BBC World Histories Magazine

A time of change

It may seem surprising that a condition that will affect half of the human population during part of their lives remained unnamed for so long. Yet the word ‘menopause’ was invented as recently as 1821, by French doctor Charles-Pierre-Louis de Gardanne. True, the concept was not original to him; by the time his book De la ménopause, ou de l’ âge critique des femmes (Menopause, or the critical age of women) appeared in print, the idea he described was about 100 years old, though it had lacked a name.

Around 1700, doctors began to write about a condition they called “the end of menstruation as the time for the beginning of various diseases”, “the cessation of menstruation, and the problems that it may cause”, and the “cessation of the periodical discharge, in the decline of life, and the disorders arising from that critical change of constitution.” In other words, they wrote about a syndrome of symptoms and problems affecting one gender – women – at a certain time of life.

This was not the only syndrome of this kind recognised in professional medicine and popular culture. Many syndromes were staple features of the early modern European medical imagination, including ‘hysterical suffocation’ (called

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