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Women’s Health

by Cheryl Klimaszewski

In the 1920’s, physical exams were required for all female students at the Drexel Institute. Here we see a letter from John Arnett to Drexel Institute President Kenneth G. Matheson, in which he outlines the physical ailments of the “girls,” which conveniently fall into one of four categories: anemia (group A), constipation (group C), menstrual disturbances (group D) and overweight (group O). Diet, exercise and lifestyle plans were distributed to each student according to her grouping and examples can be seen below.

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Historically, institutions of higher education limited enrollment to only the “best” – which implied white males. Medical “theories” often arose to explain the physiological differences between white males and females that made the latter “unfit” for advanced study, one being that women’s brains were less evolved than those of men. In light of this historical context, the fact that Drexel provided courses for and encouraged women to attend is quite progressive for the time. However, such mandatory physicals for men were not required until the latter 1920’s, illustrating one aspect of the difference between social expectations for men and those for women. The Institute still saw women as creatures in need of protection and the administration took on a parental role in overseeing the lives and development of female students.
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