A Lady's Syringe

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
by Angela R. Collins, University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist  
originally published in the Newsletter of the Iowa Archeological Society, Summer 2013, Issue 226, Vol. 63, No. 2
 
a lady's syringe recovered in an excavationThis example is one of the “Dr. F. Wilhofts (Original) Lady’s Syringe”, produced by Goodyear Rubber around 1900, was recently recovered from a stone well in Iowa City during an archaeological investigation. At this time, archival records indicate that the house associated with the well had female tenants; three dressmakers and one mother with her son. By 1902, a teacher and a female student were also in residence. The douche had been marketed for over a century as a feminine hygiene product for both married and single women, although it is likely that its use at the turn of 20th century had more to do with birth control than cleanliness. Advertisements for douches appear in medical, women’s, and department store publications. In Women’s Physical Development’s first publication in 1900, the Lady’s Syringe is advertised as “the only perfect vaginal syringe” to be used principally for “injection and suction” to assure thorough cleansing. It is not difficult to read between the lines that this product can also be used as a form of birth control. Douches continued to be marketed and used by women through most of the 20th century until other forms of birth control became readily available, especially to unmarried women. Starting in the 1970s and 80s, public perception of the douche began to change considerably. We now know that the practice of douching is unnecessary and can even be harmful to women causing infection and other complications. Today, the negative connotations with douching are so widespread that someone could be referred to pejoratively as a “douchebag” when viewed to be out-of-date, clueless, or irritating.
 
historic advertisement for ladys syringe

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