True Story: Elizabeth Cady Stanton/ Lori Ginzberg and Medical Muses/ Asti Hustvedt

May 10, 2011
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Historian Lori Ginzberg has written the definitive biography of the brilliant activist-intellectual in ELIZABETH CADY STANTON: AN AMERICAN LIFE. Nearly all of Stanton’s beliefs—that women are entitled to seek an education, to own property, to get a divorce, and to vote—are now commonplace in large part because she worked tirelessly to extend the nation’s promise of radical individualism to women. But Stanton was no secular saint, and her positions didn’t always include the broadest conceptions of justice and social change. Elitism runs through Stanton’s life and thought, defined most often by class, frequently by race, and always by intellect. At once critical and admiring, Ginzberg captures Stanton’s ambiguous place in the world of reformers and intellectuals, describes how she changed the world, and suggests that Stanton left a mixed legacy that continues to haunt American feminism.

In MEDICAL MUSES: HYSTERIA IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY PARIS, Asti Hustvedt uncovers the history of hysteria--a disease that no longer exists, but in the 19th century, was thought to affect half of all women in one of its myriad forms. In 1862 the famous and infamous Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, under the reign of renowned neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, became the focal point for study of the mysterious illness. Physicians could find no cause, which meant a cure was not possible, but Charcot concentrated on treating the symptoms; with hypnosis, gongs, tuning forks, piercing and the evocation of demons and saints. Charcot’s studies at the hospital were controversial, and brought him into conflict with the church as well as his colleagues. But despite this, Charcot was known as hysteria’s ultimate authority and his experiments became both a fascinating and a fashionable spectacle. The women were photographed, sculpted, painted and sketched, and demonstrations attracted eager crowds of medical students, physicians, writers, artists and socialites.  A strange tale of science and ideology, medicine and the occult, of hypnotism, sadism, love and theatre, Hustvedt combed hospital records, municipal archives, memoirs and letters, to uncover fascinating new material and shed new light on a crucial moment in psychiatric history.