5 Shocking Historical Beliefs Involving Women, Pregnancy and Motherhood

Wife for sale! Get yer wives here! Wife for sale!

History is chock full of shocking behavior — that’s not a surprise. But when you actually roll up your sleeves and dive into specifics, your mind will be blown.

Wife-selling? Can you imagine?

It’s easy to say that women have come a long way and yes, they have — in this part of the world, anyway. But when you actually take a walk through history and realize how brutally women have been treated since the beginning of time, suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony emerge more clearly as the superheroes they were.

Where would we be today without that first wave of women daring to stand tall and fight the power?

Parenting has come a long way as well. Society has progressed from giving our crying babies morphine to shut them up to the opposite extreme: fearing even the “deadly” repercussions of sprinkling too much baby powder on baby.

Womanhood, parenthood, motherhood, it’s all represented in this list of five shocking historical beliefs that will alternately fascinate you, repulse you and ultimately leave you thankful that you have the opportunities, knowledge and luxuries of the 21st century.

  • Maternal Impression 1 of 5
    Maternal Impression
    As reported on, maternal impression is an old belief that a mother's thoughts while pregnant can impart special characteristics on the child in her womb. For many years this idea was used to explain congenital disorders and birth defects. Maternal Impression was used to explain the disorder suffered by the Elephant Man: it was suggested that his mother was frightened by an elephant while she was pregnant with him thereby imprinting the memory of an elephant on her child. Depression was also explained in this manner. If a mother had moments of strong sadness during pregnancy, it was believed that her child would ultimately suffer from depression in later life. Genetic theory caused the almost complete eradication of this belief in the 20th century.
  • Wife-selling 2 of 5
    According to, during medieval times, a wife was her husband's property. After marriage a couple became one legal entity. Women couldn't even own their own property. Written records show that wife-selling by public auction began at the end of the 17th century. A man would announce a sale in a local paper. On the day of the sale a wife would be led by a rope to the local market and be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The wife would then join her new husband. Wife selling was a regular occurrence during the 18th and 19th centuries and was a way for a man to end an unsatisfactory marriage because public divorce was not an option. Although wife-selling was not necessarily legal, authorities maintained a very passive attitude about the whole thing, as did the women. Sometimes women even arranged for their own sale. It wasn't until the 19th century that women started objecting to being sold.
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  • The Rabbit Test 3 of 5
    The Rabbit Test
    History is full of bizarre techniques that were used to test for human pregnancy. In ancient Greece and Egypt, women would pee on bags of barley and wheat and if a certain type of grain spouted, she was said to be pregnant. Hippocrates said a woman should drink a honey water drink before bed and if she got cramps, she was pregnant. In 1928, two German gynecologists introduced an experiment with the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). They discovered that hCG was produced by the placenta. This discovery was vital in the development of modern day pregnancy tests, which rely heavily on hCG as an early marker of pregnancy. Back then, though, doctors would inject a woman's urine into a female rabbit. If the rabbit's ovaries responded to the urine that meant hCG was present and indicated pregnancy. The rabbit test was used from the 1930s to the 1950s. The only problem, it was impossible to perform the procedure without killing the rabbits because they had to be operated on.
  • Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Cough Syrup 4 of 5
    Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Cough Syrup
    During the 19th and 20th centuries, many industries experimented with medicines. Scientists were constantly discovering new things that were thought to help people. In many cases, companies took advantage of the absence of any kind of market standards and released dangerous products like Mrs Winslow's soothing cough syrup. The syrup was first sold in Maine in 1849 and advertised as "likely to sooth any human or animal". It was specifically targeted at quieting crying babies and tantrum-throwing kids. The ingredients? A large amount of morphine sulphate, powdered opium, sodium carbonate and aqua ammonia. Yikes! Nonetheless, the syrup was used during the 19th century to calm wild children and help babies sleep. As reports, it worked immediately. You think? During the early 20th century the product began to gain a reputation for killing small babies. Still, it wasn't taken off shelves until 1930.
  • Female Hysteria 5 of 5
    Female Hysteria
    Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis found only in women. Of course it's no longer recognized as a disorder. However, for hundreds of years thousands of women were diagnosed with hysteria. It was often mentioned in medical books of the Victorian era and, according to, in 1859, a physician claimed that a quarter of all women suffered from hysteria. One American doctor cataloged 75 pages of possible symptoms of the condition. Basically, anything wrong with a women could pretty much fit into a female hysteria diagnosis. Some of those symptoms include faintness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and "a tendency to cause trouble". Well, damn. I have the female hysteria, you guys! For some reason female hysteria was linked to sexual dissatisfaction so women would undergo weekly "pelvic massages" which consisted of a doctor basically stimulating the woman until she had an orgasm. Pelvic massages were used as a medical treatment on women into the 1900s. In 1873, the first electromechanical vibrator was developed and used at an asylum in France for the treatment of female hysteria. Over the course of the early 1900s, the number of diagnoses of female hysteria sharply declined, and today it is no longer a recognized illness.

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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