My old grannies, who were young women in 1912, seemed to take pregnancy for granted on a 1 - 2 yearly basis, so I doubt if anyone bothered to test for it. It was all too prevalent; large families, worn-out women etc.
After 7 live births and 3 miscarriages, my grandparents' doctor hauled my grandfather into his surgery to inform him that one more child would kill my grandmother - leaving him to raise the children alone - and suggested he took some 'suitable contraceptive measures'. My grandfather, sadly, thought only of himself, and announced he wasn't prepared to jeopardise his own health and happiness in such a trivial cause. He was, apparently, convinced that condoms gravely restricted the blood flow etc. Faced with such disregard for her own situation, I think Granny resorted to "No!" Anyway - she outlived him by about 15 years, eventually dying at the age of 96. Who says there's no justice?
It begs the interesting question of how knowledgeable or ignorant your average young person would have been about these matters in 1912.
The lives of Dorothy Gibson, Harriet Crosby and others make you think sex was not as taboo to them as we think.
But then there's Edith Wharton who said it wasn't until several weeks AFTER her wedding that she finally managed to find out where babies come from.
Or my friend's Nan, a Yorkshire country girl giving birth a few decades after Titanic. She was writhing in pain and begging the midwife to tell her "how it was going to come out". The midwife looked at her incredulously and said - in her broadest Yorkie accent - "How's it going to come out?!? Same way it bloody went in, luv!"
I'm reminded of a convivial occasion in port in the engineer's smokeroom where the chief engineer was complaining of having had to travel in a colleague's cramped sports car "curled up like an embryo".
"What's an embryo?" a guest member of the company asked ingenuously (he was something of a character, a Scotsman and a batchelor to boot).
On seeing the quizzical looks directed his way he felt compelled to add "Och, well I'm no' an engineer...".
Obviously a man who'd managed to bypass vast tracts of biological human life then, Noel. I've known a few like that. They always seem very contented indeed to me, which I suppose, ought to tell us something. Though quite what, I don't know.
I've tried to track down how the family knew about Grandad, Brian, and it seems to stem from Granny in her late 80s, talking to a pharmacist son who had the sense to spend hours asking her about her life (so much is lost through people not doing this - in her life she went from bustles to mini-skirts, though not personally of course, and from horse-drawn carriages to Concorde).
Anyway, it seems I was wrong, and Granny did not resort to "No!" She resorted to Rendall's tablets - a female contraceptive of doubtful efficacy. Happily, they worked for Granny though. She confided to her incredulous son the information that they were so efficient, one dud tablet was deliberately put into every tube, for fear the human population might otherwise seriously decline. Granny used to carefully examine every tablet, to try to detect the dud.
How naive it seems to us. Yet how sensible, in those days, for someone trying desperately to fulfil her duty to her entire family, and to live to tell the tale.
>>She resorted to Rendall's tablets - a female contraceptive of doubtful efficacy. Happily, they worked for Granny though.<<
That or her system reached the point where something there said "Enough is enough." Given enough wear and tear, it's entirely possible that any fertilized ova found no place to implant or were lost so early on that she had no idea that anything had happened at all beyond the obvious "Good Times."
Just what was in Randall's Tablets anyway? I doubt that contemporary medical science had any sort of really good understanding of how hormones worked much less how to identify them.
Wife's Friend was the brand name of Mr Rendell's 'tablets', which were actually soluble pessaries made from cocoa butter with a dash of quinine. They - er - weren't designed to be taken orally. They were marketed in England from the 1880s right up until the 1940s, and apparently were not entirely ineffective.
Sometimes Grannie knows best, Mike. Mr Rendell was on the right track, even if he didn't have the resources to arrive at the ideal formulation. Modern research has led to the production of spermicidal creams based on vegetable oils and quinine hydrochloride that are regarded as not only safer but also often more effective than the synthetic and hormone-based products of the more recent past.
Re therapeutics, Granny also used to say "If it hurts, it's doing you good." I'm not altogether sure she was right about that, though.... I'm glad that my parents rejected the idea of a mustard poultice for my chest in favour of antibiotics when I was 4. But, of course, there were no antibiotics when she was raising her 7.
And of course "the worse the taste, the more good it will do ya". In a Great War documentary on TV last week, an old soldier remarked that the castor oil supplied for engine lubrication was great for dealing with cases of constipation, on those rare occasions when the prospect of 'going over the top' didn't get the job done. Forty years later we were still suffering the same treatment, though our supply came in a bottle from the pharmacy rather than from a 2-gallon can of Castrol.
Another fine motto to live by, Bob. He must have been a very old soldier indeed - not that extraordinary 108-year old, by any chance, who looks and sounds like a sprightly 80-year old? I saw him last week on TV, and instantly felt about 109 myself. If indeed, "the worse the taste, the more good it will do ya", then I suppose a diet of whisky and Fishermen's Friends should see me into a fine old age.
Yes, the old bloke was well over 100, but looked no older than I do (ie about 95). Here's what was needed in the well-stocked family medicine cabinet in 1839. No Trades Description Act in those days, so they could get away with advertising 'Tasteless Castor Oil'. And bad copywriting - Grannie would want to read that the stuff tasted bleedin' awful. Their leeches were good value at two bob a dozen, but sixpence a pint for Black Draught was daylight robbery, when any pub would serve you a pint of Guinness for twopence.
How did you keep the leeches alive with tails wagging, and able to do the business?
Am slightly worried about the sweet spirits of nitre... not to mention the laudanum. It was fairly exciting stuff in the medicine cabinet in those days. Mine seems very boring by comparison.
I don't need to remind you that attitudes to big families were different then. I have a rather poignant letter from my gr-grandmother to my grandmother which says "Be kind to your children dear and if they live, they will look after you when you get old". They were seen as an insurance against destitution in old age.
I told my sons today about the insurance against destitution in old age idea, Ernie. They smiled.... and asked for some sums to be deposited in their bank accounts. Better off, maybe, having girls? My 93-year old father certainly thinks so, and so does my 97-year old mother.
Rendell's were marketed beyond the 1940s - no matter what anyone says. I'm sure I remember selling them in my father's pharmacy into the early 1960s, and I was only a gawky kid at the time. People wrestled with the notion of buying such things off a (just) teenager, or leaving on a Friday evening without their requisites....