Find out which old-fashioned, misogynistic ‘ailment’ would have landed you in a mental asylum

Charles Pulliam-Moore and Patrick Hogan
Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time, licensed medical professionals from around the world agreed that sometimes, a woman's uterus would detach itself from its normal location in her pelvis and wander up through her body before settling in her brain, where it would slowly drive her insane.

The technical term for this condition was "hysteria" and it was utter bullshit. Despite being grounded in absolute nonsense, the concept of hysteria persisted in various forms for hundreds of years as an explanation for actual medical issues like lower sex drives and infertility.


Up through the late 19th century, "hysteria" was often used as a catchall term to refer to anyone dealing with legitimate mental health issues that medical professionals could not explain. Chronic depression? Hysteria. Schizophrenia? Hysteria. PSTD? Nah. Hysteria.

Professor Jean-Martin Charcot demontrating hypnosis on a "hysterical" patient.
Wikimedia Commons

In some cases, a doctor's inability to accurately diagnose and treat a woman's "hysteria" would lead to her being institutionalized at a mental asylum where she might be subjected to pelvic massages with vibrators or hoses to deal with the problems that were obviously emanating from her reproductive organs.

Perhaps even more disquieting than the institutionalization itself were the reasons that were given for why women were admitted to the asylums. Take this list from the Weston State Hospital for the Insane's log book that's been making the rounds recently on Twitter. It lists "novel reading" as the event that ultimately led a poor bibliophile to be carted off to the mad house at some point between 1864 and 1889:


While the mix of understandable issues like epilepsy and weirder things like "bad company" make the list seem like a forged meme, a number of historians have documented just how often women were locked away in institutions by spouses looking for easy ways to get rid of them.

"Spouses used lunacy laws to rid themselves of their partners and in abducting their children," Historian Maureen Dabbagh explains in her book Parental Kidnapping in America: An Historical and Cultural Analysis. "Reasons for admission into the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia from 1864 to 1889 included laziness, egotism, disappointed love, female disease, mental excitement, cold, snuff, greediness, imaginary female trouble, 'gathering in the head,' exposure and quackery, jealousy, religion, asthma, masturbation, and bad habits."


Ask yourself. Have you ever been cold, lazy, or prone to jealousy? Of course you have. It isn't a matter of whether you would have been institutionalized back then, but why you would have been. Rather than letting you guess the answer, we've built a little fortune teller to give you a brief glimpse into your past that could have been.

Good luck and remember—this is for your own good. You poor thing, you.

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