Midwestern Folk Wisdom

“In Adams County, Illinois, the mass of advice directed toward the common problems of women reflected the sympathy women felt for one another. A girl entering her first period will have an easy time provided her “grandy rags” are handled with three fingers when washed. The more you change your cloths, the greater the flow. If you burn your rags instead of washing them you will get thin and weak because you are just burning up your life. Washing your head during the “monthlies” will bring on sickness; taking any sour food or drink during a period will cause tuberculosis. To cure cramps, drink the broth of a chicken, beaten to death. To prevent conception, eat the dried lining of a chicken’s gizzard; sleep with your menstrual clothes under the pillow for the first three days of your period; take gunpowder in small doses for three mornings, all the while thinking hard about the desired result. A woman who wants to put an end to her childbearing must throw the afterbirth of her last baby down an old well or walk directly over the spot where the afterbirth was buried. Keep nursing your child, wean it early. If none of the contraception remedies work, rub gunpowder on your breasts each night, drink a tea made from rusty nail water, or rub your navel with quinine and turpentine morning and night for several days; each of these remedied can induce abortion. The lists of helpful suggestions are as endless as they were ineffectual, but at the very least this feminine lore suggests that women were active in their search fro a reliable means of limiting their fertility, and that nineteenth century rural women shared a casual attitude about abortion.”