Saturday, March 15, 2014

Victorian Diseases - Hysteria

Probably the most famous of 19th century pseudo diseases, hysteria was a catch all diagnosis for women. It could cover anything from real mental health issues like schizophrenia and anxiety or depression, to symptoms like fainting, loss of appetite, loss of sexual desire, having sexual desire, fluid retention, and irritability, or just being a "troublesome woman". So if you were a female, basically anything really, could get you labelled hysterical.

Hysteria dates back to ancient times, and was documented in Ancient Greece as being caused by a "wandering womb". They believed the womb wandered throughout the body causing disease. Another belief was that it was caused by a build up of female "semen" that needed release. It was sometimes referred to as "widows womb". Of course we now know all of this is false and 19th century doctors knew as well that wombs didn't wander, but the idea that female sexuality was a dangerous thing that caused illness was still prevalent.

Interest in Hysteria by the medical community was popular throughout the 19th century and diagnosis reached their peak in the 1890s. It fell sharply in the early part of the 20th century as modern psychology developed actual understanding of various psychiatric illnesses.

Treatment of hysteria could include hypnosis, spraying water at a woman's groin(see above) or even get you institutionalized. This is also where the word hysterectomy comes from, as another common treatment for severe cases was removal of the uterus and ovaries. The most famous treatment was "pelvic massage" which was administered by doctors. In reality these pelvic massages were just masturbating the patient to orgasm. This made for many repeat customers for doctors and was very lucrative. Some doctors though complained of sore hands and thus machines were invented to make the job easier.

It's a little less compact and discrete than modern day vibrators, and a little dangerous looking too, I must say. Can you imagine trying to hide this in your nightstand drawer?
These days we know hysteria doesn't exist but the idea that women are somehow naturally unstable and that our sexuality is dangerous, still has hold in some.

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  1. Hello Ms. Lou! This post is very interesting! :D Do you mind if I copy-paste this post to my blog Gothic Divine Magazine ( I will obviously put a link to your blog! :)
    Let me know ok?

    Thanks and keep up the good bloggin'! ;)

    Melissa Dark

    1. Yes that sounds great. I'm glad you like it!<3

  2. OMG... crazy... the people in the old time were absolutely deranged...