History events at the IHR

Managing Health, Managing Behaviour: Health and Girlhood in Britain, 1874-1920s

05 February 2013, 17:15 - 19:15

Event Type: Seminar


Professor Hilary Marland (University of Warwick)


Girls' bodies and minds became a source of sustained interest in health advice literature in the final quarter of the nineteenth century, coinciding with a broader engagement with girlhood as a distinct phase of life situated between childhood and adulthood. This paralleled a new emphasis in medical writing on the subject of young vulnerable female bodies as well as great anxiety about adolescent girls on the part of social workers, psychologists and educationalists. Yet advice literature differed in terms of its content and tone – less grim, more positive, and focused on the ways in which girls could strive to achieve good health rather than on potential bodily and mental crises. It also emphasised possibilities for improving health and harnessing it to the achievement of new goals in education, the workplace, and recreational and sporting activities. This period was marked too by a steady shift from conceptions of the adolescent female body centred on biological susceptibility and limited supplies of energy to an emphasis on behaviour and self-management as girls were increasingly urged to take responsibility for their own health and to engage in activities intended to create vitality. This paper traces these shifts, focusing on advice relating to diet, exercise and hygiene, and their perceived utility for health improvement. It also examines the downside of this process, as emphasis on the management of emotions and behaviour imposed rigorous health regimes on girls and replaced the burden of biological vulnerability with a new burden of responsibility for achieving health goals.

Venue: Room 102 (Senate House, first floor)

Senate House
Malet Street 
London WC1E 7HU 

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