Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Archives of Knitting News: "Knitting Cure for 'Nerves'"

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I was fooling around, looking for something interesting to read on the internet (I read my morning news on my computer), and it occurred to me that a Knitting News section on Ravelry would be nice. They currently do not have one. So, I started googling knitting news, found something interesting to me in the New York Times...and then noticed that you could search their archives going WAY back for anything you want. So I did.

And I found this (which can be read in pdf here):

(Published: May 11, 1912
Copyright © The New York Times)

Berlin Doctors Prescribe Practice in Bed to Benefit Women.
By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph
to The New York Times.

BERLIN, May 10. -- Knitting in bed as an effective antidote for nervousness is the latest remedy prescribed for women by Berlin's great specialists. Among the distinguished patients who at present are undergoing this novel cure is Mrs. Leishman, wife of the American Ambassador. All accounts agree that the preoccupation and concentration required for needlework when performed in a sitting posture between pillows and coverlets, is working wonders in women afflicted with nerves. They find it vastly more agreeable and efficacious than the ordinary and sometime tedious "rest cure," and it is producing results found unattainable from the old-time "nerve" panaceas.

"Our grandmothers," said a distinguished Berlin woman specialist, commenting on the knitting cure, "were not nervous as a rule. They were placid souls who were not easily ruffled, and were passionate knitters. What is more natural than that we should resort, for nervous women of to-day, to the favorite pastime of our maternal ancestors? I have at present a dozen Berlin society ladies, who are spending from four to six hours a day abed knitting. If possible, I require them to be alone and set themselves a task of accomplishing a fixed amount of work each day.

"Their progress is marked and apparently permanent. They are learning to become fond of knitting and tell me it is the best anti-nervousness cure they have ever tried. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the present effects, which are undoubted, will last."
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This keeps bringing on little snorting giggle fits because of the ridiculousness of the quote about our ancestors being placid and not easily ruffled! And what never ceases to amaze me is that women were (and sometimes still are) seen as such fragile, helpless creatures by virtue of their gender. That frame of mind has always fascinated me.

Response: I of course know and agree with this statement: "While it seems ridiculous that women with all the money and time in the world would be afflicted with depression, remember that they lacked status and the opportunity to be anything BUT ornamental and 'useless'." We HAVE come a VERY long way, baby (I really do not need to get started here). For those who see this posting as a denigration of those who suffer from depression, you are reading too much into it; this is a piece of nostalgia, a part of our history as women. There is of course many a rant to be raged about the male-dominated medical profession's treatment of "hysterical women." But my snarky observation (that I removed rather than edit) that the employees of the society matrons described above must have had opinions about the cures, forced or otherwise, is valid. I am not negating the suffering of the priveliged women, but what about the not so priveliged who were subject to their own? About that I am very curious. I do wonder at the thoughts had by the female servants attending to the afflicted...there was a definite delineation between the classes, and did the less priveliged "lie abed" when depression struck? The economic repercussions for that "cure" would be hurtful, I'm sure.

I get it, and I do not need anymore feminist history lessons, thank you very much! I enjoy reading things like this as both a window into social history and as a reminder of the gains people have made...and as an amusing affirmation of what every knitter already knows!!! I put them here for those who enjoy the same.

More archives: "Oh, Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more!!"

(P.S.: Had to share this because I find this stuff so interesting-

K8 said...
By "nerves" think Mrs Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. They had too much time on their hands, and nothing to do or think about but themselves and maybe their children's social advancement. Small wonder they'd become "hysterical", especially if they had other issues going on (which of course at that time would be dismissed or treated in ways likely to make them worse...). For what the traditional rest-cure can do to a person needing completely different treatment, see the chilling story "The Yellow Wallpaper" about a woman with postpartum depression magnified into psychosis by her rest cure. Small wonder knitting was of greater benefit to these women than purely sitting in bed all day, not even allowed to read!

Found a Wiki link...fascinating: The Yellow Wallpaper

Thanks, Kate!)

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