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Nele Heins, M.A.

PhD Candidate


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PhD Project

The periodically ill woman? – Studies on the evaluation of menstrual problems in the 19th century

This project deals with the way „menstrual problems“ were evaluated during the 19th century in German speaking countries. Its principle source will be medical professional literature as well as practical guides, in which physicians dealt with „womens´ woes“ and menstruation. In order to contrast this male gaze with a female point of view, I will also consider letters of female patients as well as the first medical guides written by female physicians at the turn of the 20th century.
In a first step my analysis will provide an overview over which discomforts were being connected with menstruation and which nervous disorders were thought to be in connection with those. Building on this I will investigate how the increased demand for improvements in education for women during the last third of the 19th century, especially the demand for opening-up the study of gynecology, influenced the physicians´ texts. My hypothesis for this project is that many doctors feared for their monopoly positions and therefore started to explain menstrual pains not in the terms of naturally occurring events, but rather as symptoms of some form of illness. They used this as an argument against the qualification of women for university entry.