1747: Speed up childbirth by drinking hubby’s urine


Robert James (1703-1776) was a London physician and author. James was born in Staffordshire and educated at both Oxford and Cambridge. By the mid 1740s James owned a busy medical practice in London. He also established friendships with the literary elite, including John Newbery and Samuel Johnson. During his career James developed and patented several medicines. His most popular concoction was ‘Fever Powder’, a dangerous mix of antimony and calcium phosphate that was still being sold into the early 20th century. James also penned numerous medical guides, including his three-volume Medical Dictionary and a 1747 guide to medicines called Pharmacopoeia Universalis. The latter contains a section on the medicinal value of human by-products. One of the most versatile of these, writes James, is dried menstrual blood. Provided it is taken from the first flow of the cycle, menstrual blood can be of great benefit:

james
James’ Fever Powders, circa 1878

“Taken inwardly it is commended for the stone[s] and epilepsy… Externally used it eases the pains of gout… It is also said to be of service for the pestilence, abscesses and carbuncle… [It also] cleans the face from pustules.”

Women enduring a difficult childbirth, writes James, can “facilitate the delivery” by sipping:

“…a draught of the husband’s urine”.

Source: Robert James, Pharmacopoeia Universalis, 1747. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1722: Swedish woman solves phantom pregnancy mystery


In 1724 the Royal Society tabled a report written by Swedish physician, Doctor John Lindelstolpe. Titled “Intestinum Parturiens”, it involved the macabre story of a 41-year-old Swedish woman who suffered two stillborn pregnancies in 18 months – however the first of these pregnancies produced no baby, living or dead:

“[The patient] became pregnant in July 1720 and continued enlarging for seven months… but after the seventh month the enlargement disappeared, a weight only remaining in the right side. She became pregnant again and in December 1721 was delivered of a dead child.”

The mystery of the first pregnancy was not solved until May 1722, when the patient:

“…Went to stool [and] felt so great a pain in the anus that she thought the intestinum rectum had entirely fallen out. On applying her fingers to relieve herself, she brought away part of a cranium, and afterward found in the close stool two ribs. In the course of the fortnight there came away, by the same exit, the remainder of the bones.”

Dr Lindelstolpe’s theory was that the first pregnancy was ectopic: it had taken root and grown in the Fallopian tube before bursting the tube and descending, “by the formation of an abscess, into the rectum”. Pleasingly, the woman recovered from her horrible experiences in mid 1722. She had since regained her health and carried a pregnancy to term, delivering a surviving child.


Source: John Lindelstolpe M.D., “Intestinum Parturiens, or a very uncommon case wherein the bones of a fetes came away per annum”, Stockholm, 1723. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1825: Toughen your nipples with puppies


William Dewees
William Dewees

William Dewees (1768-1841) was an American physician, academic and medical author. Dewees was born to a farming family in Pottsgrove, just south of Philadelphia. Despite a lack of medical training and a rudimentary education, at age 21 Dewees set up shop as the local physician in nearby Abington. He worked to improve his knowledge, however, reading voraciously and studying under the French obstetrician Baudeloegue. In the 1820s Dewees authored a series of books on maternal health, midwifery and childcare. His theories were unpopular in Europe, where they were met with scorn and criticism, but Dewees became one of the United States’ most prominent experts on obstetrics. Like others of his era, Dewees was prone to the occasional wacky theory. He was an advocate of maternal impression – the idea that a woman’s fantasies and experiences could shape or deform her unborn child – and he advised expectant mothers to eat less, not more. Writing in 1825, Dewees also urged pregnant women to avoid sore nipples by toughening them in the last trimester:

“We must rigorously enforce the rules we have laid down for the conduct of the woman immediately after delivery. Besides this, the patient should begin to prepare these parts previously to labour, by the application of a young but sufficiently strong puppy to the breast. This should be immediately after the seventh month of pregnancy. By this plan the nipples become familiar to the drawing of the breasts. The skin of them becomes hardened and confirmed, the milk is more easily and regularly formed, and a destructive accumulation and inflammation is prevented.”

After childbirth, the puppy should be replaced by the infant (in case it wasn’t obvious). The mother should then wash the nipples daily with warm water and soap. She should also avoid compressing the breasts with clothing, Dewees’ advice being to protect them by creating:

“…an opening in the jacket, corset or stays, so as to leave them at liberty.”

In 1834 Dewees was appointed as professor of obstetrics at University of Pennsylvania. He remained in this post until his death in 1841.


Source: William P. Dewees, A Treatise on the Physical and Medical Treatment of Children, 1825. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1878: Studying when pregnant leads to big-headed children


Maternal impression – the belief that a mother’s actions and experiences during pregnancy will shape the physiology and character of her child – was a medieval idea that held sway until the late 19th century. One physician who perpetuated it was Dr Walter Y. Cowl, a New York obstetrician and homeopathist. Writing in 1878, Cowl repeated numerous anecdotal accounts of maternal impression. In Rome, “ugly boors and women with hideous features” give birth to “sons and daughters of surprising beauty” – because they spend their lives looking at “grand statues and paintings”. A Boston lawyer bore a striking resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte because his parents, obsessed with the French leader, had Napoleon’s picture in their bedroom. And in a cautionary tale to mothers Cowl cites a case, originally described by Hester Pendleton, of a woman who studied while pregnant:

“For some months previous to the birth of her fifth child [she] exercised her mental powers to their fullest extent. She attended lectures, both literary and scientific, and read much of such works as tended to strengthen the reason and judgement… Her labour, always before short and easy, was this time two days in duration and exceedingly painful, owing to a very large foetal head, with especial prominence of the forehead. The child, a son, now grown, bids fair to outstrip in ability all her other children.”

Source: Walter Y. Cowl MD, “Similia Similibus Generantur” in The North American Journal of Homeopathy, vol.26, 1878. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1790: Hindu wives kiss a priest’s private parts for fertility


John Macdonald was a servant to several 18th century noblemen and colonial officials. According to his writings, Macdonald was the son of an affluent tenant farmer from Inverness. When his family was “ruined” in the 1740s Macdonald, then just a young boy, was placed in service. He became a footman and valet and later spent more than 30 years traveling the globe with a succession of masters. Better educated and more literate than his colleagues, Macdonald penned a memoir that contains rare glimpses of life as a working-class tourist abroad. It also describes racier aspects of foreign life, like this fertility ritual in western India:

“At Dillinagogue there was a tank where the Gentoos [Hindus] bathe themselves and the women in particular. At the end of the tank is a piece of rising ground with a cross fixed 12 feet high, where a priest sits most days, naked as he was born. When the women come to enter the bath they make the priest a grand salaam [greeting]. They have a shift on when they entered the water. When a young girl who has been betrothed for some years is going home to her husband… goes to take the bath, she makes a grand salaam to the priest and kisses his private parts, hoping he will pray that they may have children. I took a great delight in going to see those ceremonies.”

Source: John Macdonald, Travels in Various Parts of Europe, Asia and Africa &c., 1790. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.