Victorian Women Liked Sex, Says Early Survey

Griego said, "When she got women to remove their corset and constricting underwear, they breathed the same as men. No one could study this because women didn't disrobe for men."

Mosher kept track of women's menstrual cycles and tried to debunk theories that women should remain housebound during their periods. She concluded that painful periods were a direct result of inactivity caused by the "inevitable illness."

She even developed exercises, dubbed "Moshers," to help strengthen women's abdomens during menstruation.

"Equal pay for women means equal work; unnecessary menstrual absences mean less than full work," she wrote.

In 1896, Mosher went to Johns Hopkins University in the first years it opened the Baltimore medical school to women. But in 1900, when she got her medical degree, she was told she could never be a gynelogical surgeon because no male doctors would work with her.

Mosher tried to open her own medical practice but was unable to get the respect or referrals to stay in business. Subsequently, she returned to Stanford as a professor of personal hygiene and a women's medical adviser.

There, even though she lectured her students on the importance of health and physical activity, women trusted her as a scientist and doctor, confiding their intimacies.

Despite Mosher's enlightened views on women, she never bonded with other professional women and was bored with the tea parties given by the faculty wives whose secrets she kept.

"I am finding out gradually why I am so lonely," she wrote in her 1919 diary. "The only things I care about are things which use my brain. The women I meet are not so much interested and I do not meet many men, so there is an intellectual solitude which is like the solitude of the desert, dangerous to one's sanity."

She began a novel about a woman who had to choose between career and marriage, then never finished it. She lived her later years with her mother and yet longed for friends.

"It so poignant," said Griego. "What got to me were not only her endeavors to be rigorous and scientific, but there was a cost. She was lonely. At one point I was reading her letters and she was pouring her heart out."

"Dear 'Friend who never was," Mosher wrote in 1926. "I have given up ever finding you. I have tried out all my friends and they have not measured up to my dreams."

Now, decades after the discovery of the surveys, Mosher's reputation is being resurrected at Stanford.

"We were intrigued by her personal story as well as the research," magazine editor Cool said.

"She comes off as a poignant figure, a woman whose curiosity and scholarly inclination alienated her from many women of the time, but who could not break through the significant professional barriers that existed for women and therefore could not fully reside in either world," he said.

The response from modern alumni has been "enormous," he said. "The story has been reprinted, excerpted and commented on in several blogs and press reports."

One reader, a alumna who attended Stanford in the 1970s on a Clelia Mosher Scholarship, was particularly moved to learn about the sex pioneer.

"She was bowled over to find out Mosher's background," Cool said. "It made her grateful all over again for the gift that enabled her own education."

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