Foreskin is the Root of All Evil

I found this story on @HistoryWeird's blog here. The original sources were Dr. Peter Remondino's History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the Present, Philadelphia, 1891; and his "Question of the Day: Negro rapes: in National Popular Review, v.4, January 1894.

This whoooole story reminds me exactly why I got swept up in the medical humanities in the first place. Ain't nothin' more interesting than 19th-century medical morality. Pretty much ever doctor whose rhetoric I read becomes like the Wizard of Oz for me: Great and Terrible.

"Peter Remondino (1846-1926) arrived in the United States from Italy in the 1850s and was raised in rural Minnesota. He later studied medicine in Philadelphia and served as a doctor during the American Civil War. In the 1870s Dr Remondino relocated to California and became one of San Diego’s most prominent and sought after physicians. Though best known for his specialisation in respiratory illnesses, Remondino was also a vocal advocate for circumcision. His central argument was that the foreskin was a redundant organ. When man was a hunter-gatherer, the foreskin:

"'…provided him with a sheath, wherein he carried his procreative organ safely out of harm’s way during wild steeplechases through thorny briars and bramble… This leathery pouch also protected him from the many leeches, small aquatic lizards or other animals that infested the marshes or rivers… or served as a protection from the bites of ants or other vermin…'

"But now, Remondino argues, the foreskin is nothing but trouble, exerting:

"'…a malign influence in the most distant and apparently unconnected manner. Like some of the evil genies or sprites in the Arabian tales it can reach from afar the object of its malignity, striking him down unawares in the most unaccountable manner; making him a victim to all manner of ills, sufferings, and tribulations… and other conditions, calculated to weaken him physically, mentally and morally… to land him perchance in the jail, or even in a lunatic asylum.'

"It goes without saying that Dr Remondino recommended circumcision to treat or circumvent a number of ailments, including masturbation, nocturnal emissions, bedwetting, venereal diseases, timidity and insecurity, even cancer. Remindino also called for the 'wholesale circumcision of the Negro race”, a measure he claimed would curtail the interest of black men in white woman – and thus reduce the United States’ “great number of lynchings'."

I . . . whaaa . . . but . . . It doesn't work like . . . *resigned sigh* . . . It was a different time.

I think "*Resigned Sigh* It Was A Different Time" is going to be the name of my dissertation. Really can't see any way around it at this point.

On a side note, I wonder if this is why so many parents in the U.S. circumcise their sons as a matter of course, whereas they don't in the UK unless there is some sort of medical issue or religious reason for it. Can anyone tell me if U.S. circumcision became a "fashionable" thing for some other reason of which I am unaware?

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2 Responses to Foreskin is the Root of All Evil

  1. hibiscusrose says:

    Well, as I understand it, currently it’s supposed to be a hygiene reason. Easier to clean, not as susceptible to STDs, that sort of thing. (according to my husband–although he doesn’t know the historical reasons for the process becoming widespread in the US)


  2. jocelmeow says:

    Wikipedia says of the United States: “Brown & Brown (1987) reported the most important factor is whether the father is circumcised.” Of a small sample, I can say that’s the reason I’ve mostly heard – when it happens, it’s because Dad had one, so Junior gets one too. My husband, born in the U.S., lived in the U.K. in his middle teens, and this was a topic of discomfort for him – he was able to blend in in the locker room by adopting the prevalent briefs style (which was different than what he’d worn in the U.S.), but there was no doing so in the shower.


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