A Case of Hysteria

The Wandering Womb

In premodern times, the physiology of the female reproductive system was viewed with a mixture of mysticism and unscientific conjecture. The womb, or uterus, where babies gestate, was a source of particular awe and misinformation. It was often linked to notions of mental fragility as well as the cause of an array of women’s health complaints. One theory was that the womb roamed the body, draining life from other organs like a biological parasite. In the sixteenth century, French surgeon Ambroise Paré published a medical tome that described how a vaginal pessary and fumigator made of precious metals could strangulate or suffocate the womb, forcing it to return to its proper location. Terri Kapsalis’s The Hysterical Alphabet artfully condenses the history of hysteria with playful and critical insight. With imagery drawn from medical writings ranging from ancient Egypt to the present, the Alphabet tracks centuries of women’s sexuality and health, unmasking myths and poking fun at the “wandering womb” theory.

This page has paths:

Contents of this path: