July 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts





Dr. Swift's Cure for Hysteria

by Maria Zajacz

Editor's note: This story contains references to sex and sexual devices of the Victorian Era. If you are uncomfortable with such subject matter, please do not read this article. 

As far as we know, Dr. Swift never practiced at Cerro Gordo . The character is based on an poster we once saw in the museum, however his modality of treatment is well documented.


        Finally a doctor who knew what women wanted and needed!

        "Give it to me baby," may have been said by many women in Cerro Gordo in the mid-1800s when Dr. Swift arrived in their town to offer his magical massage treatment with the promise to heal sicknesses from neck to knee.

IT PAID TO ADVERTISE--Dr. Swift advertised his healing powers with handbills. Because he had no office, he visited his patients in their homes.

        Women with physical or emotional symptoms such as headaches, emotional instability, melancholy, aggression, depression, feeling lower abdominal heaviness, muscle pains and other discomfort might have sought his treatment as these symptoms were considered to be linked to women's reproductive system.

        More specifically, Victorian Era (1837-1901) physicians referred to these symptoms as female hysteria from the Greek idea of a "wandering womb seeking its proper place." The symptoms, according to their testing, could treated by the stimulation of the female genitals which induced “hysterical paroxysm.”

        It is nice that men recognized that women must have orgasms, too. The sad part is that husbands of that time were not trained for this elementary "medical" treatment.

House Calls

        So while some big city doctors welcomed women in their office for treatment, Dr. Swift at Cerro Gordo, who lived in the American Hotel and had no building on which to hang his shingle, went to his patients' homes to offer comfort and privacy.


        Let me give you my address, doctor.

        In a society were good women were not supposed to have sexual cravings, it was quite acceptable to visit the doctor or to be visited by the doctor when bothered by symptoms of hysteria. In those times, manual manipulation was a customary and accepted medical practice. When male doctors came up with this great treatment in the 1800's, many women felt in their every day life as if they were guided by angels.

        That is why women love men so much. (Ha-ha)

        As we all know, massages do wonders, but this type of massage is quite unimaginable in today's society.

        Some people think that it isn't "sex" without penetration and because the doctor assumingly did not penetrate, this form of treatment was just a routine medical procedure.  Well, let me tell you something, my friend. Most women prefer to reach orgasm without penetration.


        But orgasm, specifically the female orgasm, is more than just muscle contractions after stimulus. It is hard to explain the complexity of physical and psychological sensations that go on in the female body before and during orgasm, but it is even harder to permit oneself these feelings and enjoy every moment of it as it rocks body and soul.

        Even the Holy Bible contains references to sex and passionate love. The "Song of Solomon," describes many sensation and joy of lovemaking: "My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh,

upon the handles of the lock." (Song of Solomon 5:4-5, King James Version)

        Well, there you go or actually come. Did you ever feel your bowels to be moved when someone touched you?

        Signs of arousal to sexual stimulus involve the whole body. First the lung with heavier breathing, then the heart starts beating faster and forces faster blood circulation transferring more oxygen into the body. From the higher heart rate, the body heats up and the skin pores open up with sweat to cool the body.

        The brain is fully active with control over the body and mind as it sends messages into the muscles to respond generating repeated muscle contractions and in the same time come up with the next move and/or fantasy.

        Even in modern medicine, it is well known that increased oxygen level is not only make us feel energized, but it also helps the internal organs and muscle structure function at their highest potential.

        Sweating also considered a healthy body response to release excessive heat, stress, and other emotional feelings.

        It seems only normal then, that people who limit themselves from reaching orgasm will not only miss out on the fun stuff, but can also experience stress and painful muscle cramps.

        Even men can get irritated and agitated and/or aggressive in case they get aroused, but for some reason, not able to ejaculate. Complaints of physical discomfort and pain aren't rare either if orgasm isn't completed.

        In this respect, women are not any different. Those who did not experience orgasm after arousal might feel confusion and disappointment, even lower abdominal pain.

Female Only Treatments

        But why, then do only women need to be treated by a doctor?

        Because men are not ashamed to seek self-release of built up tension. Also, there are plenty of females who will perform this very special treatment for compensation or even free of charge.

        We do not know how much Dr. Swift charged for his house calls, but it is almost certain that he was very busy even in a small mining town like Cerro Gordo , 8,500 ft high up in the Inyo Mountains with several thousand people, and only a small percentage of women.

        Dr. Swift didn't hide the fact that he reached under women's skirts to heal hysteria  through the magical power of his fine and gentle massage.

        He didn't have to. For during the Victorian Era, when a good woman was not supposed to have sexual cravings, this form of treatment was well accepted.

        What a treatment!

        In the mid-1800s, when Dr. Swift practiced, he was limited to the use of his hands. This was time consuming work. Because of this, by the time he made his rounds treating the hysterical females in Cerro Gordo , he found that the patients at the beginning of his list needed repeat treatments.

        However, other doctors of the time felt they couldn't handle the demand by manual methods alone.

        Were women really so sick or demanding?

        It seems they were both. Business was so good that doctors had more patients than they could handle. In 1883 a British physician, Dr. J.M. Granville, developed the perceteur or mechanical vibrator.

        The vibrator eventually became one of the earliest devices to be converted to electricity.  First was the sewing machine in 1889, followed by the fan and toaster. Electrification of the vibrator beat out the iron and vacuum cleaner by a decade.

        Early electric vibrators were strictly for professional use in the doctor's office, but as technology improved and the size of the vibrator got smaller, the devices were sold by retailers such as Sears, Roebuck and Co. and discretely advertised in women's magazines of the time.

        But if treatment was so simple, why does not the husband do it? Where were the husbands?

        They were standing right where they supposed to, behind the closed bedroom doors with their open wallet to pay for the treatment.

        Orgasm should be part of the wedding vows where men promise to their future wives that "I will make you come at least once a week for the rest of my life."

        At least then, husbands would not have to spend money on doctors or medical equipment like vibrators. And women would not have to take valuable time away from their housewives' duties like cleaning and cooking in order to heal themselves.

        In fact, we can conclude that masturbation is nothing less than natural healing for hysteria recommended by physicians. Hysteria was not officially removed as a disease by the American Psychiatric Association until 1952.

        So ladies, don't complain of pain when the treatment is in your hand.

        Dr. Swift and his satisfied clients in Cerro Gordo would understand.




"Love Machines-The Secret History of a Mass-Market appliance"

by Cynthia King

Wired Magazine, Issue 7.01, January 1999



"Come again? In pursuit of orgasms by artificial means..."

by Karen Poetker, Roving Reporter

The Manitoban, October 10, 2001



The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction

by Rachael P. Maines

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

ISBN: 0801866464

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