Tag: Medicine

Ether for Every Occasion: Wedding Nights, Frolics, and Flammable Binges

The First Use of Ether in Dental Surgery By Ernest Board, 1846.
(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)

Derived from ethyl alcohol, ether was a sweet-smelling, colorless liquid that came into medical prominence in the nineteenth century. When vaporized and inhaled, it produced varying degrees of unconsciousness. First employed as a general anesthetic by American doctors in the 1840s, its popularity quickly spread to Victorian England. But ether wasn’t only used during surgeries. It was also used recreationally, as well as to address myriad calamities of life in ways that ranged from the mundane to the outright creepy.[…]Continue Reading

A Cure for Melancholy: Victorian Medical Advice on Treating Depression

“Melancholy is a low kind of delirium, with a fever; usually attended with fear, heaviness, and sorrow, without any apparent occasion.”
Beach’s Family Physician, 1861.

Melancholy by Alfred Émile Léopold Stevens, 1876.

What we recognize today as depression was, in the Victorian era, popularly known as melancholia or melancholy.  Like depression, melancholy ranged in seriousness from mild, temporary bouts of sadness or “low spirits” to longer, more extreme episodes, characterized by insomnia, lack of appetite, and suicidal thoughts.  While symptoms of melancholy were usually easy to recognize, medical opinions often differed on what it was that caused the condition.  As a result, treatment plans for the melancholic patient varied widely.  Below, we look at a few Victorian era medical opinions on the symptoms, causes, and treatments of melancholy.[…]Continue Reading

The Solitary Vice: Victorian Views on Masturbation

Woman's Mission: Companion of Manhood by George Elgar Hicks, 1863.(Tate Museum)
Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood by George Elgar Hicks, 1863.
(Tate Museum)

During the Victorian era, masturbation—also known as self-pollution, self-abuse, or onanism—was believed to be both a moral and a physical evil.  Medical manuals of the era address it in the most severe terms, blaming male masturbation, and the resulting depletion of the body’s vital humors, for every imaginable illness, from blindness, impotence, and epilepsy to chronic fatigue, mental derangement, and even premature death.  Many of these beliefs can be traced back to two 18th century books, the most significant of which was Samuel Tissot’s famous 1760 medical treatise On Onania: or A Treatise upon the Disorders Produced by Masturbation, which asserts:[…]Continue Reading

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