1821: Hot iron and straightjacket cures self pollution


In 1826 the British medical journal Lancet reported a case of “idiocy accompanied with nymphomania”, successfully treated by Dr Graefe of Berlin. The unnamed patient was born in 1807 and remained apparently healthy until 14 months of age, at which point she was struck down by a severe fever and bedridden for almost two years. This illness took a toll on the girl’s mental faculties: according to her childhood physician she was unable to talk and “exhibited unequivocal marks of idiocy”. The patient’s deterioration continued until 1821, shortly after her 14th birthday, when Dr Graefe was first called to attend:

self pollution

One word: “Ouch”.

 
“He soon perceived that the girl had an insatiable propensity for self pollution, which she performed either by rubbing her extremities on a chair, or by the reciprocal fright of her thighs. From this time there could be no doubt [about] the treatment of the case.”
 

Dr Graefe ordered a three step treatment for self pollution:

 
“A bandage was applied, capable of preventing friction in the sitting position… A straight waistcoat was put on her at bedtime, and counter-irritation by the application of a hot iron to the neighbourhood of the part affected.”
 

In June 1822 Dr Graefe, deciding that insufficient progress had been made, carried out an “excision of the clitoris”. After the wound had healed the patient made a slow but steady recovery, to the point where she can “talk, read, reckon accounts, execute several kinds of needlework and play a few easy pieces on the pianoforte.”


Source: Revue Medicale, Oct. 1826, cited in The Lancet, vol. 9, 1826.

1786: Danish murderer uses sneaky arsenic method


In the late 18th century a Danish physician, C. M. Mangor, delivered a curious report to Copenhagen’s Royal Society. It concerned a series of “fiendish murders”, carried out by an unnamed farmer living near the capital. According to Mangor, the farmer had gone through three young wives in the space of a few years. Each wife had been in good health but died within a day or two of contracting similar symptoms. The farmer’s own behaviour also aroused local suspicions. Six weeks after the death of his first wife he married a servant girl – however she lasted but a few years before falling victim to the mystery ailment, allowing the farmer to marry yet another maidservant. Eventually, in 1786, wife number three died from the same malady:

 
“About three in the afternoon, while enjoying good health, she was suddenly seized with shivering and heat in the vagina… Means were resorted to for saving her life but in vain: she was attacked with acute pain in the stomach and incessant vomiting, then became delirious, and died in 21 hours.”
 

Arsenic and old lace underwear... a bizarre method of dispatching three wives

Arsenic and old lace underwear… a bizarre method of dispatching three wives

At this point Dr Mangor, then serving as Copenhagen’s medical inspector, arrived to investigate. He discovered the farmer had been poisoning his wives by “introducing a mixture of arsenic and flour on the point of his finger into the vagina” after sexual intercourse, a theory supported by Mangor’s postmortem examination:

 
“Grains of arsenic were found in the vagina, although frequent lotions had been used in the treatment. The labia were swollen and red, the vagina gaping and flaccid, the os uteri gangrenous, the duodenum inflamed, the stomach natural.”
 

The farmer was arrested and placed on trial. To prepare for his testimony Dr Mangor conducted a number of experiments on cows. “The results clearly showed that when applied to the vagina of these animals”, he wrote, “it produces violent local inflammation and fatal constitutional derangement”. The farmer, as might be expected, was found guilty; his punishment is unrecorded but it seems likely he was executed. The number of cows to die in the name of vaginal-arsenic justice is also not recorded.


Source: Dr C. Mangor, “The history of a woman poisoned by a singular method” in Transactions of the Royal Society of Copenhagen, v.3, 1787; Sir Robert Christison, A Treatise on Poisons &c., London, 1832.