From History Buff:
In 1886, homeschooling pioneer Charlotte Mason wrote that “the girl who sits for hours poring over a novel to the damage of her eyes, her brain, and her general nervous system, is guilty of a lesser fault of the nature of suicide.” Strange as it may sound, Mason’s belief that reading fiction was physically dangerous for girls and women was actually held by many medical doctors of her day.
A few years earlier, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg—the same guy who invented corn flakes in an attempt to “cure” people of masturbation—called novel reading “one of the most pernicious habits to which a young lady can be devoted. When the habit is once thoroughly fixed, it becomes as inveterate as the use of liquor or opium.”
. . . .
The idea that reading novels was a really bad idea for ladies had been suggested in an article not-so-subtly titled “Novel Reading, a Cause of Female Depravity,” which was published in a British journal all the way back in 1797. In that article, the author claimed to have personally witnessed the moral decay of several young female readers.
“I have seen two poor disconsolate parents drop into premature graves, miserable victims to their daughters’ dishonour, and the peace of several relative families wounded, never to be healed again in this world. ‘And was novel-reading the cause of this? inquires some gentle fair one… I answer yes!”
. . . .
In her 1899 self-help book What a Young Woman Ought to Know, Dr. Mary Wood-Allen cautioned future mothers to beware the “evils of novel-reading.”
“Girls are not apt to understand the evils of novel-reading, and may think it is only because mothers have outlived their days of romance that they object to their daughters enjoying such sentimental reading; but the wise mother understands the effects of sensational reading upon the physical organization, and wishes to protect her daughter from the evils thus produced… Romance-reading by young girls will, by this excitement of the bodily organs, tend to create their premature development, and the child becomes physically a woman months, or even years, before she should.”
Link to the rest at History Buff and thanks to Patrice for the tip.