A Case of Hysteria

Hysterical Paroxysm

From ancient times to the mid-twentieth century, male medical practitioners routinely misdiagnosed women as suffering from the catchall ailment of hysteria—the treatment for which could involve manually massaging the genitalia of female patients to the point of “hysterical paroxysm.” As the work was fatiguing and slow, a variety of mechanical instruments were invented in the late nineteenth century to assist doctors in their work. These precursors to modern-day vibrators included saddles that mimicked the riding of a horse, electric belts, and the portable devices seen here, such as the Niagara No. 1 Massager and 1940s-era Vibra Finger Gum Massager, manufactured in Los Angeles by Atlas Industries. Widespread, yet discreet advertising in needlework, household, and agricultural magazines, as well as door-to-door sales, led consumers to adopt these appliances quickly.

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