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What History's Strangest "Female Disease" Looked Like

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    The sexist tradition of calling women "crazy" is alive and well today, but in the 1800's, women considered to be overly emotional could be diagnosed with an actual disorder: hysteria.

    Symptoms of hysteria were generally pretty vague, but the most infamous one was simply having (gasp!) sexual desires. It was commonly accepted that healthy women just didn't get horny. Even more remarkably, it took the American Psychiatric Association until 1952 to drop the term "hysteria."

    You likely know exactly how doctors treated this horrible malady: They started massaging ladies' genitals; the resulting "paroxysms" somehow seemed to ease symptoms and put women in a better mood. And thus, the vibrator was born. Hysteria's other physical symptoms — such as weakness, seizures, and blindness with no other medical cause — were separated from the sexual symptoms. And, these were later combined into a modern (but still controversial) diagnosis: conversion disorder.

    In honor of the newly expanded Medical Heritage Library, we've compiled some of our favorite medical illustrations of 19th-century "hysterical" ladies, and the sometimes-bizarre treatments they underwent in doctors' search for a "cure." Click through to see the images, which are all taken from French physician Paul Regnard's book, Sorcellerie, Magnétisme, Morphinisme, Délire Des Grandeurs.

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