Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wadsworth, Sarah

Second Advisor

Hathaway, Heather

Third Advisor

Pladek, Brittany


This dissertation examines literary and medical texts from throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to better understand prevailing attitudes about gender and disease. The project traces the progression of three diseases – consumption, chlorosis, and hysteria – throughout the long nineteenth century, paying particular attention to the stereotypes and prevailing medical notions of each illness. In general, this work examines the influence of lovesickness, female-patient/male-doctor dynamics, and pathology on the endemic or epidemic nature of each disease. In particular, the first three chapters of this project study tuberculosis – or consumption as it was called in the nineteenth century – and the ways in which society presumed this illness manifested either through the female’s beauty or spirituality. This work also uses nineteenth-century writing from women and men who dispute the notions of the beautiful and spiritual consumptive. The second three chapters of this project examine hypochromic anemia – chlorosis in the nineteenth century – and the prevailing medical notion that its manifestation in younger women could be cured through sex, marriage, and childbearing. In so doing, this dissertation studies its roots in lovesickness, procreation, and the Early Modern era. The final section of three chapters explores the somatic manifestations of hysteria – a disease that appeared endemic to young woman throughout this era – and its comorbid condition of neurasthenia. This project looks at texts written by those so diagnosed as well as by those doing the diagnoses. This work concludes with an afterward focused on how the gender-specific medicine of the past continues to impact racialized medicine of the present.Keywords: Medical humanities, tuberculosis, consumption, chlorosis, anemia, lovesickness, hysteria, neurasthenia, comorbidities, racialized medicine, gender-specific medicine.