WANDERING WOMBS, WITCHES (and orgasms)

WANDERING WOMBS, WITCHES (and orgasms). A taster…of what I will be writing about next in relation to intergenerational family stories, what my research has uncovered and in particular Jane Brady’s death at 82 in Sunbury Mental Hospital.

I like April people. My Dad was born in April. My son was born in April. Today I had a wonderful chat with another April person in my extended family that I didn’t know existed. They have a similar awesome sense of humour to my other awesome April people I know.

I’ve written about Dad’s birth and his jokes about being born on April Fools Day.

Today is Dad’s birthday and I want to talk about the silly idea that women’s internal reproductive organs are animals and that this thinking existed right up until the early 1900’s. This is not an April Fools joke, this is very real.

A taster…of what I will be writing about next in relation to intergenerational family stories, what my research has uncovered and in particular Jane Brady’s death at 82 in Sunbury Mental Hospital.

The following is from an academic piece (I’ve included references for the nerds). It was about the persecution of women from as early as the 15th century as witches by the church and how that morphed into putting those same demographic of women in asylum’s by early medical practitioners:

But how mental illness was defined and the historical justifications for putting women in institutions was nothing short of ridiculous. The persecution of women during the witch trials of the 14th century and beyond would have no doubt contributed to a rise in mental illness and there was a link between this and older women (MacDonald 1981:39-40). 

Tensions around marriageability, the perceived sexual voracity of women and their overall status as inferior could well have prompted a propensity to breakdown and mental illness and was reported widely. But it was pitched that women were more prone to complaints and as something female rather than as a result of oppression (MacDonald 1981:39-40). 

Edward Jorden looked to causes natural to the differing anatomy of women including the idea that women’s wombs, wandered or moved through the body. He saw the renegade movement of the uterus  in conflict with the rest of the body, the discomfort migrating to the brain (considered the seat of reason), causing what Jorden termed the ‘suffocation of the mother’  or  hysteria (Bronfen 1998:108; Jorden 1603:6).

Bronfen (1998:105) writes that the womb was:

[c]onsidered to be a small, voracious animal, a foreign body that had dried up, lost weight and come unhooked, this wandering uterus was thought to seek for nourishment throughout the body of sexually dissatisfied women, such as widows and spinsters.

A combination of the religious and medical understandings of women meant older women (particularly older women with dementia) were at high risk of persecution, although again, this cannot be viewed in isolation of other socio-political influences (Bronfen 1998:105; Darnst 1979:304; Levack 1995:141, 142; Scot 1665:4, 19).


Later in history someone would finally get it somewhat right and yet still the logic behind it was wrong; they would invent the vibrator.

This was to treat the above “hysteria”, and finally women got more socially acceptable orgasms as a small trade off for centuries of oppression (and I haven’t provided references for that bit, but suggest you watch the film of the same name).

Mind you, we always just did it for ourselves in secret anyway, so no bloke ‘gave’ us anything…Fellas! You didn’t invent fingers and ours DO wander!

References for you nerdy types…

Bronfen, E.  (1998) The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and Its Discontents. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Darnst, D.H. (1979) Witchcraft in Spain: the Testimony of Martin De Castanega’s Treatise on Superstition and Witchcraft (1520).  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 123(5):298-322.

Jorden, E. (1603) A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother.  Available from Early English Books Online: http://80-wwwlib.umi.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/eebo/download/pdf/337098/19994/1-30/99854567_1-30.pdf  [Accessed 10 October 2002]

Levack, B.P. (1995) The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe (2nd Edition). New York: Longman.

MacDonald, M. (1981) Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-century England.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scot, R. (1665) The Discovery of Witchcraft [online].  Available from Proquest Early English Books Online:  http://80-wwwlib.umi.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/eebo/download/pdf/337099/55338/1-227/12166650_1-227.pdf [Accessed 10 October 2002].

Bridget the badass

#IWD2021 So today is also a day to celebrate success, as much as it is about struggle too. So I want to shout out to my ancestor Bridget Brady (nee Lynch 1842 -1892). From my research it’s plain to see she was a badass. She ran the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore in the Victorian Gold Fields.

VALE BRIDGET, THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. I HAVE NO DOUBT YOU WERE ONE TOUGH COOKIE.

After her husband, John, who owned and operated the Kilmore Brewery took his own life in 1888 life must have gotten significantly harder. A woman on her own running a business, and the business of liquor at that. CW: discussions of suicide.

Not only that, I found she had to fight to keep her possessions after the death of John. This was despite the fact that Victoria had followed English law and made provisions for women with the Married Women’s Property Act of 1884. This act protected the rights of women to their personal property upon marriage. I’m planning on exploring her legal woes after John’s death in later posts.

But for now, lets talk about the pub, and Bridget the Badass. First there is her account in the inquest into her husbands death. It certainly shows her as not afraid to speak her mind…that must definitely run in the family.

It was one of the first things that I read recently that made me think differently about John’s death. It’s easy to conclude that there was some economic or social pressure on John. The doctor’s testimony, simply blanket concludes “insanity”, despite admitting he had not seen him for several weeks.

Bridget’s testimony to police is brave because she does not shy away from talking about the issue of the nature of his death and is unafraid to counter the testimony of the attending doctor. Bridget refers to John complaining of a pain in the head for several weeks, as does their son, Bernard.

And let’s face it, those of us who know the terrain of suicidal thinking know it is not something people just get up one day and just decide to do, it’s often a long time coming. John might not have talked about it, but pain and pressure do things to us over time. So, here is the system, the word of the doctor, leaping to conclusions and not listening to families or that of the person themselves…sigh…many of us know that hasn’t changed has it?

Later I found a Kilmore Police court reference to her some two years later. Still running the pub. In goldrush Victoria, a widow running a pub is badass defined.

This time the police attention is because she left the pub door open after hours and is fined a whole five pound. Which would have been a lot of money for leaving a pub door open for a brief few minutes. Later there is reference to dropped charges against her for illegal gambling on the premises, largely because she couldn’t be there all the time due to ill health.

So here is the gutsy, short, succinct and to the point testimony of Bridget defying the doctors single word diagnosis, transcribed beneath the image.

Magistrates Inquiry

Colony of Victoria, To wit. This deponent, Bridget on her oath saith, I am a wife of the deceased residing at Kilmore.

I identify the body as that of my husband John Brady, he was 47 years of age, he has been in usual health but complained of pain in his head. I never heard him say he would commit suicide. I saw him about 5.30 pm on the 29th at his residence when seemed alright. I went to the malt house to milk the cows about half an hour after after I saw deceased. When I saw my husband lying at a distance in the corner of the malthouse.

Mark of Bridget Brady, Witness John Wilkinson, Const. 3179.

Taken and Sworn before me, the 31st Day of October 1888 at Kilmore.

What little the history shows so far, it speaks to gutsy, but also bloody tired.

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.

LOOKING FOR INFORMATION OR SUPPORT SERVICES ON ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? CALL THE AUSTRALIAN DRUG AND ALCOHOL FOUNDATION 1300 85 85 84 TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON.

Bridget THE PUBLICAN

Bridget Brady was no wilting flower. She ran the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore and her professional was listed on her death certificate as “Licensed Victualler”, or in more modern language, a ‘Publican’ or ‘Bar Manager’.

Something in my gut tells me Bridget Brady was no wilting flower. I have a range of documents about my great great grandmother I want to reveal, over time. She ran the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore and her profession was listed on her death certificate as “Licensed Victualler”, or in more modern language, a “Licensed Publican”.

So, today, on Valentine’s Day, I’m paying homage to Bridget and the women on the Australian Goldfields. They mined and owned businesses and across a huge number of professions and commercial activities. Sometimes as wives to miners, sometimes as individuals, but all of them represent a significant part of the gold rush economy.

She fought for her possessions after her late husbands will was contested at this highest court in Victoria. I have some interesting police documents from her time running the Shannon Hotel. She also was pregnant with her first child Mary Jane on the long journey from Liverpool in the United Kingdom to colonial Australia in 1863 as a new bride. As you can imagine, running a goldfields pub would have been a difficult thing to do, but reading these documents I can’t help but imagine her taking it all in her stride.

As for the location of the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore, I can’t find an exact reference. This is one of the things I hope to rectify when I visit Kilmore Historical Society.

Check out academic Dr. Clare Wright talking about women like Bridget and their contribution to goldfields life. Closed captions available.

Video Copyright Sovereign Hill Museums Association