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The Chattanooga Vibrator, 1904

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So this last half of this week is going to see a series of posts on Gilded Age/Progressive Era sexuality. I’m teaching it tomorrow, I was thinking of Comstock, there are some stories to link to, and with the whole birth control insanity, it seems timely. Most importantly, I like talking about it.

So just to get everyone in the mood, I present you two images of the Chattanooga Vibrator, an early version of the vibrator. Doesn’t it look fun?

How do you use such a lovely looking machine? See below:

Commentary is best left to the comment section I think.

…[UPDATED TO REFLECT THE FAMILY NATURE OF THIS BLOG]

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  • Jay B.

    Well, it’s better than the Cleveland Steamer.

  • Tom Renbarger

    Nothing could be greater.

  • Warren Terra

    I have to say, the lyrics are a target-rich environment. I’m gonna go with this one:

    Chattanooga choo choo
    Won’t you choo-choo me home?

    • “I choo-choo-choose you!”

      (And there’s a picture of a train.)

  • Vance Maverick

    That avuncular hand on the naked hip is a nice touch.

    “Pardon me, boys…”

    • Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Nick Z

    Quite the Rub Goldberg contraption. (I regret nothing.)

    • efgoldman

      Oh, got me, got me, got me. Sides quaking with laughter.

  • eric

    “Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin'”

  • ploeg

    It’s hysterical! (Or anti-hysterical, depending on your point of view.)

    • Chet Murthy

      When I first read about vibrators and their invention to treat “Female Hysteria”, I was unwell for a while. The idea that women were treated that way was … well, kinda sickening. But then I remembered the G-spot, and … well, every day in the Republican primaries, and felt, well, it hasn’t got that much better. Which made me feel oh-so-much-better. Really.

      • ploeg

        Before the invention of vibrators, physicians treated women, well, manually.

    • dave

      Lesley A Hall, distinguished British historian of sexuality, calls bullshit in the UK context. Money quote: “It is impossible to say with any definiteness that something never occurred, but it is possible to argue that this particular treatment for ‘hysteria’ was rare and fell outside mainstream accepted medical practice in Victorian England. Things may have been different in North America.”

      But then, as we know, everything is different in America…

      • ploeg

        Hall actually seems to take this on across the board. I’ll have to read further into it. It seems, though, that Hall is under the misapprehension that this would necessarily have been seen as “masturbation” and/or a “sex therapy”. If this was something that practiced outside of a small circle, it would necessarily not have been seen as “masturbation” and/or a “sex therapy”. Which sounds ridiculous on its face, but then again, there are those who hold that that the sole legitimate purpose of sex is procreation, and that doctors are allowed to do things that are not allowed for others, provided that such things are for therapy and not for personal gratification.

      • Anderson

        It’s rather difficult to imagine getting anywhere near Virginia Woolf with one of these things.

  • CaptBackslap

    NOT PICTURED: The doctor’s raging erection

    • Anderson

      I suspect after 30 or 40 patients a week, the doc started to get a little bored, and was mainly glad not to be aggravating the arthritis in his fingers any more.

    • Genuinely Evil But Beardless DrDick

      I have a sneaking suspicion that this sort of therapy plays a large role in Dr. Ron Paul’s ob/gyn practice.

  • Steve S.

    For those who happen to have this volume handy, see the insert following page 56 of The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok.

    • Nom de Plume

      Why yes, yes I do have it handy. Thanks for an excuse to pull it off the shelf for the first time in ages.

  • Atticus Dogsbody

    I hear it’s good for hyteria.

  • Western Dave

    The 1920 Model I have for home use is vastly superior. Made by Hamilton-Beach, it means I can never look at a stand mixer the same way again. While I generally use excerpts from the accompanying handbook to teach about hysteria to teach the all- girls 10th grade class, I rarely bust out the device itself. It was on display, however, as part of a school Physics project on psuedo-science. But on a very high shelf.

    • How in the living hell did you get your hands on that? That’s amazing.

      • Western Dave

        One of the parents at my school is a medical anthropologist and taught OB-GYN and midwifery students for years in a class on history and anthropology of women’s health. She has a big collection of historic/antique vibrators and gave it to me as a gift when she found out we taught about hysteria/attacks on midwifery-abortion/rise of AMA as part of the 10th grade curriculum. Although since then, I’ve moved the vibrator piece to the rise of electricity for home use.

    • Warren Terra

      I’m confused: the first half of this comment looks like quite a good joke about McArdle’s famous food processor, the second half doesn’t.

  • hylen

    I can’t understand why this wasn’t posted on Valentine’s Day.

    • If I had thought about this more than 5 minutes before I posted it, that would have been a great idea. Alas, I did not.

  • rea

    Thank god for modern technology, is all I can say.

    • Tom Renbarger

      It is a bit of a wet blanket on enthusiasm for the steampunk way of life, isn’t it?

  • Charlie Sweatpants

    Saw this trailer a few months back:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FWReqkTWfA

    IMDb says it’s coming out in May.

    • I should have known without looking that Maggie Gyllenhall is in that movie.

    • commie atheist

      The AARP ad that precedes the clip is…um…an interesting juxtaposition.

      • Daverz

        I got an chiropractic ad!

    • herr doktor bimler

      IIRC The Road to Wellville covered some of the same territory.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      I thought maybe they were doing a film adaptation of this.

      • Hogan

        Saw that at a local theater. Highly recommended.

  • efgoldman

    O, gawd. I’m in the middle of a flame war over on Balloon Juice with an a**hole who keeps doubling down on an offensive term he used. THANK YOU for the comic relief.

    Loomis, don’t let the Red Beanie Brigade who think they still run Rhode Island find out about that class.

  • LosGatosCA

    The mothers of invention are necessitated by the devices of solicitous men selflessly caring only for the pleasure of women.

    It has always been thus.

    • I probably should have explained these images more, but in fact, these devices were created as a relief for neurasthenia, which may essentially have been women needing an orgasm. The devices were considered medical and not sexual in any way. Because of course women don’t have sexual desires or orgasms.

      There’s also the issue of working class vs. upper class bodies. Because working-class women picked up on these devices pretty quick and knew what to do with them.

      • commie atheist

        Because of course women don’t have sexual desires or orgasms.

        And if they did, their failure to experience them had nothing to do with male sexual prowess, or lack thereof.

      • Lurker

        I don’t know about neurasthenia, but I think that getting an orgasm now and then is advantageous to a person’s mental well-being. I’m not a woman, but my wife seems to be in a much better mood after getting an orgasm than in such situation where she has not got it for a week. So if a woman (or a man) is unable to get an orgasm with her partner or by herself, it might be quite acceptable that a medical professional gives her therapy for that.

        WHO’s definition of health involves “complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. It is difficult to see how this can be achieved without the fulfilment of one’s sexual needs at least on some level.

  • Reilly

    Over at Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory had an ongoing series exploring sexual fetishes titled Am I Normal? which all but demanded mockery. One of the entries was I like vintage erotica wherein Flory and some “experts” weigh whether or not fantasizing about now-dead people is “creepy”. I left this comment in response:

    I like vintage auto-erotica
    I’ve fashioned a self-pleasuring device from an antique Singer treadle sewing machine. I attach pictures of Victorian-era nudes to the needle bar and watch them bob up and down as I furiously work the foot pedal which, in turn, furiously works me. Can you and your panel of experts please let me know — am I normal?

    After seeing the Chattanooga Vibrator my fictional device doesn’t seem quite so elaborate and outlandish.

    • rea

      I imagine this has been discussed over there . . .

      • Reilly

        Not that I know of, but She Stoops to Conquer, Ms. Langtry’s first stage success, could also well describe Ms. Flory’s approach to writing at Salon.

    • ajay

      One of the entries was I like vintage erotica wherein Flory and some “experts” weigh whether or not fantasizing about now-dead people is “creepy”

      The conclusion over at Unfogged is that it is certainly undesirable. Hence the use of the acronym “NMM” – as in “NMM to Christopher Hitchens!” to announce a recent death.

      • Reilly

        Ajay, I just spent about 15 minutes at Unfogged trying to figure out what NMM means with no success. I’m sure I’m going to feel stupid that I couldn’t put it together but I give up.

        • Hogan

          Apparently it means “no more masturbating,” and they use it as a substitute for RIP.

          • Reilly

            Thanks, that’s excellent. And I wouldn’t have sussed it out on my own.

    • herr doktor bimler

      I like vintage auto-erotica
      Sex with cars is fine, unless theu’re old cars; that’s just disgusting.

      • Reilly

        Yeah, most of them have a stale musty odor that can really kill the urge. Except, of course, for the Douchenberg which always smells fresh and flowery.

  • c u n d gulag

    Yes, but can it make a bechamel sauce at the same time?

    • rea

      It could tend bar–“A dry martini–shaken, not stirred, please.”

      • c u n d gulag

        Talk about your “dirty” martini’s!

  • JohnR

    I had no idea Tennessee was so pregressive back then! That illustration certainly looks more like a man on the receiving end than a woman, and considering how much of the “application arm” is invisible (a quick comparison of the top to the “bottom” (as it were) image is both instructive and more than a little disturbing for those of us who have enjoyed sigmoidoscopies), a heavily sedated man at that.

  • JP Stormcrow

    Rachel Maines for the Gilded Age electro-mechanical vibrator technology win, of course (and mentioned in the Lesley Hall link provided by dave). I recall this article being quite the bombshell by IEEE standards. Got a lot of respnse.

    “Socially Camouflaged Technologies: The Case of the Electromechanical Vibrator,” IEEE Technology and Society, v.8 no.2, June 1989.She apparently first stumbled upon the whole area via ads in magazines while pursuing research on needlework patterns. There is a good interview with her at Big Think.

    • JP Stormcrow

      She apparently first stumbled upon the whole area via ads in magazines while pursuing research on needlework patterns. There is a good interview with her at Big Think. Should not be in the blockquote.

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