The Victorians believed the only logical treatment was to lock up these women in asylums.
An awareness of menopause can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks. In fact, the roots of the word can be found in Greek as well—”men,” meaning month, which is related to the word moon, and “pauein” meaning to cease or stop. In other words, the time when a woman’s monthly (lunar) cycle ends.
Of course, life spans were shorter back then, so there’s not much information about menopausal women from those times. In fact, it’s estimated that in Ancient Greece, at least 50 percent of women died by the age of 34. Additionally, the ancients believed that women were inferior to men and that a woman’s value was based on fertility, so menopausal women were not the focus of much literature or study.
One thing we do know for certain is that menopause was considered a natural phenomenon until about the 18th century. Over the next 300 years, attitudes shifted, and medical practitioners began to view the phase of life as a disease. As a result, strange and even dangerous therapies to treat menopause evolved.
“Lock Her Up!”
By the Victorian era, women’s reproductive health in general and menopause in particular were the focus of deep distrust. Physicians believed that there was a link between the womb and the brain, making all women susceptible to insanity. This was thought to be especially true of women in menopause who were believed to suffer from a condition called “climacteric insanity.” As a result, they believed the only logical treatment was to lock up these women in asylums.
The Victorians thought that a woman’s ovaries “were the seat of feminine essence and all that was virtuous in women sprang from them.” It follows then that if the ovaries were diseased or stopped functioning (as they do in menopause), then a woman was not of sound mind. The solution they created was to remove the offending organs. This, they assumed, would make women more compliant, docile, and harder working.
What followed was the surgical removal of the ovaries from hundreds of women, an operation deemed necessary to cure mental disorders, including nymphomania and hysteria.
Because women were intended to be maternal, any expression of sexual desire was thought to be a sign of insanity. One London surgeon went so far as to recommend clitoridectomy for these women—the surgical excision of the clitoris. His belief was that the procedure would prevent a woman from descending into idiocy.
Finally, by the end of the century, the theory that menopause was related to hormones began to take hold.
Advancements in Science
As medical science advanced and the workings of the endocrine system were discovered, ovarian hormones were isolated, giving physicians a more realistic perspective on menopause. Gradually, the belief that menopause was a sign of madness was replaced by the theory that a woman’s “lost femininity” could be restored by hormone treatments.
Pharmaceutical company Merck stepped up at that point, introducing a treatment called Ovarian, a concoction comprised of shrivelled and pulverised cow ovaries blended with a flavoured powder. Subsequent treatments hit drugstore shelves, including a product called “Emminen,” which was manufactured with the urine of pregnant women. When this proved too costly and time-consuming to manufacture, a cheaper alternative made from pregnant mares’ urine was developed, called “Premarin.”
By the 1960s, synthetic oestrogen therapies were gaining in popularity, though long-term effects of these treatments would not be discovered for decades. By 2002, a study by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) revealed that the combination of synthetic hormones found in these therapies could in fact, increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer, heart attack, and stroke. However, by 2004, further analysis of the study’s findings prompted the WHI to state the risks reported two years earlier may have been over-estimated.
At a time when a woman can feel the unsettling effects of changing hormones, it’s sad to think that women from centuries ago were treated as if they were insane. Fortunately, we’ve made immense progress in our culture’s attitudes about menopause, it’s symptoms, and treatments. No longer is it something to fear, but a time in life when a woman can move forward with a sense of new-found freedom from menstruation, cramps, unplanned pregnancy, and more.
What hasn’t changed in all this time is the fact that many women are still dramatically impacted by the symptoms that accompany menopause. For those women, there is now relief in the form of bio-identical hormone treatments.
Not human in origin, bio-identical hormones are alike in organic structure and function to human hormones. Extracted from plants like soybeans and wild yams, bio-identicals mimic the same chemical structure present and naturally occurring in a woman’s body. The result is fewer side effects and greater health benefits.
Can HT Help You?
Today’s modern woman no longer needs to suffer with the symptoms of menopause. Hormone therapy (HT) can help correct imbalances and bring back the quality of life that every woman desires.