changed. Even though gendered notions of children and youths persisted all through the period studied, more and more some doctors, Karolina Widerström, for example, began to question them. The new girl was not weak and ill, but rather healthy and active. However, a dividing line between those who claimed the weakness of girls and those who emphasized the new, healthy girl became more evident after 1900. In this thesis, this disparity is discussed in terms of popular medical discourse and scientific medi-cal discourse. In the latter, girls were still described as more sensitive and more frail than boys and as unfit for higher education and strenuous schoolwork. Thus, the new girl – vivid, healthy and equal to the boy – was above all a con-struction in popular medicine. The uniform medical discourse on girls from the late nineteenth-century thus dissolved. A number of changes in the medical discourse on sickness and health of girls and boys during in this period occurred. First, concepts of sickness and health were modified over time and fewer schoolchildren were considered sick. Fi-nally, in the beginning of the period studied, girls were sicker than boys were, but in the end, in the 1930s, there was no obvious gender difference. Both sexes seemed equally sick (or healthy).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Örebro: Örebro universitetsbibliotek , 2007. , 285 p.
Series
Örebro Studies in History, ISSN 1650-2418 ; 8
Keyword [en]
Girls, Boys, Gender, Youth, Illness, Chlorosis, History of Medicine, 19 th Century, 20 th Century, Popular Medicine, Scientific Medicine, Health Studies
Keyword [sv]
flickor, pojkar, ungdom, sjuklighet, genus, medicin, 1800-tal, 1900-tal, genus, läkare
National Category
History History Gender Studies
Research subject
History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-1472ISBN: 978-91-7668-545-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-1472DiVA: diva2:135069
Public defence
2007-09-21, Bion, Forumhuset, Örebro universitet, Örebro, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2007-08-30 Created: 2007-08-28 Last updated: 2016-08-10Bibliographically approved

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