Sarah Jinner and the wild world of 17th century advice
We don’t know much about the life of English astrologer Sarah Jinner, when she was born, when she died. What we do know is that she lived in London and published three almanacs between 1658 and 1664. These texts were positively brimming with health and wellness advice that reflected a desire to preserve and share knowledge that could improve women’s health — and their sex lives.
Sarah’s main goal? To educate women on how to treat gynecological ailments at home, to help them take control of reproduction by showing them how to keep track of their menstrual cycles, and to improve their sexual health: “that our Sex may be furnished with knowledge: if they knew better, they would do better,” Sarah wrote. “Better” being more satisfying sex.
Improper care of one’s genitals, she feared, was one of the main obstacles to good sex. A visit to the doctor for gynecological complaints would invariably lead to a diagnosis of too much sex or not enough, so women often preferred to keep such ailments to themselves.
Almanacs were incredibly popular in early modern Europe. They were small booklets that included predictions for the coming year, medical advice, meteorological information, tides tables, and other encyclopedic information. Often, they included anatomical diagrams of the zodiacal man. The golden era of almanacs in England spanned 1550 to 1700, with a special boost in popularity in the second half of the 1600s.
Sarah’s almanacs are unique in that they are authored by a woman, and she is often thought of as one of the first women in England to make a living writing. Proving true women’s authorship of early modern texts can be tricky since several cases of men using female pseudonyms have been uncovered. In Sarah’s case, we have at least one form of proof: Army captain Henry Herbert is noted to have mentioned in 1673 that there was a well-known astrologer practicing in London by the name of Sarah Jinner.
In her almanacs, Sarah offers up recipes for aphrodisiacs, and remedies for infertility, gynecological illnesses, and incontinence. She outlines the best times to engage in sexual activity, and when to refrain from it. Knowledge of ovulation and its role in…