Wellcome Collection Blog

The definition and diagnosis of hysteria has quite a history. Sarah Jaffray takes a look back over the years to explore the beginnings of hysteria in Greece, through to animal magnetism, vibrators and shell shock in WWI. 

When it comes to explaining hysteria, you might have heard some variation of the following.

  1. In ancient Greece it was thought that women’s wombs wandered through their bodies, causing madness: (hystera = womb; hysterikos = of the womb).
  2. Hysteria stems from sexual frustration in women.
  3. (And the one you are most likely to have heard) In the 19th century women thought to have hysteria were “treated” with vibrators by their doctors.

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