Presentation on theme: "Womens Medicine at the Turn of the Century The Yellow Wallpaper as a fictional case-study of the treatment of hysteria and other nervous diseases."— Presentation transcript:
Womens Medicine at the Turn of the Century The Yellow Wallpaper as a fictional case-study of the treatment of hysteria and other nervous diseases
S. Weir Mitchell : expert on nervous conditions Physician and writer who specialized in neurology Introduced the rest cure for nervous ailments, especially hysteria. The rest cure included: isolation, confinement to bed, dieting, and massage He was Gilmans doctor and his use of a rest cure on her led to her writing The Yellow Wallpaper
The Myth of Female Hysteria Water massages as treatment (1860) Female Hysteria was a popular diagnosis in the Victorian Era. Symptoms leading to diagnosis included- faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a tendency to cause trouble Treatments included extreme bed rest and sometimes a pelvic massage. This technique was manual stimulation of the womans private area by a doctor or water. This condition was discredited by the 1920s and is no longer acknowledged as existing.
Early History of Hysteria The history of diagnoses of hysteria can be traced to ancient times. An ancient Greek myth tells of the uterus wandering throughout the womans body, strangling her as it reaches the chest, causing women to act unpredictably. In medieval times hysteria was believed to be a disease of sexually deprived, passionate women. Treatment was sex if married and marriage if single.
The Victorian Era A doctor in 1859 claimed that 25% of all women suffer from hysteria. One doctor compiled 75 pages of symptoms of hysteria and called the list incomplete. Doctors around the world believed that hysteria was a direct result of stresses associated with modern life. Treatment of hysteria was very profitable: there was no risk of death and treatment could go on indefinitely
The Infamous Rest Cure Dr. S. Weir Mitchells rest cure essentially imprisoned women for up to two months, and gave them little contact with the outside world. In the first few weeks, women were not allowed engage their minds by reading or performing small activities. Most of the women were hand fed because eating on their own was thought to be too much exertion. Most were even not allowed to roll over in their beds, suggesting that they may have been restrained (see image).
The Rest Cure (cont.) Often, according to Mitchells writing on the rest cure in his treatise Fat and Blood, by the fifth or sixth day of treatment, most women became tractable, and did not resist the imposed monotony. This statement suggests that many women fought this treatment during initial days of imprisonment but ultimately gave up. Since husbands frequently were allowed to make decisions regarding their wives, the perception of the husband could determine whether a woman would endure or contimue to endure a rest cure. Thus, often the only escape from the rest cure was full cooperation.
What was really the problem? Many of the women were most likely afflicted by general depression, anxiety, stress, dissatisfaction, or postpartum depression Some women simply asserted their opinions too much and a diagnosis of hysteria was a way for husbands to regain control In any case, female hysteria and the rest cure are both clear and abusive signs of the excessively patriarchal culture of the 19 th century