Now that’s an arresting image, isn’t it? Why, that Victorian-era gentleman has his hands right up her skirt and, you know, it looks almost like the good Dr Swift is rummaging around in her bloomers and….you know…?
At this point, we really need to dispense with anything resembling decorum. It looks like he’s tossing her off, doesn’t it? That’s right. And there’s a really good explanation for why it looks like he’s tossing her off too. It’s because that’s exactly what he’s doing. Allow me to explain…
Nowadays we have lots of helpful terms for mental disorders affecting women. Typical examples include PMS, anxiety, depression, Bipolar and lots of other sexy diagnostic terms. The sort of thing we’d expect to see treated with anti-depressants, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and all those other groovy 21st century things. None of these treatments existed in the 19th century, when the good Dr Swift was practising, however. Because of that, treatment of women’s ailments were dramatically different. Rather than thinking that all of these ailments were mental disorders, our Victorian ancestors were convinced there was a physical cause for them- namely “hysteria”. Hysteria was a blanket term used to explain a whole swathe of inconvenient behaviour in women, ranging from expressions of sexual desire (because women were considered essentially sexless at the time) through crippling depression, right up to really outlandish behaviour like wanting the vote- and it was all believed to be caused by misalignment of the uterus.
What do you do if something is considered misaligned? Try to move it? That sounds logical, doesn’t it? And while uteruses are a bit buried away in an inconvenient internal location, what if you did the next best thing by giving something vaguely near it a jolly good rubbing? That should work. And the vaguely nearby thing they gave a good rubbing was the Lady Garden.
And that’s why, in the 19th century, respectable middle-to-upper class women experiencing a range of mental disorders could hire a respectable professional man of medicine to cure it by ensuring their wombs were correctly aligned. By giving their foofoo a really good rubbing until a “hysterical paroxysm” was achieved and everything was better. In case you were wondering what a “hysterical paroxysm” is, it’s the sort of thing we’d now refer to as a “thunderously massive orgasm.” And these good doctors had many, many satisfied female clients too, which should probably surprise nobody. It’s probably not very surprising given the attitudes to sexuality at the time, which saw the serious marketing of anti-masturbation devices like this one-
So a whole industry sprung up around this notion that just about any troubling behaviour in women was caused by “hysteria”. We have no reliable data on whether any of the female patients actually experienced any degree of cure from these professionally-administered handjobs, but I’ll bet it probably cheered them up for a bit.
Science got a look-in too, as doctors sought a more efficient way of delivering those paroxysms (probably experiencing repetitive strain injuries in their wrists)- this lead to the invention of vibrators. At first they were clockwork, but before the advent of the electrical versions there were even some alarming-looking steam powered devices
If that brings to mind an image of a stoker frantically shovelling coal into its smoke-belching boiler as its pistons shriek under the strain, well that’s Victorian romance for you.