The Contested Body of Mollie Fancher: Lay Authority and the Hysteria Diagnosis
Adrienne Phelps Coco, University of Illinois at Chicago
Commentator: Kim Nielsen, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay
Through the biography of Mollie Fancher, a late nineteenth-century invalid from Brooklyn whose reported mystical abilities sparked international controversy, this paper will examine the authority of lay people in the pre-Freudian hysteria diagnosis. The diagnostic criterion of hysterical temperament—excessive displays of emotion, vulgarity, deceptiveness, selfishness, and an untrained mind—gave laypeople the opportunity to challenge medical knowledge because doctors did not have full authority over the judgment of character. Ordinary people could assert their own “expert” opinions on someone’s temperament based on their personal knowledge and reputation. As Mollie’s case demonstrates, the conflation of personal reputation with medical symptoms in the hysteria diagnosis created the possibility for people who did not manifest the hysterical temperament to resist being diagnosed with the disease and to assert their own interpretations of their bodies.
All papers are pre-circulated electronically to those who plan to attend the seminar in person. For a copy of the paper, e-mail Heather Radke at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 312-255-3524. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.
The Newberry Library Seminar on Women and Gender is co-sponsored by the History Departments of Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture at the University of Chicago
Scholl Center for
American History and Culture
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago IL 60610
Send comments and questions to H-Net
Webstaff. H-Net reproduces announcements that have been submitted to us as a
free service to the academic community. If you are interested in an announcement
listed here, please contact the organizers or patrons directly. Though we strive
to provide accurate information, H-Net cannot accept responsibility for the text of
announcements appearing in this service. (Administration)