Alexandra L. Fleagle
University of Edinburgh: Edinburgh
Neurasthenia was used by nineteenth-century American doctors to explain a wide variety of symptoms not satisfactorily covered by existing diseases. It was not a discrete illness, but rather a disease category that attributed a variety of ailments to the nervous system, and proved to be flexible in its scientific applications.
This study briefly explains the origins of neurasthenia in the United States before taking an in-depth look at the various methods used to treat nervous disease in the late nineteenth century. Special attention is given to explaining Victorian-era electrical therapy using rare and previously unexamined sources found at the Bakken Museum and Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. It also examines neurasthenia in women, focusing on the patients of Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, creator of the rest cure, and the life and practice of Dr. Margaret Cleaves, a prominent female physician who ran the New York Electro- Therapeutic Clinic and Laboratory.