History events at the IHR

'The Breakers that Separate Childhood from Youth': Medicine and Sexual Development in Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Britain

15 January 2013, 17:15 - 19:15

Event Type: Seminar


Victoria Bates (University of Exeter)


In the mid-nineteenth century the Oxford English Dictionary defined a child as 'a young person of either sex below the age of puberty', a definition which placed sexual maturity at the boundary between childhood and adulthood. To an extent this definition still prevails, as Stephen Angelides notes that 'sexuality' continues to mark a 'dividing line between childhood and adulthood'. However, in Victorian and Edwardian England sexual maturity was still conceptualised as a physiological developmental stage rather than as 'sexuality' in the current-day sense of a sexual identity. This paper will consider late-Victorian and Edwardian ideas about such sexual development, and the lack thereof, at different life stages with a focus on the boundary between childhood and adolescence. It will demonstrate that medical ideas about sexual maturity and behaviour which had 'social currency', in terms of drawing on and reinforcing existing middle-class interests, were the most likely to be propagated within and beyond medical literature. The paper will thus highlight and explain the particular 'social currency' of medical literature on female puberty and precocity.

Please note: this session takes place in the Bloomsbury Room, G35

Venue: Room G35 (Ground Floor)

Senate House, South Block
Malet Street 
London WC1E 7HU 

Download a map of the central precinct with directions for getting to the University of London Senate House.

Related Events: Life-Cycles History