A Case of Hysteria

Stay Subservient!

Throughout history, women have faced treatment in their medical care unequal to that of men. This was especially true for the poor and women of color. Robert Bledsoe’s Female Sexual Deviations and Bizarre Practices highlights this gender bias through a collection of case studies of so-called “deviant females.” In Sexually Adequate Female, author Frank Caprio is quick to label nonsubmissive women frigid and mentally disordered. In Alexander Morison’s Physiognomy of Mental Diseases, the early-nineteenth-century psychiatrist details how one could diagnose mental illness by looking at a patient’s face or body language. Morison treats one young female patient infatuated with a clergyman with leeches to the head, blisters to the nape of the neck, and small doses of tartarized antimony. One of the most controversial figures in medical history was James Marion Sims, a Civil War-era surgeon credited as the father of modern gynecology—but who perfected his surgical techniques by operating on Black women without anesthesia or consent. Sims is depicted here in a print preparing to examine Lucy, a slave in Montgomery, Alabama.

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