Cause of Death: Nervous Prostration from Hysteria

Months ago I matched another grave to one of Green Hill’s Mortuary Mysteries, the final resting place of Mrs. Cornelia Davis, who died on November 18, 1887 of “Nervous Prostration from Hesteria.” (Obviously a misspelling of “hysteria.”) According to the mortuary report she died in Pittsylvania County and Dr. B.B. Temple saw her on the day before her death but beyond that, she took the circumstances surrounding her illness to the grave.

Cornelia was born in the same county in which she died in 1865 to Jefferson and Stella Bradsher Whitefield. Additionally I learned that she married Edward Davis but when or whether or not they had any children is unknown (to me).

Nervous prostration and hysteria were terms used fairly regularly in the 19th century, conditions which seemed to plague upper-class women, often forcing them into a state of invalidity.

I’ve made references to Victorian treatments of an adult nature, so if you’re easily offended I encourage you stop reading.

According to this source, nervous prostration is described as lying flat in a great depression.  The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice goes into greater detail about hysteria here. I highly recommend that you read that article if you’re unfamiliar with “wandering wombs” or the archaic treatments of such ailments.

Virgie Hughes, who was interred in 1888 in Green Hill, supposedly died from “neurasthenia and excessive mental emotion.” While researching her death I was horrified at some of the cures prescribed for women diagnosed with such disabling conditions that would definitely be identified as something else in modern times. Rest cures, hydrotherapy, and “physician assisted paroxysm” were standard practices, although we don’t know whether or not Cornelia was treated for her hysteria.

Although not a local, Dr. Swift made house calls to assist women with their hysterical needs. Source: explorehistoricalif.com
Although not a local, Dr. Swift made house calls to assist women with their hysterical needs. Source: explorehistoricalif.com
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