Medicine, Health and Society

The history of menstruation

by Helen King February 10, 2013

Julia Margaret Cameron’s Hypatia     By Helen King (W&M Regular Contributor) Everything has a history. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I wrote about menstruation here; my doctoral thesis was on menstruation in classical Greece. One of the questions I couldn’t answer there was ‘What did women actually do about the […]

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Poetry, pain, and opium in Victorian England: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s use of laudanum

by stephaniecowell February 4, 2013
Poetry, pain, and opium in Victorian England: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s use of laudanum

by Stephanie Cowell Elizabeth Barrett began to take laudanum, a tincture of opium, for what is thought to have been a spinal injury at the age of fifteen. It is believed she continued to take it through two more serious illnesses in her early 30s (hemorrhaging of the lungs and some extended unspecified illness). It […]

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Medicinal Compounds, Efficacious in Every Case

by Lisa Smith January 30, 2013
Medicinal Compounds, Efficacious in Every Case

By Lisa Smith, W&M Contributor Perhaps the most famous cure-all of all time is Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, immortalized in song as “Lily the Pink” (or “The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham”).* Although the original vegetable compound aimed to treat women’s ailments, the song suggests—tongue in cheek–that it might have much wider, rather miraculous applications. […]

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12 Days of Books – Greek and Roman Medicine, and constipation

by Helen King December 15, 2012
12 Days of Books - Greek and Roman Medicine, and constipation

By Helen King (W&M Contributor) I don’t know how you cope with deadlines: I am a lapsed perfectionist, so I’ve learned just to watch them sailing by. Some are real, some are imaginary. Telling the difference can be a challenge. Sometimes I’ve worked flat out to meet one, only to find that none of the […]

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12 Days: The Greatest Voice of Her Age

by Mary Sharratt December 11, 2012
12 Days:  The Greatest Voice of Her Age

By Mary Sharratt (W&M Contributor) Born in the Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) was a visionary abbess and polymath, a Renaissance women before the Renaissance. She composed an entire corpus of sacred music and wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as theology, cosmology, botany, medicine, linguistics, and human sexuality, a […]

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Theatres of Anatomy

by Helen King October 10, 2012
Theatres of Anatomy

By Helen King (W&M contributor) I was recently lucky enough to visit for the first time two historic anatomy theatres: the oldest permanent structure, the Padua anatomy theatre of 1594, and the 1638-39 one in Bologna. Before 1594, anatomy theatres were temporary structures, in some cases erected at the expense of the professor performing the dissection. […]

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Midwifery and ventriloquism: did Elizabeth Cellier write her own books?

by Helen King June 10, 2012
Midwifery and ventriloquism: did Elizabeth Cellier write her own books?

By Helen King Possibly my favourite historical figure of all time is Elizabeth Cellier, the ‘Popish Midwife’ who was involved in one of those complicated ‘plots’ of late seventeenth-century England; the ‘meal-tub plot’, in which a list of plotters turned up in her kitchen. Was it genuine, or planted by those who wanted to represent […]

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Torturing the Dead: The Prevention of Premature Burial and Dissection

by Lindsey Fitzharris June 9, 2012
Torturing the Dead: The Prevention of Premature Burial and Dissection

By Lindsey Fitzharris (W&M Contributor) In 1746, Jacques-Bénigne Winslow wrote: “Tho’ Death, at some Time or other, is the necessary and unavoidable Portion of Human Nature in its present Condition, yet it is not always certain, that Persons taken for dead are really and irretrievably deprived of Life.” Indeed, the Danish anatomist went on to […]

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The Puppy Water and Other Early Modern Canine Recipes

by Lisa Smith May 31, 2012
The Puppy Water and Other Early Modern Canine Recipes

At first I thought it was a joke when I read a recipe for “The Puppy Water” in a recipe collection compiled by one Mary Doggett in 1682. “Take one Young fatt puppy and put him into a flatt Still Quartered Gutts and all ye Skin upon him”, then distill it along with buttermilk, white […]

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The vulva goes on pilgrimage

by Helen King May 10, 2012
The vulva goes on pilgrimage

In a recent post, W&M contributor Tracy Barrett mentioned in passing the pewter badges worn in the hat during the Middle Ages, and in a moment of recognition I felt compelled to respond with my favourite one, showing a vulva wearing a jaunty pilgrim’s hat. I found out about these tiny objects when I was […]

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The Chocolate Baby

by cjones May 8, 2012
The Chocolate Baby

One of the strangest anecdotes to emerge from the already larger-than-life annals of Louis XIV’s reign concerns a perfectly forgettable woman, the Marquise de Coëtlogon, who lives on in infamy because she (apparently) had a chocolate addiction and the famed letter-writer Madame de Sévigné found out about it. As the epistolary paparazzi of her age, […]

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A whiff of trouble: Arnau of Vilanova’s uroscopy advice

by marrilynn May 4, 2012
A whiff of trouble: Arnau of Vilanova's uroscopy advice

By Marri Lynn (W&M Regular Contributor)   Recognizing that a medieval physician’s skills started with his ability to auger urine, many a patient chose to run diagnostic exams of their own. A ready litmus test was at hand: a sneaky game of pee-swap. Prospective clients or ailing patients often sent an intermediary with ‘their’ urine […]

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Imaginary body parts

by Helen King April 10, 2012
Imaginary body parts

    I’ve been thinking a lot about imaginary body parts recently. The Queen’s Gallery is opening a new exhibition of the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci in May; put it on your ‘to do’ list if you are in London – http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/exhibitions/leonardo-da-vinci-anatomist -  and I have done some work for the audio guide and the […]

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Vicarious menstruation

by Helen King March 10, 2012
Vicarious menstruation

Historical accounts of ‘male menstruation’ have already been discussed on this blog by Lisa Smith. But there is another aspect of the history of menstruation that is fascinating to a modern reader: the phenomenon of ‘vicarious menstruation’, in which a woman bleeds regularly from another orifice, or even from a wound. While modern medicine still […]

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“One night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury:” Syphilis and “Syphilophobes” in Early Modern England

by Lindsey Fitzharris March 1, 2012
"One night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury:" Syphilis and "Syphilophobes" in Early Modern England

Before the discovery of penicillin in 1928, syphilis was an incurable disease. Its symptoms were as terrifying as they were unrelenting. Those who suffered from it long enough could expect to develop unsightly skin ulcers, paralysis, gradual blindness, dementia and “saddle nose,” a grotesque deformity which occurs when the bridge of the nose caves into […]

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