Sometimes, on FB, I’ll see a meme that confidently states that in the early days of locomotive travel, the warning was promulgated that if a woman were to travel at a speed of 60mph (it may have been considerably slower; I’m not sure when trains first achieved a mile a minute), she would have the harrowing experience of her uterus flying out of her body.
Was that ridiculous assertion. really ever actually made? If so, by whom? And what facts known or theorized about human anatomy would have led someone to speculate that?
There is an analysis of this claim here, and it seems there is no evidence for that specific claim:
Though we couldn’t find reference to the specific speed referenced above, it seems even physicians of the time had concerns with regard to women’s bodies (likely tainted by a large helping of sexism), including the idea that her uterus would shift around and dislocate if she travels by boat or train just before her period.
“If a woman sets out for a sea voyage or a journey by rail the day before her menses should appear, she will be very apt to skip one period, and perhaps more. Or, if the flow comes, she may experience greater suffering than usual. If it be too scanty, or too profuse, she may be very ill. As an indirect consequence, she will be likely to suffer from some form of uterine flexion or dislocation,” one physician writes in the New England Medical Gazette, quoting a second doctor for good measure that “a displacement of the uterus is just as much an absolute fact as the occurrence of a hernial protrusion.”
If I remember correctly, the ancients believed precisely this, and that it was the wandering of the womb that made women so prone to emotional instability. Their, uh, argument and belief, not mine, obviously.
Anyway, this is the basis of the word “hysteria” — literally becoming overemotional under the influence of the uterus.
Yeah I think this is the key point, in ancient times there was no expectation that the pontifications of the “experts” were actually based on observations and experiment, so the “founders of medicine” came up with a bunch of stuff that was trivial to disapprove but became accepted wisdom for centuries. What is interesting how long into the scientific era those beliefs persisted, especially for women’s health.
And there’s still a huge amount of woo around even today, of course.
It’s especially difficult to do properly controlled experiments with humans for medical treatments or morbidity factors like nutrition, because you can’t just ask living people to stop doing all the other things that introduce potentially confounding factors. And we are especially susceptible to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy with personal health: if someone sick just once takes a purported treatment and then gets better, it is impossible to convince them that there may have been no causal connection.