Is Nervous Prostration a Necessity with the Modern Woman?

This is the fourth article in June of the School for Housewives 1904 series published on Jun 26, 1904, and is a longer article on worrying.

School for Housewives – Is Nervous Prostration a Necessity with the Modern Woman?

“Don’t Let Yourself Go! To Cut the Slender Line of Will Power Is to Drift Out!”

New York doctors have been exercising their wits lately to account for the alarming prevalence of cerebro-spinal meningitis among the children in that city. The impression is strong that the disease is contagious. Some ask, “Is there a cerebro-spinal meningitis germ?”

The student student of woman’s nature and ways is tempted to set on foot a like inquiry anent the fashionable malady of nervous prostration. Once in a while a man is threatened with it. Once in several whiles he becomes to kill himself to get rid of the horror. When the family of nerves – great and small – unites against the will, life to the masculine mind is not worth living.

For this, I take it, is what nervous prostration means – a general insurrection of the nervous system and the dethronement and banishment of the ruler God set over it – the Will.

No woman is ashamed of the rebellion. A physician called it yesterday, in my hearing, “the fashionable fad of women who have time to pamper whims.” A plain-spoken business man, when asked what one grievously afflicted woman, whose “prostration” was town talk, needed to bring about a cure, ripped out: “A steady regimen of washtub!”

The brutal prescription was based upon the fact that washerwomen and laborers’ wives, who must cook, wash, iron and “do” generally for their families, do not have nervous prostration. The luxury is as far beyond their reach as a summer at Carlsbad or a winter on the Nile. When our toiler is “tried to death” and “that worried that she feels as if she could fly,” she has the name of being “cross and ugly-tempered.” When she cries stormily over the washboard she gets no sympathy. “Just let her have it out, and she’ll’’ come ‘round all right!” say her nearest of kin and dearest of heart.


And since the clothes must be out on the line and dinner be cooked before “he” comes in at noon, and there is nobody but herself to do these things, she “has it out,” and keeps the traces taut.

Necessity, in her case, braces the will to hold its own against the mutinous crew.

When the sufferer is not a fashionable puppet, jaded by the murderous round of “functions” and the demand upon invention and ingenuity made necessary by the effort to keep up with richer competitors for social distinction, but a conscientious, refined woman, wife and mother, or artist, or author, or editor, or minister’s wife, who succumbs piteously to the load laid upon her by duty and circumstances – where is the fault?

I could furnish a list of a score and more, at a minute’s notice, nervous wrecks, crying by the hour and the week like homesick babies; sleepless by night and smileless by day; travellers in the care of trained nurses on land and sea, dwelling in the dead calm of sanitariums and rest cures, forbidden to hold communication with friends and kindred until the belligerent nerves return to their allegiance.

They are “smitten of God and afflicted,” say those who love them; “cumberers of the earth,” say well people with well-balanced systems. The suffering is real and intense, whatever may have been the original cause. And the long list grows longer daily and yearly.

May I offer a single suggestion as to a possible preventive as the result of careful and compassionate examination of the fearful scourge of home and society? In every case of which I have any knowledge there came what may be called a crucial stage, when the tortured nerves broke the bounds of reason and defied the will. In plainer terms, the woman “let herself go.”

Every reader who has known the agony of a long-continued nervous strain will comprehend what I mean. She wanted to cry, and she gave way to hysterical weeping. She “felt (as some of us feel a dozen times a week) as if she must scream!” and she screamed. In short – she gave up the fight, and the enemy took possession.

One more screw upon the willpower, one desperate last stand for liberty, and the Rubicon would have been safely passed.

Suffer one of a hundred illustrations of the truth of my position – one the memory of which has tided me over many a crisis in my own history.

A busy woman was pronounced a hopeless invalid by physicians and friends. There was no talk of hypochondria. Repeated hemorrhages had sapped strength; crushing sorrow and unremitting toil had lowered her nervous forces to a minimum.

For weeks she had struggled to rise in the morning and go about her daily tasks, fighting bravely against debility, depression and the terrible, nameless sensation of drifting out into a sea of nothingness, which may not be strange one morning. A night of horrible insomnia left her as faint of will as of body. When her husband came to her bedside with the usual inquiry as to how she felt, she answered that she could not rise.


“I have let go! I shall drift out, and make an end of it!” she ended, mournfully calm.

He was a sensible man, and to sense he added tact. “I know it is asking much of you to wish you to try to live a little longer,” he said. “I say nothing of the inconvenience to myself and the elder children that would come from your death. But there is Bob! He’s your only boy, and just 3 years old, you know. If you could make up your mind to live long enough to see him through college it would be a great thing for him. He’ll go to the devil without his mother!”

The mother lay still for a long minute, her eyes apparently fixed upon the all. In reality, she was seeing Bob – motherless baby, schoolboy, college-lad, impulsive, headstrong, clever for evil or for good – going wrong without the balance wheel, the sure anchor of her love. Presently she said softly – still gazing into the air – “Send my maid to me; I am going to get up!”

She lived to see Bob graduated. She is living still, in a hale old age, and her children call her blessed. That minute-and-a-half decided the current of their lives with hers.

Dropping from the pathetic to the ridiculous – he was a shred carter who stuffed a handful of dirt into the mouth of his balky horse – to give him a new idea!

To return to my homely prescription for the nerve-worn and weary – DON’T LET YOURSELF GO! TO CUT THE SLENDER LINE OF WILL POWER IS TO DRIFT OUT!

Marion Harland


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