Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Olivia Weisser

Second Advisor

Roberta L. Wollons

Third Advisor

Marilyn Morgan


How did Victorian era gynecologists justify the practice of removing specific sexual organs from women's bodies through the surgeries oophorectomy and clitoridectomy? This thesis does not attempt to refute the arguments of prior historians or apologize for the horrifying procedures of Victorian doctors, but rather seeks to round out a piece of women's medical history that has not received much attention. While many scholars have examined the anti-feminist actions of these men as misogynistic and controlling, they have left out discussion of how doctors themselves justified and explained the surgeries they performed. In their treatises, Doctors Lawson Tait and Isaac Baker Brown rationalized the seemingly irrational practice of removing women's reproductive organs by demonstrating a deep belief that these surgeries saved lives. Up until now scholars have not examined these treatises in depth in order to explain how these men rationalized their actions.

An examination of their treatises and case details for patients reveals that Tait and Brown applied contemporary science to their existing beliefs about women's bodies and minds in order to concoct surgeries that they felt helped a number of women. The fact that these procedures have controlling and dehumanizing qualities did not factor into the writings of these men. To further demonstrate the benefits of their surgeries, Tait and Brown used stories of patients they had "cured" as evidence that their practices restored women's emotional and physical health. Existing historiography will benefit from an examination of their works in an attempt to explain exactly how they justified such terrible practices and even enjoyed popularity for a time. With an understanding of how Tait and Brown managed to convince themselves and others of what great surgeries they performed, one can begin to see how terrible medical practices become a reality.


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