BMJ 1881: a woman during her menstrual period unfit to handle ham because she her touch will contaminate the ham.

by faithgibson on November 29, 2012

Excerpts from:

Transaction of the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society“,
Vol. 6, Session 1880-81, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyn,1881

President – Angus Macdonald, MD, FRCPE
VP A. R. Simpson, MD, FRCPA & Robert Bruce, MD FRCSE

The following was part of the discussion which begins page 13 –> 16 following Dr. Halliday Croom paper entitles: On the systematic use of antiseptics in midwifery Practice

discourse on menstruation and the curing of ham

Ø Dr. Keiller: (discussing puerperal fever) “…he wished to insist on was that the nurses should not live in the Maternity Hospital, but some place near. He thought that they should specially insist on women being very cleanly in their persons,especially during their menstruation.”
Ø Dr. Taylor alluded to a correspondence with appeared some years ago in the British Medical Journal, affirmative of the truth … that a woman during her menstrual period was unfit to manipulate ham in the process of curing, the general experience being that ham so treated did not keep.

…The truth was, that these popular beliefs were, as a rule, the result of intelligent observation and sagacious inference, and this one, at least, was supported by not only amply testimony, but constantly recurring experience. They were all aware that whilst in some women menstruation was a comparatively local process, in others it was accompanied by characteristic emanations from the rest of the body, and these, proceeding from the hands and reaching the pork in the process of rubbing, could hardly fail to contaminate it.

In the same manner, if these emanation be brought into contact with the raw surfaces which seem to be a necessary contingent of parturition, how much more rapidly and certainly will mischief be done! If it affects raw pork, notwithstanding the intervention of salt used in rubbing, how much more rapidly will it be absorbed to the detriment of a living organism.

Hence there is great need for the precautions which Dr. Keiller suggests. Not only should the nurses be separately housed, but the grave question forces itself upon us, “Should a menstruating women be allowed to nurse at all in cases of parturition?” 1881-A