After last week’s exploration of Constance’s 1889 trip to Paris for a nipple piercing, commenter Hug wrote:
However, a few questions arise that would need me to download a Google Play app to resolve. One is: what did Fanny report in the May 10th issue? Another would be that Constance appears to be a regular contributor, does she have other interesting mechanical reports?
First I should explain that the 1889 magazine in question can be displayed quite readily in a browser, although one does appear to need to be logged into a Google account.
Moving on, I couldn’t find more from Constance outside this “comment thread” about nipple piercing, but Hug is absolutely right that I should have dug out and published the earlier letters leading up to the one I quoted. It turns out Constance is part of a much longer conversation, and I did not succeed in tracing it all the way to its source, even though Google Play does have many earlier volumes of the magazine. But perhaps what I did find, just in the volume linked last week, will be enough. It begins with French schoolboys and young female Polish artists:
In reply to the query of L. H., I beg to inform him about the piercing the breasts as we boys performed the operation at the Lycee I mentioned.
The operation is so simple that it is not required to make any sketch. The only requisites are some fine, strong, sewing silk, a long, thin needle with a long eye (a small-size darning-needle is just the thing), and a pair of gold ear-wires of the largest size. The needle should perforate the centre of the breast from side to side in a horizontal direction, and should pass close to the skin of the body, so that the ring, when inserted, may lie flat on the body below the breast.
The mode in which we used to proceed is this: Standing in front of a mirror, make a little dot with ink on each side of the breast, centrally and at its base, to show the places where the needle should pass in and out. Take a piece of the silk about 8in. or lOin. long, and, doubling it in the middle, tie the two free ends together, and pass the loop end for about an inch through the eye of the needle; then lay hold, with the first finger and thumb of the left hand, of the skin which is underneath the breast, so as to hold it steady, and protruding in front, and having a thimble on the second finger of the right hand, take the needle, and entering its point at the dot on one side, pass it through the breast and out at the other dot. If the needle does not come out in the proper place, it may be partially withdrawn and its direction corrected. As the skin is very tough, it requires a little force to push it through.
When the needle is correctly placed, then draw it through the breast, carrying with it the loop-end of the thread, which will now be on one side, and the tied, loose ends on the other. Not more than an inch of the loop should be drawn through, as it has presently to be retracted. Perforate the other breast in the same manner. The needle is no more required after this. Now take two pieces of the silk, each as long as the first one, and passing them through the loop of the first thread, double them in the middle and tie each pair of loose ends in a knot. Now, holding the breast steady with one hand, draw the first thread back carrying with it the two other threads for about an inch; the first thread is now removed, being not any more wanted. There are now four threads passing through each breast, two loops being on one side of it and two pairs of loose ends on the other side. The silk thread should be as strong as possible, although rather fine, as it requires some force to pull it through the skin.
The operation may be further proceeded with at present or be left till next day as preferred. To proceed: Place in each loop two threads, in the some manner as before, and draw each pair successively through the breasts so as to have eight threads passing through each of them. Leave it now till next day; by proceeding in this gradual manner very little pain is caused.
The next day, or the day after is better, the gold rings may be inserted. To do this, have the rings ready opened, then cut off the threads close to one side of the breast and pull the whole of them out of the hole, into which at once put the point of the ring and pass it through before the hole can begin to close. When the rings are once inserted all trouble is over. In a very short time one could scarcely know that the rings were being worn, except anything should touch them rudely. Do not attempt to move them until healed; only anoint them three or four times a day slightly with olive oil, which will prevent them sticking. They should not be removed from the breasts for, at least, several months; as, until the holes are thoroughly cicatrised, there is a tendency to grow up again.
Although this description may seem long and complicated, it is really very simple in practice, and gives not much pain; it only requires a little care and some resolution. If L. R. wishes to try the experiment of piercing his breasts, I am sure he will be quite satisfied with this method. I hope he will send word to the English Mechanic to say how he succeeded.
Of course the operation could be done with an ear-piercer; but it would be then much more painful, as the hole would have to be made full size at once, and it would require the aid of a jeweller to perform it.
Although I have known many boys who had their breasts pierced, yet until lately I never met with a lady who had submitted to this operation. But when I was in London last Christmas holidays, I was introduced to a young Polish lady, an artist. One occasion, as she was sitting down and myself standing by her side, I noticed something shining inside her bosom, her dress being low in front. On getting another look I saw it was a ring in her breast. On a future occasion I told her what I saw, and she allowed me to see the rings in situ. They were of gold, nearly as large as a crown piece, and quite thick. She told me that it was quite usual for the peasant girls in the part of Russian Poland from whence she came to wear them, but usually made of silver. She, however, and some of her girl friends who had been persuaded to submit to the operation, wore gold ones. These large rings are commonly worn in the ears also, but they are mostly smooth, and not faceted like the rings generally worn in this country.
The operation was performed for this young lady by a jeweller with a large ear-piercer. She said the pain produced by the piercing was very great: she nearly fainted, and hardly had courage to have the second breast pierced. But as there was a ring in one breast it was useless to hesitate, so after a short rest she submitted to have the other one pierced; after a few hours the pain had entirely ceased. When I saw her she had worn the rings for some years without any in convenience. During the five or six years that I wore rings in my breasts I never found them any trouble; indeed, I was very seldom conscious that I was wearing them. As I no longer reside in Birmingham, I beg to subscribe myself. Jules Orme.
It is in reply to this letter that we first hear from Constance:
I have seen the interesting letter of Jules Orme in your number for April 6, on “Wounds,” in which he mentions having seen a Polish lady who wore rings in her breasts. Of course he meant in the nipples, but he being a foreigner, the mistake was easy to make. My cousin Jack showed me the letter, and he is very desirous that I should have mine pierced and rings inserted. I laughed at the idea, and said I did not believe the thing was possible; but he showed me that he was then wearing himself in his nipples some gold rings which were inserted last summer by a jeweller in London. Now, I dearly love Jack, and am going to marry him next year; and I would not mind doing anything in reason to please him, so I have consented to do as he wishes.
My younger sister, Mildred, has determined to have her breasts pierced also, if I have mine done. We have several pairs of fine large gold rings, such as are worn by the peasant women in Austria; they are smooth and thick, and about as large as a half-crown piece, and will answer the purpose very nicely. We are going to Paris shortly, to see the Exhibition; and on our return to London we shall call on the person who performed the operation for Jack, as we do not care to have anyone in our neighbourhood to do it for us. We have decided upon having our breasts pierced with an ear-piercer, instead of the method described by Jules Orme, as we would rather suffer considerable pain for the moment and have it more quickly over. We have little doubt that we shall have courage and endurance enough not to faint at the operation.
What Millie and I want to know is, whether when we are married, if we have any children, the presence of the ring in our nipples would prevent us from nursing them ourselves. I am just turned eighteen, and shall not marry for more than a year, so that there would be abundant time for the wounds to heal. We hope one of your correspondents who is qualified will give us his opinion on this point. We have ordered the English Mechanic to be sent to us weekly while we are in Paris, so that we may see any answers which we may be favoured with. On our return, and after we have gone through the operation, I shall write again and let you know how it resulted. Constance.
It was this letter which drew the response from Fanny that Hug was curious to see:
Seeing your letter in last week’s “E.M.” with reference to pierced breasts, I hope the following experiences may be of assistance to “Constance.” Ever since I have had breasts I have worn rings which I had inserted in the nipples at the request of an intimate friend. I am now aged 20, and the mother of a healthy family, and have experienced no difficulty in nursing all my children myself. I wish to draw “Constance’s” attention to the fact that my nipples were skilfully pierced below the orifice so as to avoid any danger of disturbing the passage. Having now learnt by experience the various inconveniences attached to the practice of wearing these rings, I should strongly advise “Constance” to resist “Jack’s” proposals, as I am now of opinion that they are by no means useful, and, as they are not displayed in public, very little satisfaction is derived from them as an ornament. I should long ago have discarded them had I not now become entirely used to them after five years’ continuous wear. Fanny.
Of greater interest to me is that Fanny’s note was accompanied by several others, which read like a veritably modern parade of concern trolls, troll-trolls, and prudish conservative entitlement to the bodies of women:
The reply of “Constance” last week reads like a joke! One can scarcely take it as serious. If serious, I would recommend her not to have the rings where only the privileged one may see them; but adorn herself instead with a ring in each nostril, where we may all admire and worship. Have them about 3in. long — the rings, I mean, not the nostrils. T. C.
It is very possible that if “Constance” pierces the nipple itself, it will interfere with the nursing of her children. Amongst civilised people the occurrence of abscesses about the nipple at the period of gestation is frequent. The piercing and wearing of a ring here would probably increase the likelihood of such trouble occurring, and would aggravate it if it were present. To pierce the skin, over the lower edge of the breast, below the nipple, would be less dangerous. Harold G. Dixon.
Apart from the danger of cancer to which I referred in a previous reply to this query, and which applies far more strongly to the case of cicatrices in a woman’s breast, this operation would certainly close up at least one-half of the lacteal tubes, and in the case referred to in the query, besides preventing the nursing of children, might endanger the life of the mother through suppuration. That any sane person would either abuse themselves or recommend others (especially females) to do so, is something to be wondered at. Further, I ought to mention that, in my opinion, any jeweller or unqualified person who performed this dangerous surgical operation would render himself liable to prosecution. B.Sc.
Why cannot “Constance” be satisfied with her body as God made it, instead of wanting to lower herself to the level of a savage, who does not know any better? It is incredible that in this enlightened nineteenth century any Englishwoman should wish to mutilate herself in a way which is utterly without sense or reason, besides being cruel to her offspring. I may say that such a course as she suggests would materially prevent her properly nursing her children, and the larger the ring the worse for the child. In a savage country, where the natives are in the habit of leaving the breasts bare, one could understand the desire for adornment; but in England, where it is only the custom to expose about half, and when the rings would necessarily not be shown for decency’s sake, it is simply idiotic and absurd. T. P. M.
It is not the business of the “E. M.” to interfere with ladies’ fashions; but they say that ladies adopt their fashions to please the sterner sex. May I, on behalf of that sex, beg of the lady who writes on p. 199 to reconsider her determination? I am well aware that almost any portion of the skin may be safely pierced, except certain highly sensitive and specialised portions, the nipples included. Even the male nipples are less adapted for piercing than other parts; but in the case of the female nipple, the danger of piercing that highly sensitive organ is very considerable. I have had personal experience of the matter, and have still several places where rings or wires could be inserted. But I should not like to have rings in my breasts, because I like a good rub down with a rough towel. But if the fair sex must have its way, I should suggest piercing the skin just above the nipple, around which the ring would then fall, like the setting of a jewel. I should advise Jules Orme’s method to be followed, using a silver needle. The trouble is very slight; we used to leave the silk threads in until the places healed. Can anyone say what would be the effect of slightly searing the hole by means of an instantaneous heating, by electric current, of a platinum wire previously inserted? Ursa.
Thanks, Hug, for stirring me to look these up!
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