Early Theories

Hippocrates

Hippocrates

Hippocrates

Hippocrates (c. 400 BC) purported that the fermentation in the blood precipitated menstruation because women were unable to rid themselves of their impurities in their menstruation through sweat alone. He believed that health is governed by four body humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile (Delaney et al., 1976). Menstruation was a way for the female body to eliminate any excess blood to prevent the body from becoming unbalanced (Delaney et al., 1976). In 1814, John Davidge disproved Hippocrates’ theory of menstruation. He demonstrated that a woman can lose “a few teaspoons” of blood in a normal menstrual flow. He stated that menstruation can be attributed to some bizarre condition of the ovaries, which excited the blood vessels of the womb, rather than a means of eliminating excess blood (Delaney et al., 1976).

Aristotle

Aristotle

Aristotle

Aristotle (384-22 BC) perceived menstruation as a sign of female inferiority. In Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals, he asserts that when it comes to the contribution of reproduction, the female is a passive matter whereas the male is an active matter (Borresen, 1995). “The female always provides the material, the male provides that which fashions the material into shape; this, in our view, is the specific characteristic of each of the sexes: that is what it means to be male or to be female(Borresen, 1995).” A woman’s outward sign of inferiority is menstruation and Aristotle claims that a female ought to be viewed as a “deformity” (Borresen, 1995). According to Aristotle, women do not have a natural vital heat which aids in the production of an offspring, hence, women’s achievement proceeds as far as her menstrual blood (Delaney et al., 1976).

The Passive Matter

The menstrual blood forms what Aristotle referred to as the “nutritive soul”(Borresen, 1995). Men are superior because they can transform matter with heat and produce semen, which is the finished result. While Aristotle believed that menstruation represented the excess blood necessary for the nourishment of the fetus, Galen, a prominent Roman philosopher, on the other hand, purports that the origin of menstruation stems from residual blood in food that women are not able to digest (Borresen, 1995). Aristotle explains that useless nourishment is gathered in the blood vessels and when the blood vessels are full, an overflow is necessary (Borresen, 1995). Thus, this “overflow” he believes to be menstruation. Since ancient philosophers and physicians were ignorant to the ovam’s existence, the female contribution was seen to only be the nutritive substance (Delaney et al., 1976).

The Solution for Menstrual Madness

Robert Battey

Robert Battey

In 1872, an operation known as Battey’s Operation became the  main treatment for symptoms of menstruation (Studd, 2006). The removal of normal ovaries became a solution for women to decrease their menstrual discomfort. Lawson Tait and Sir Henry Maudsley were convinced that behavioral and emotional changes associated with a woman’s menstruation was a clear indication that such changes were symptoms of insanity or menstrual madness, and were due to ovarian function rather than menstruation (Studd, 2006). According to Sir Henry Maudsley, “The monthly activity of the ovaries which marks the advent of puberty in women has a notable effect upon the mind and body wherefore it may become an important cause of mental and physical derangement.”

Sir Henry Maudsley

Sir Henry Maudsley

During the 19th century, women were believed to be intellectually inferior, and therefore, should not be educated. Lawson Tait believed this to be very true, so much so, he was quoted suggesting that, “young girls should not play music or read serious books because it makes much mischief with their menstrual cycle and the intellect (Studd, 2006).” Sir Henry Maudsley agrees with Tait’s statement and wrote in his infamous article, Sex in Mind and Education (1874) “with one week of the month more or less sick and unfit for hard work she is intellectually handicapped.” Such views are a reflection of society’s attitude toward menstruating women, and the encouragement of preventing women from being seen as anything but equal.

Baily’s operation became rather popular during the 19th century throughout Europe and the United States. Patients who have normal ovaries were removed for “menstrual madness,” as well as, disorders of nymphomania and masturbation. Another form of treatment used to alleviate, if not cure menstrual madness, was the use of leeches. Leeches were applied to the lower abdomen, vulva, and anus for menstrual madness, hysterical vomiting, epilepsy, dysmenorrhoea, as well as, nymphomania and masturbation.

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