Tuesday 22nd January
Lisa Smith (University of Saskatchewan)
Fertility Troubles and Domestic Medical Knowledge in Eighteenth Century England and France


The ability to have children was a common concern for many recently married couples in early modern Europe. People avoided seeking embarrassing and painful medical assistance, unless absolutely necessary. Manuscript and print remedy collections were common in well-to-do households, offering insight into how fertility problems (venereal disease, sterility, impotence, and miscarriage) were treated at home.

Remedy collections suggest underlying cultural differences in treatments. Whereas English remedy collections often include treatments to prevent miscarriage, French collections rarely do. Such remedies tended to be more religious in France, with prayers included in remedy collections, tucked amid loose family papers or published in religious books. The use of prayers rather than remedies may also indicate a greater reliance on religious solutions in France, resulting in a continued blurring of the categories of religious and medical remedies.

The domestic treatment of fertility issues reveals much about the eighteenth-century understanding of the body, reproduction and gender.


Wellcome Library, 2nd floor, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.Please deposit bags and coats in the ground floor cloakroom and meet in the 2nd floor foyer. Doors at 6pm prompt, seminars will start at 6.15.

The seminar is the third in a new series organised by a group of historians of medicine based at London universities and hosted by the Wellcome Library.The series will be focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th-century medicine).

A full list of all the seminars in the series is available at http://libraryblog.wellcome.ac.uk/libraryblog/2012/11/history-of-pre-modern-medicine-seminar-series-2012-13/

Organising Committee: Elma Brenner (Wellcome Library), Sandra Cavallo (RHUL), John Henderson (Birkbeck UL), Colin Jones (QMUL, convenor), William MacLehose (UCL), Anna Maerker (KCL), Christelle Rabier (LSE), Patrick Wallis (LSE), Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim(Goldsmiths).

Enquiries to Ross MacFarlane (Wellcome Library: [email protected]) or Prof.ColinJones (Queen Mary University of London:[email protected]).