The End of Hysteria

By Natalie Fraize

hysteria as the zeitgeist

Hysteria lasted many centuries through the development of cultures all over the world.  This span makes clear the impact the disease was capable of.  Below is a final look at the overall illness and its role in society, focusing on the end of popularity in the United States in the early to mid 1900s.

In Laura Briggs’ article entitled The Race of Hysteria: “Overcivilization” and the “Savage” Woman in Late Nineteenth-Century Obstetrics and Gynecology, she discusses how hysteria reflects the different societal changes, specifically in the US and Europe during industrialization, urbanization, and the women’s rights movement(2000).  With this boom in jobs and movement toward the city, hysteria became a way to keep women in the house and from becoming independent.  Hysteria was considered a disease of the overcivilized, suggesting that women with the illness would be unable to handle the strain of work, education, or the city, causing infertility (Briggs 2000).  The illness was consistently used as a catch-all for symptoms making it more easily manipulated to serve the purpose of  society.

As the women’s rights movement progressed and women gained more rights, the disease transformed from one overarching, stereotyped diagnosis to the many more specific diagnoses such as conversion disorder, hypochondriasis, depression, and anxiety (Libbrecht, 1995).  Hysteria consequently was not published in the first Diagnostic and Statistics Manual in 1952 (Libbrecht, 1995).  For the United States at least, this was the end of hysteria’s popularity.


Hysteria, as well as Female Sexuality and Menstruation, all represent women in the field of psychology throughout history and in several cultures because the issues that society faces are reflected in psychology.  In this section, hysteria has been broken down into different periods in history that had varying impacts on the diagnosis and its implication for women.  In the other sections similar patterns can be seen in the development of sexuality and menstruation.  While hysteria has not been used as a formal diagnosis in the US for some time, the topics of sexuality and menstruation are still relevant for women.  Progress has clearly been made and is documented in this site, however both society and psychology have room to improve at least with regard to the role of women.


Briggs, Laura (2000). The Race of Hysteria: “Overcivilization” and the “Savage” Woman          in Late Nineteenth-Century Obstetrics and Gynecology.  American Quarterly 52(2),            246-273.  Retrieved from                                                                                                           search_id=0859384345&action=reload

Libbrecht, Katrien (1995). Hysterical Psychosis: A Historical Survey. New Brunswick              and London: Transaction.

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