How to cure female hysteria in the 19th Century,
Female hysteria was a disease recognized as a legitimate illness by physicians from ancient times up to the early 20th century. Female hysteria was characterized by faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and “a tendency to cause trouble”. In essence, female hysteria was a catchall term for a number of disorders. In fact, one physician wrote a 75 page paper on the possible symptoms of female hysteria. Some were legitimate, such as what we would now recognize as schizophrenia, manic depression, or other mental disorders. Others were merely the result of societal norms which expected women to be submissive housewives and babymakers.
The height of female hysteria occurred during the 19th century. Before the 19th century there was little doctors could do about female hysteria. Often women with severe cases spent their lives in mental asylums, the hell holes of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century societies. However, in the later half of the 19th century physicians began to take a scientific look at female hysteria. In an age that produced the likes of Sigmund Freud, its not unusual that 19th century physicians would come up with some truly bizarre ideas.
The mainstream theory at the time was that the womb contained a “female semen”, which intermixed with male semen during sexual intercourse allowing the fertilization of the egg. It was also believed that female semen could become poisonous if a woman didn’t experience intercourse of climax often enough. To regulate the female semen levels of women, 19th century physicians developed ways to induce “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm) among women afflicted with the disease. At first physicians, with the assistance of a midwife, would simply use bare hands to administer a “pelvic massage” on a woman’s nether regions. Then the rise of technology led to new treatments. One was used high pressure water hoses to perform the massage. Eventually, industrialization led to the invention of mechanical and electrical vibrators.
The decline of female hysteria came in the 20th century, when modern medicine and science discovered somewhat more rational reasons for disease. Over time the diagnosis of female hysteria would gain a reputation as a BS diagnosis from an ignorant past. The use of pelvic massage was seen as a gross, degrading, and offensive treatment. Considering it was sometimes done on mentally ill patients against their will, today it would be considered sexual assault. However, the early 20th century would see a new cure-all for mental illness which was even more horrifying; the lobotomy.