Five Lives of Mollie Fancher: 19th Century Curiosity, Clairvoyant, Hysteric, Care Recipient, Invalid
Phelps Coco, Adrienne L.
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This project examines the intersection of gender, disability, and medicine through a biography of Mollie Fancher, a woman with multiple disabilities whose reported mystical abilities sparked an international controversy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Debates over Mollie’s body and the veracity of her abilities and disabilities were not just about her own flesh. Her extraordinary body was a metaphor for larger causes. Spiritualists, who were searching for a scientific basis for the seemingly miraculous, declared that she was proof of human ability to connect with the beyond. Physicians, who were a in the process of professionalizing and asserting their own expertise over the human body, saw her as nothing more than a sick fraud who should be diagnosed with a disease known as hysteria. Mollie was not a passive bystander in her own life story, however. She actively courted controversy and sought to shape the versions of her metaphorical self in ways most beneficial to her. She and her fellow invalids had their own bodily narratives that benefited them. Through Mollie’s life story, this dissertation will examine the variety of ways that disability narratives were used to champion larger social causes in the late nineteenth century.
history of medicine
professionalization of medicine
Date available in INDIGO2015-10-21T14:17:09Z