Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tight Lacing

"The human system is a curious and complicated machine, wonderfully wrought by the hand of nature, composed of various organs of different textures, whose natural functions are intimately connected with the enjoyment of perfect health." So opens Jeremiah Lyford’s 1832 thesis on Tight Lacing. Lyford, a medical student at Dartmouth Medical School, goes on to list some of the ill effects on the body caused by the practice of corseting or "tight lacing" prevalent in the early 19th Century. These include diminished lung capacity, which in turn leads to contaminated blood. He also notes that pressure is placed on the heart. The stomach is also affected leading to dyspepsia and heartburn, among other maladies. But it also has a negative effect on the external body. These Lyford states are "disgusting to all admirers of real taste and beauty. It disfigures the beautiful and upright shape, which nature has given to the body…"

As you read this thesis it becomes clear that, while Lyford is approaching this as a medical issue, he has a strong, personal objection to this practice. In concluding he states "The habit deserves the reprobation of a virtuous community; of every individual, who would be helped through life with an agreeable companion and who would see the youth and rising generation blooming and healthy."

This is an interesting perspective by a man of this period on a woman's fashion that would last into the early part of the next century. Lyford, and other medical students writing on this topic for their theses, open the door to some interesting research into male opinion and influence over women’s fashion in the Victorian period. Besides tight lacing, Rauner holds hundreds of medical theses (1797-1882) on a wide variety of topics, which, like tight lacing, lend themselves to historical or social research.

The theses have recently been the focus of a preservation project to disbind them to create better and easier access. This work has been done by the Library's Preservation Services Department. To learn more about this process and see images from some of these theses see Preservation Services blog post: A Look Inside: The Early Medical Thesis Disbound

Ask for DA-3, Medical Theses (1832) to see Lyford's thesis.  The images are from the Nellie Peirce Collection ML-19.

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