History of Women's Medical Treatment

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What were some of the ways female patients were treated against their will in the 20th century?

Imprisoned, medicated, lobotomized, given electro-shock therapy, denied medical treatment

How were psychiatrically hospitalized women often treated, even if they were not truly 'insane'?

They were often treated brutally in the asylum, leading to fears of being driven 'insane'.

What consequences did women face if they sought employment, housing, or legal action after being psychiatrically hospitalized?

They were stigmatized as 'mentally ill'.

What were some reasons why women were criminalized and labeled as 'mentally ill'?

Reasons ranged from 'political subversion' to 'lewdness' to 'blasphemy'.

What is the origin of the term 'hysteria' and what was it attributed to?

Hysteria originated from the Greek word 'hystera' meaning uterus, and behavioral disturbances were attributed to it.

What beliefs existed around sex and pregnancy in relation to hysteria?

Sex and pregnancy were thought to be definitive cures for hysteria, as it was believed women's wombs would 'dry out' without sexual activity.

Who were the main targets of the witchcraft craze in the 15-16th centuries?

Female 'peasant' population

What percentage of the executed individuals were women in the Salem witch trials?


Who was known as the most beautiful in Greek mythology and was given in marriage to Hephaestus despite being in love with Ares?


Which goddess was considered equal to Zeus in wisdom and strength, and was allowed to wear his own armor?


Which goddess in Greek mythology was known for her knowledge of plants and potions, and had the power to change others into animals?


Which goddess, associated with fertility and marriage, was forced into marriage with Zeus and often prayed for protection and guidance in weddings?


Study Notes

Historical Control of Female Bodies

  • For centuries, the female body has been viewed as something that needs to be regulated and controlled.
  • In the 20th century, female patients were often imprisoned, medicated, and subjected to electro-shock therapy without their consent.
  • They could be arrested by a sheriff, forcibly removed from their homes, and "legally kidnapped" during the day based on the words of their father, brother, or husband.
  • Many psychiatrically hospitalized women were not "insane" but were driven to the brink of madness by the brutal conditions of the asylum.

Historical Persecution of Women

  • Witchcraft hysteria led to the execution of thousands of women, mostly from the peasant population, from the 14th to 17th centuries in Germany and England.
  • Women made up approximately 85% of the executed during the Salem witch trials, which were a lesson in religious extremism and failures in due process.
  • The witchcraft hysteria was a campaign of terror directed against women who were perceived as a political, religious, and sexual threat to the Protestant and Catholic churches as well as the state.

Mythological Representations of Women


  • Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was the daughter of Zeus and was forced into a loveless marriage with Hephaestus, the god of fire.
  • She was bound to Hephaestus despite being in love with Ares, the god of war, highlighting the patriarchal society of ancient Greece where only men could divorce.


  • Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, was considered Zeus' favorite and was allowed to wear his armor as she was equal to him in wisdom and strength.
  • Athena was named after her, giving a better gift (an olive tree) than Poseidon, King of the Sea, who created a salt-water lake.


  • Circe, the goddess of magic, was known for her knowledge of plants and potions and was often misunderstood as a witch or sorceress.
  • She had the power to change others into animals, such as Odysseus' crew into swine, and was associated with/ conflated with Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft.


  • Hera, the queen of Olympus and goddess of fertility and marriage, was forced into marriage with Zeus and was often cheated on and manipulated by him.
  • She was angered by his preference for his other illegitimate children and was powerless due to her eternal marriage.


  • Persephone, the goddess of spring, was given to Hades and believed she was being kidnapped.
  • She became a dual goddess (spring/dead) and her mother's moods created the seasons.

Explore the historical mistreatment of women in the medical field, where female patients were often subjected to forced treatments and denied medical care against their will. Learn about the power dynamics and control over women's bodies throughout history.

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