This cabinet card features a young smiling woman lying on a fainting couch. This image is quite risque for its time. The style and folds of the woman’s dress, her exposed feet, her smile and her body language all contribute to the provocativeness of this image. Fainting couches were popular in the 19th century and used predominately by woman. They are couches with a back that is traditionally raised at one end. There are two major theories as to why these type of couches became popular. The first theory was that some women wore their corsets so tight, that they restricted blood flow; causing fainting. This theory has pretty much been debunked. A second theory was that the couch was popular because many women of that time suffered from “female hysteria”. This medical condition caused symptoms that included faintness, nervousness, and insomnia. The illness was treated by “pelvic massage”. The couch was a great setting for hysterical woman to receive the treatment from visiting physicians and midwives. This female psychiatric illness sounds very much like an anxiety attack, and Xanax and Ativan seem to have replaced “pelvic massage” on a fainting couch. The photographer of this cabinet card was J. B. Wilson of Chicago, Illinois. To view other photographs by Wilson, click on the category “Photographer: Wilson (JB)”.  The subject of this photograph may have been an actress.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Good find! And thanks for the history lesson. Pelvic Massage, indeed!

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