Category Archives: 19th century

1884: Masturbators cured with electric shocks to the genitals

Dr Joseph Howe was a professor of surgery at New York University and one of many 19th century specialists in ‘self-pollution’. He claimed to have had success ‘treating’ habitual masturbators with a course electric shocks to the genitals. The Howe method involved an electrode inserted into the urethra, while the other was held behind the scrotum.

In this extract from an 1884 book, Howe claims to have cured a 29-year-old book-keeper, ‘J.S.’. of the “foul habit” with electricity:

“He had indulged in onanistic exercises during his school boy days… His memory was not so good as in former years and his ability to endure mental and physical labour comparatively small. He received applications of electricity every other day for two months, took cold water sponge baths and tonics… He was discharged at the end of the period mentioned and entered the marriage state, feeling well and competent to perform all his functions properly.”

Despite Howe’s claims, he admits there are some ‘lost causes’ for whom masturbation is a daily occurrence; they are “nearly always beyond the reach of moral or medical treatment”:

“Use the baths, tonics and electricity for a few weeks, and then if there is no good result, the patient should be castrated without delay, and the penis, pubes and perineum covered with cantharidal collodion… If these measures fail, I see no objection to removing the whole of the external genital apparatus.”

Source: Dr Joseph Howe, Excessive Venery, Masturbation and Continence, 1884. 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.

1852: Dr Beach on satyriasis or nymphomania

Wooster Beach was a New York doctor who pioneered the use of natural and herbal remedies in the first half of the 19th century. He was also a prolific author of medical guidebooks.

In one of his texts, published in 1852, Beach describes the symptoms and effects of satyriasis or “uterine fury”, more recently known as nymphomania. According to Beach, this affliction is most common among:

“Virgins who are ripe for husbands; women living in gratification of their lusts and in luxury; widows or those who are married to frigid old men.”

At its worst, this “filthy disease” produces women who are:

“…seized with fury; they solicit all whom they meet to venereal embraces, and attack those that refuse with fists and nails. [They are] perpetually handling their privates with their wanton fingers, until they become maniac and are forced to be confined with chains.”

Beach’s suggested treatment for satyriasis involves a bland diet, regular doses of laxative, avoidance of the opposite sex and ice-cold applications to the genitals.

Source: Wooster Beach, The American Practice of Medicine, 1852. 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.

1879: Lewis Carroll seeks permission to photograph nude children

In 1879, Charles L. Dodgson was better known to the world as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published 14 years earlier. Carroll was also an avid photographer at a time when amateur photography was both difficult and very expensive.

The majority of Carroll’s surviving photographs feature young girls. In May 1879, he wrote to Mr and Mrs Mayhew seeking permission to photograph their daughters Ruth (aged 13) Ethel (aged 11) and Janet (aged six). These extracts reveal Carroll’s persistent coaxing, as he seeks Mayhew’s permission to photograph the girls in various states of undress:

“Now your Ethel is beautiful, both in face and form; and is also a perfectly simple-minded child of Nature… So my humble petition is, that you will bring the three girls and that you will allow me to try some groupings of Ethel and Janet (I fear there is no use naming Ruth as well, at her age, though I should have no objection!) without any drapery or suggestion of it.

If I did not believe I could take such pictures without any lower motive than a pure love of art, I would not ask.”

Mrs Mayhew responded to Dodgson’s letter, agreeing to some of his requests, though her reply has not survived. A follow-up letter, written by Dodgson to Mr Mayhew, is extant:

“I am heartily obliged to Mrs Mayhew for her kind note. It gives more than I had ventured to hope for and does not extinguish the hope that I may yet get ALL I asked…

The permission to go as far as bathing drawers is very charming… I can make some charming groups of Ethel and Janet in bathing drawers, though I cannot exaggerate how much better they would look without.”

Source: Letter from Charles Dodgson to Mrs Mayhew, May 26th; letter to Mr Mayhew, May 27th 1879. 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.

1886: Paris bakery uses ‘extract of water-closet’

In 1886, a German doctor named Gustav Jaeger described a Paris bakery that was popular for its fine bread and pastries but notorious for its odious smells:

“The neighbours of an establishment famous for its excellent bread, pastry and similar products of luxury [has] complained again and again of the disgusting smells that prevailed there, which penetrate into their dwellings.”

When cholera broke out in the area, city officials inspected buildings and water supplies. To their alarm, they found the bakery was drawing its water not from wells but from a pond connected to local sewers. This is not surprising, writes Jaeger, as:

“Chemists have no difficulty in demonstrating that water impregnated with ‘extract of water-closet’ has the peculiar property of causing dough to rise particularly fine, thereby imparting to bread the nice appearance and pleasant flavour which is the principal quality of luxurious bread.”

The bakery ceased using the pond, which apparently caused “a perceptible deterioration of the quality of the bread”.

Source: Letter from Dr Gustav Jaeger; cited in General Homeopathic Journal, vol 113, 1886. 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.

1886: One rattlesnake kills three children in Alabama

In Covington County, southern Alabama, three children aged between two and six are tragically killed – apparently by bites from the same rattlesnake:

Source: The Lawrence Evening Tribune, September 30th 1886. Verified with other sources. 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.