Robin Ragan

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The year is 1893. Dr. Velázquez declares in Madrid that a fourth if not half of all women suffer from it (qtd. in Aldaraca, “The Medical” 410). Remedies range from Dr. Weir Mitchell’s rest cure and marriage (read sex) to the use of contraptions like ovary compressors or leeches to the anus. Of course, I am referring to the disease hysteria. The fin-de-siglo medical field became obsessed with women’s “nervous conditions” and the apparent epidemic of hysteria. I am inserting my research into a voluminous, intriguing body of criticism that looks at hysteria as a cultural metaphor revealed in nineteenth- century Spain in medical texts (Aldaraca; Borderies-Guerena; Jagoe et al.) and in Spanish literature (Charnon-Deutch; Labanyi; Ragan; Sinclair; Valis). The study of women’s illnesses in this period illuminates not only what was happening to women’s bodies physiologically, but also how women’s illnesses were perceived, treated, interpreted, and “cured.” We can question what needs were being met by particular illnesses—ranging from the individual needs of women, to socio-cultural needs, as well as to the medical community’s needs. My contribution builds upon this prior work with hysteria and focuses on both a new set of interconnected illnesses (amenorrhea, anemia, and inapetencia) and a new primary source: pharmaceutical advertisements. My aim is not simply to analyze the social construction of Spanish women’s illnesses in the fin-de-siglo, but also to understand the role women played as consumers of pharmaceutical goods in managing their own physical ailments. I hope to reveal that physicians—whether intentionally or not—ignored women’s menstrual irregularities; women themselves did not. Instead, they were avid consumers of menstrual regulators and abortifacients. By analyzing pharmaceutical advertisements and relevant supporting texts, I will unravel the connections between menstrual irregularities, anemia, anorexia, and abortion.