The man most responsible for popularizing this view was Dr. Edward H. Clarke, a professor at Harvard Medical College. In 1873, Clarke published “Sex in Education, or, A Fair Chance for the Girls” to explain to the general reader the dangers of higher education to women’s health. Based on the prevailing theory of conservation of energy, that the sum of all energy in the body is constant, Clarke warned that excessive study diverted women’s finite supply of energy from the female reproductive organs to the brain. The consequence was a breakdown in women’s health, specifically in their reproductive organs, which ultimately threatened the health of future generations.
Clarke warned young women contemplating college to avoid intellectual strain at least one week every month. Young women ignoring his advice by studying “every day of the school year, just as boys do,” risked a panoply of ailments, from painful menstruation and general weakness to hysteria, sterility and even death.