Female Impotence or Obstruction of the Womb? French Doctors Picturing Female Sterility in the 1820s

  • Sophie VassetEmail author


This chapter explores a specific medical case from 1829, discussed in the correspondence of a small-town physician, Dr. Lamothe, and Dr. Delpit of the spa town of Barèges (in this period, spa treatment was thought effective for fertility problems). It analyses the variety of medical sources referred to directly or indirectly by Dr. Lamothe to diagnose the patient’s disease, and therefore demonstrates the interplay of medical, scientific, and cultural understandings of infertility in the everyday practice of one early nineteenth-century medical doctor. A comparison of Dr. Lamothe’s gendered interpretation of his patient’s condition with the medical treatises of the time shows that individual doctors negotiated their relationships with patients in ways which are not obvious from published accounts. Finally, the chapter analyses how infertility is depicted in Le Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, a popular reference source for many provincial doctors, in order to show its impact on physicians.


Agency Case notes Experience Patronage Spa 

Research Resources

Primary Sources

  1. It is extremely unusual to find such detailed correspondence on the treatment of a single patient. The relevant correspondence discussed in this chapter is held at the Wellcome Library in London (MS 5329). It contains approximately 20 letters which passed between Dr. Delpit and Dr. Lamothe between 1860 and 1864. The symptoms of the patient are discussed in some depth, but there is some uncertainty about the dating of the letters. Apart from this archival source, interested readers may wish to consult some of the prominent medical dictionaries of the period, which often cross-reference different symptoms and provide an excellent overview of the wider context within which doctors understood infertility. In England, Robert James’s Medicinal Dictionary (London, 1743–45) was still a standard reference work in the early nineteenth century; in France, the Société de Médecins et de Chirurgiens’ Dictionnaire des sciences médicales (1812–22) rapidly superseded other works.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Paris-DiderotParisFrance

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