Ask a Librarian


by Philip Montgomery
Female hysteria is the topic of today’s blog.
MJ Figard, archivist and rare book librarian, recently acquired new books for our Rare Book Collection from Howard Rootenberg with B&L Rootenberg. The first is an 1889 two-volume set of essays titled “History of Pathology of Vaccination” edited by Edgar M. Crookshank. The second book by George Tate is titled “Treatise on Hysteria” published in 1831.  Tate was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. What Tate has to say on female hysteria is fascinating. His commentary provides more insight into the medical profession and the male perception of women in the the 1830s than insight into medical treatment.
His description a physician’s treatment of a female patients sounds like nothing short of hell for the patient.  Tate borrows this description from another physician’s writing and on pages 75 and 76 describes the “hysteria” of a woman following intercourse on her wedding night.
“Presently, she jumped out of her bed, and flew to the window, which her husband prevented her from opening; she then became unconscious of all around her, and fainted. …. The practitioner who attended, bled, purged, blistered, leeched, bathed, and starved the patient; and, in about three weeks, the symptoms gradually abated. A visit from her husband and some friends produced a relapse; and mania, in a mild form, supervened.”
I suspect the husband needed more bleeding, purging, leeching, etc. than the patient, but that is my non-medical opinion.