1691: Amusingly-shaped vegetable proves wife not impotent

In 1691 Joseph de Arostegui of Calahorra, northern Spain, petitioned for divorce from his wife, Antonia Garrido, based on her alleged impotence. According to his testimony, there had been no consummation of their four-year marriage because his wife “does not have her parts like other women”. Antonia contested her husband’s claim for divorce, her lawyer asserting that Antonia’s genitals were fully functional but had been affected by “evil spells and witchcraft”. As was usual in early modern trials where impotence was alleged, Antonia was ordered to submit to at least two examinations by doctors and midwives. At the second of these examinations:

“…the [surgeon] Francisco Velez inserted into the said parts of the said Antonia Garrido a stem of cabbage in a shape similar to a virile member… and seeing that it entered with liberty…”

The examiners, content that penetration had been achieved, ruled that Antonia was capable of intercourse, and the church court turned down Joseph’s petition for divorce. The fate of their marriage after this is unknown.

Source: Testimony of Dr Juan Munoz, Archives of the Diocese of Calahorra, folio 1.

1857: Soft chairs lead to self abuse and idiocy, says doc

Dr Gregory’s humble grave marker in Boston

Samuel Gregory (1813-1872) was an American physician who specialised in several areas, including obstetrics and women’s health. Born and raised in Vermont, Gregory obtained a medical degree at Yale, graduating in 1840. Eight years later he founded the New England Female Medical College, the first medical school for women in the United States, if not the world. Gregory was no champion of gender equality or women’s rights, however. He was simply a prude who considered it highly inappropriate for male doctors to be at the pointy end during childbirth. The business of delivering children and inspecting lady parts, Gregory argued, should be left to suitably trained women.

Like other wowsers of his day Gregory was also obsessed with sex and masturbation. In 1857 he published a short but pointed diatribe titled Facts and Important Information for Young Women on the Self Indulgence of the Sexual Appetite. Gregory’s tract drew heavily on other anti-masturbation hysterics like Tissot. The first half of Gregory’s book contained case studies of young women who, after becoming addicted to self pleasure, either wasted away or ended up “masturbating their way to a state of idiocy”. He followed this with his list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for avoiding temptation – and it was a long list. Foods that “stimulate the animal propensities” should be avoided, including tea, coffee, candies, meat, chocolate, spices and alcoholic drinks. Certain behaviours in young girls also needed curtailing:

“Young persons should not be permitted to lie on [feather down] beds, nor to sit on soft chairs, to which rush or wooden-bottomed ones are greatly preferable. Neither should they be allowed to remain in bed longer than requisite, or to lie down needlessly on couches.”

Doctor Gregory also blamed literature and the creative arts, which had the capacity to stimulate unhealthy desires in young women:

“All books depicting exaggerated sentiments must be withheld… Even the study of the fine arts may render the imagination too active… Music, being the language of passion, is the most dangerous, especially music of the more impassioned and voluptuous nature… Fashionable music, especially the verses set to it, being mostly love sick songs, [are] all directly calculated to awaken these feelings.”

Source: Dr Samuel Gregory, Facts and Important Information for Young Women on the Self Indulgence of the Sexual Appetite, Boston: 1857.