‘A Sudden and Complete Revolution in the Female’: Female Adolescence and the Medical Profession in Post-Famine Ireland

  • Ann Daly
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series


The second half of the nineteenth century in Ireland saw the emergence of a newly professionalized medical profession, coinciding with the gradual rise of the tenant farmer. The former had gained a new level of professional recognition with the advent of the 1858 Medical Act, which required the registration of all qualified practitioners. The latter was strengthened by the consolidation of land holdings after the Great Famine (1845–1852), a process encouraged by the introduction of legislation supporting tenant land purchase.1 These developments helped determine and shape new criteria of respectability that would merge discourses on the body within frameworks of social aspirations. This chapter seeks to explore how the medical preoccupation with female adolescence in Ireland reflected both the anxieties of an emerging middle class eager to shed the trappings of pre-Famine poverty, and increasingly self-conscious medical professionals desirous of enhancing the public’s perception of them. What resulted was a construct of female adolescence that was defined as acutely vulnerable and precarious, necessitating protection by the family and legitimizing the involvement of the medical profession.2


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Henry MacNaughton-Jones (1845–1918), Master of Obstetrics at the Royal University of Ireland, asserted that ‘the physiological and psychical influences operating during the developing years of adolescence… tend… to such disorders as epilepsy, chorea, suicidal promptings, persecutory delusions, distorted sexual impulses’. See Henry MacNaughton-Jones, Points of practical interest in gynaecology (London: Baillie, Tindall and Cox, 1901), 81.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    See Alvin Jackson, Ireland 1798–1998: Politics and war (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 69–141.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    For example: Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, Complaints and disorders: The sexual politics of sickness (New York: The Feminist Press, 1973);Google Scholar
  4. John S. Haller and Robin M. Haller, The physician and sexuality in Victorian America (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1974);Google Scholar
  5. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Charles Rosenberg, ‘The female animal: Medical and biological views of woman and her role in nineteenth-century America’, Journal of American History, 60: 2 (1973), 332–56;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ornella Moscucci, Science of woman: Gynaecology and gender in England, 1800–1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    Most notably in Haller and Haller, The physician and sexuality in Victorian America; Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, ‘The “sick” women of the upper classes’ in John Ehrenreich (ed.), The cultural crisis of modern medicine (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978);Google Scholar
  8. Smith-Rosenberg and Rosenberg, ‘The female animal’; and Charles Rosenberg, ‘Sexuality, class and role in 19th century America’, American Quarterly, 25: 2 (1973), 131–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 5.
    For example, see Regina Morantz-Sanchez, ‘Negotiating power at the bedside: Historical perspectives on nineteenth-century patients and their gynaecolgists’, Feminist Studies, 20: 2 (2000), 287–309; Moscucci, Science of woman;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crista DeLuzio, Female adolescence in American scientific thought (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  11. 6.
    For example: Helen King, The disease of virgins: Green sickness, chlorosis and the problems of puberty (London and New York: Routledge, 2004);Google Scholar
  12. Joan Jacob Brumberg, The body project: An intimate history of American girls (New York: Random House, 1998);Google Scholar
  13. Anne Digby, ‘Women’s biological straitjacket’ in Susan Mendes and Jane Rendall (eds), Sexuality and subordination: Interdisciplinary studies of gender in the nineteenth century (London and New York: Routledge, 1989), 192–220;Google Scholar
  14. Hilary Marland, Health and girlhood in Britain, 1874–1920 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 7.
    Cormac Ó Gráda, Ireland: A new economic history, 1780–1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 280;Google Scholar
  16. F. S. L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine (London: Fontana, 1973), 50–1;Google Scholar
  17. K. Theodore Hoppen, Ireland since 1800. Conflict and conformity (2nd edn, New York: Longman, 1989), 105;Google Scholar
  18. R. V. Comerford, ‘Ireland 1850–1870: Post-Famine and mid-Victorian’ in W. E. Vaughan (ed.), A new history of Ireland v: Ireland under the Union i, 1801–70 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 279.Google Scholar
  19. 8.
    H. D. Gribbon, ‘Economic and social history, 1850–1921’ in W. E. Vaughan (ed.), A new history of Ireland vi: Ireland under the Union ii, 1870–1921 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 270.Google Scholar
  20. 10.
    Joanna Bourke, ‘Working women: The domestic labour market in rural Ireland 1890–1914’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 21: 3 (1991), 479–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 11.
    Timothy W. Guinnane, The vanishing Irish: Households, migration and the rural economy in Ireland, 1850–1914 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 203–4.Google Scholar
  22. 12.
    Maria Luddy, Women and philanthropy in nineteenth-century Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 13–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 13.
    Kathleen Vejvoda, ‘“Too much knowledge of the other world”: Women and 19th-century Irish folktales’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 32: 1 (2004), 41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 16.
    Thomas E. Jordan, ‘The quality of life in Victorian Ireland 1831–1901’, New Hibernia Review, 4: 1 (2000), 103–21.Google Scholar
  25. 17.
    Emmet Larkin, The consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland 1860–1870 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1987), 43–5.Google Scholar
  26. 18.
    David Fitzpatrick, ‘Marriage in post-Famine Ireland’ in A. Cosgrove (ed.), Marriage in Ireland (Dublin: College Press, 1985), 170–1.Google Scholar
  27. 21.
    Deirdre Raftery and Susan M. Parkes, Female education in Ireland 1700–1900, Minerva or Madonna (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007), 38–9.Google Scholar
  28. 22.
    Mary E. Daly, The famine in Ireland (Dublin: Dublin Historical Association, 1986), 67–9.Google Scholar
  29. 23.
    David Fitzpatrick, ‘The modernisation of the Irish female’ in Patrick O’Flanagan, Paul Ferguson and Kevin Whelan (eds), Rural Ireland, 1600−1900: Modernisation and change. (Cork: Cork University Press, 1987), 166–80.Google Scholar
  30. 28.
    Mona Hearn, Below stairs: Domestic servants remembered in Dublin and beyond 1880–1912 (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1993), 9–11.Google Scholar
  31. 29.
    Greta Jones and Elizabeth Malcolm, ‘Introduction: An anatomy of Irish medical history’ in Greta Jones and Elizabeth Malcolm (eds), Medicine, disease and the state in Ireland, 1650–1940 (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999), 4.Google Scholar
  32. 30.
    Michael J. O’Dowd and Elliot E. Philipp, The history of obstetrics and gynaecology (New York: Parthenon Publishing, 1994), 16–17.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Samuel Fox, Observations on the disorder of the general health of females called chlorosis (London: S. Highley, 1839), 6.Google Scholar
  34. 35.
    Sir Henry Marsh (1790–1860) was an Irish physician and surgeon. He established the Park Street Medical School in Dublin in 1822. In 1827, he taught surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He later became a medical doctor for Queen Victoria. See Helen Andrews, ‘Marsh, Sir Henry’ in James McGuire and James Quinn (eds), Dictionary of Irish biography (DIB) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) (accessed online 20 Oct. 2014).Google Scholar
  35. 36.
    Henry Marsh, ‘Remarks on chlorosis and haemorrhage’, Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science (DQJMS), 2:4 (1846), 303–52, 315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 37.
    William C. Neville, ‘Correlation between ovulation and menstruation’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science (DJMS), 76:139 (1883), 47–59, 49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 38.
    Lombe Atthill (1827–1910) was born in Co. Fermanagh, and graduated in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin. He was Master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin and specialized in gynaecology, performing the first successful ovariotomy in Ireland. See Lombe Atthill, Recollections of an Irish Doctor (London: Religious Tracts Society, 1911).Google Scholar
  38. 39.
    Lombe Atthill, Clinical lectures on diseases peculiar to women (Dublin: Fannin and Co., 1871), 29.Google Scholar
  39. 41.
    Thomas More Madden, Clinical gynaecology (London: Baillie, Tindall and Cox, 1893), 411–12.Google Scholar
  40. 44.
    Joan Jacobs Brumberg, ‘“Something happens to girls”: Menarche and the emergence of the modern American hygienic imperative’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 4: 1 (1993), 109.Google Scholar
  41. 48.
    For example see Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, ‘Puberty to menopause: The cycle of femininity in 19th Century America’, Feminist Studies, 1:3/4 (1973), 61; Digby, ‘Women’s biological strait-jacket’, 194; Marland, Health and girlhood in Britain, 35.Google Scholar
  42. 49.
    Fleetwood Churchill, ‘On the mental disorders of pregnancy and childbed’, DQJMS, 9: 17 (1850), 38–63, 39–40.Google Scholar
  43. 50.
    Haller and Haller, The physician and sexuality in Victorian America, ix; DeLuzio, Female adolescence, 87–8. In an English context, Carol Dyhouse, Girls growing up in late Victorian and Edwardian England (London: Routledge, 1981), 137–8; Digby ‘Women’s biological strait-jacket’, 202; Marland, Health and girlhood in Britain, 35.Google Scholar
  44. 51.
    See Moscucci, The science of woman, 102; Janet Oppenheim, Shattered nerves: Doctors, patients and depression in Victorian England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 10–12; Digby ‘Women’s biological strait-jacket’, 197–8; Marland, Health and girlhood in Britain, 18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 52.
    Robert F. Harrison, ‘Medical education at the Rotunda Hospital 1745–1995’ in Alan Browne (ed.), Masters, midwives and ladies-in-waiting: The Rotunda Hospital, 1745–1995 (Dublin: A and A Farmar, 1995), 67–8.Google Scholar
  46. 54.
    T. P. Kirkpatrick and T. P. C. Jellet, The book of the Rotunda Hospital. An illustrated history of the Dublin lying-in hospital from its foundation in 1745 to the present time (London: Bartholomew Press, 1913), 159.Google Scholar
  47. 58.
    Diarmaid Ferriter, Occasions of sin: Sex and society in modern Ireland (London: Profile Books, 2009), 17.Google Scholar
  48. 62.
    Thomas More Madden, ‘The nervous diseases of women’, DJMS, 76: 140 (1883), 154–7, 156–7.Google Scholar
  49. 64.
    Thomas More Madden, Notes on special hygiene of children and youth (Dublin: Fannin and Co., 1897), 42.Google Scholar
  50. 67.
    Joan Jacobs Brumberg, ‘Chlorotic girls 1870–1920: A historical perspective on female adolescence’, Child Development, 53: 6 (1982), 1468–77, 1475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 70.
    See Chandak Sengoopta, The most secret quintessence of life: Sex, glands and hormones, 1850–1890 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  52. 72.
    Joan N. Burstyn, ‘Education and sex: The medical case against higher education for women in England, 1870–1900’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 117: 2 (1973), 79–89.Google Scholar
  53. 80.
    The Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin was established in 1861 as a charitable voluntary hospital that would also provide clinical teaching for students and graduates of the Catholic University Medical School. See Tony Farmar, Mater Private. A history of the Mater Private Hospital, 1986–2006 (Dublin: A and A Farmar, 2006).Google Scholar
  54. 91.
    The Donegal District Lunatic Asylum, now known as St Conal’s Psychiatric Hospital, opened in 1866 to accommodate 300 patients. See Mark Finnane, Insanity and the insane in post-Famine Ireland (London: Croom Helm, 1981), 227.Google Scholar
  55. 92.
    Isaac Ashe, Insanity: A constitutional disease (Dublin: Longmans and Co., 1872), 6–7.Google Scholar
  56. 93.
    Richmond Lunatic Asylum later known as St Brendan’s Hospital, Grangegorman opened in 1815. From 1830 on it was incorporated into the district Asylum system. See Joseph Reynolds, Grangegorman: Psychiatric care in Dublin since 1815 (Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 1992).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ann Daly 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann Daly

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations