Advertisement

Female Impotence or Obstruction of the Womb? French Doctors Picturing Female Sterility in the 1820s

  • Sophie Vasset
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter explores a specific medical case from 1829, discussed in the correspondence of a small-town physician, Dr. Lamothe, and Dr. Delpit of the spa town of Barèges (in this period, spa treatment was thought effective for fertility problems). It analyses the variety of medical sources referred to directly or indirectly by Dr. Lamothe to diagnose the patient’s disease, and therefore demonstrates the interplay of medical, scientific, and cultural understandings of infertility in the everyday practice of one early nineteenth-century medical doctor. A comparison of Dr. Lamothe’s gendered interpretation of his patient’s condition with the medical treatises of the time shows that individual doctors negotiated their relationships with patients in ways which are not obvious from published accounts. Finally, the chapter analyses how infertility is depicted in Le Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, a popular reference source for many provincial doctors, in order to show its impact on physicians.

Keywords

Agency Case notes Experience Patronage Spa 

Research Resources

Primary Sources

  1. It is extremely unusual to find such detailed correspondence on the treatment of a single patient. The relevant correspondence discussed in this chapter is held at the Wellcome Library in London (MS 5329). It contains approximately 20 letters which passed between Dr. Delpit and Dr. Lamothe between 1860 and 1864. The symptoms of the patient are discussed in some depth, but there is some uncertainty about the dating of the letters. Apart from this archival source, interested readers may wish to consult some of the prominent medical dictionaries of the period, which often cross-reference different symptoms and provide an excellent overview of the wider context within which doctors understood infertility. In England, Robert James’s Medicinal Dictionary (London, 1743–45) was still a standard reference work in the early nineteenth century; in France, the Société de Médecins et de Chirurgiens’ Dictionnaire des sciences médicales (1812–22) rapidly superseded other works.Google Scholar
  2. Further Printed Primary Sources

    1. Théophile de Bordeu, Antoine de Bordeu and François de Bordeu, Précis d’observations sur les eaux de Barèges et les autres eaux minérales du Bigorre et du Béarn ou extraits de divers ouvrages périodiques, au sujet de ces eaux (Paris, 1760).Google Scholar
    2. Amédée Dechambre (ed.), Dictionnaire encyclopédique des sciences médicales (Paris: G. Masson, 1864–89).Google Scholar
    3. Dictionnaire des sciences médicales (Paris, 1815).Google Scholar
    4. Denis Diderot, ‘Matrice’, Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Paris, 1750–65).Google Scholar
    5. Friedrich Hoffman, New Experiments and Observations upon Mineral Waters, Directing their Farther Use for the Preservation of Health, and the Cure of Diseases (London: J. Osborn and T. Longman, 1743).Google Scholar
    6. Jean-Henri Magne, How to Choose a Good Milk Cow; Or a Description of all the Marks by Which the Milking Qualities of Cows May Be Ascertained (London: Blackie & Son, 1853).Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

    Mineral Waters

    1. Phyllis May Hembry, The English Spa, 1560–1815: A Social History (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
    2. Jérôme Penez, Histoire du thermalisme en France au XIXe siècle: eau, médecine et loisirs (Paris: Economica, 2005).Google Scholar
    3. Jean-Christophe Sanchez, ‘Bagnères-de-Bigorre, histoire d’une ville thermale’, Explorations Pyrénéennes, Bulletin de la Société Ramond (1993), 55–159.Google Scholar
    4. Jean-Christophe Sanchez, ‘Le thermalisme à Bagnères-de-Bigorre au grand siècle à travers la correspondance de Colbert’, Explorations Pyrénéennes, Bulletin de la Société Ramond, 142 (2007), 101–16.Google Scholar
    5. John K. Walton (ed.), Mineral Springs Resorts in Global Perspective: Spa Histories (London: Routledge, 2014).Google Scholar

    Fertility, Infertility and Sick Bodies

    1. Lisa Forman Cody, Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of Eighteenth-Century Britons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
    2. Alain Corbin (ed.), Histoire du corps 2: de la révolution à la grande guerre (Paris: Seuil, 2005).Google Scholar
    3. Eve Keller, Generating Bodies and Gendered Selves: The Rhetoric of Reproduction in Early Modern England (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007).Google Scholar
    4. Hannah Thompson, Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France (London: Legenda, 2013).Google Scholar
    5. David M. Turner, Disability in Eighteenth-Century England: Imagining Physical Impairment (London: Routledge, 2012).Google Scholar
    6. Georges Vigarello, Le sentiment de soi: histoire de la perception du corps XVIe-XXe siècle (Paris: Seuil, 2014).Google Scholar
    7. Robert Woods, Death before Birth: Fetal Health and Mortality in Historical Perspective, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).Google Scholar

    Women’s Health

    1. June K. Burton, Napoleon and the Woman Question: Discourses of the Other Sex in French Education, Medicine, and Medical Law, 1799–1815 (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
    2. Kathleen Hardesty Doig and Felicia Sturzer (eds), Women, Gender and Disease in Eighteenth-Century England and France (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014).Google Scholar
    3. Barbara Duden, The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor’s Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany, trans. Thomas Dunlap (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
    4. Marjo Kaartinen, Breast Cancer in the Eighteenth Century (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2013).Google Scholar
    5. Ilana Löwy, A Woman’s Disease: The History of Cervical Cancer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).Google Scholar
    6. Cathy McClive, Menstruation and Procreation in Early Modern France (London: Ashgate, 2014).Google Scholar
    7. Cathy McClive and Nicole Pellegrin (eds), Femmes en fleurs, femmes en corps: sang, santé, sexualités, du moyen age aux Lumières (Saint-Étienne: PU Saint-Etienne, 2010).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Paris-DiderotParisFrance

Personalised recommendations