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Monstrous birth stories occupied early modern European society between the 16th and 18th centuries. These stories depicted gruesome and fantastical births influenced by the imaginations and ill virtue of pregnant women, and the tales were the subject of much interest within the intellectual and medical community. The discussion of these births that took place among the male members of such communities were particularly revelatory of the way female bodies were viewed and controlled in early modern Europe. These conversations are evidenced in the writings of 16th and 17th-century European physicians about the power of women’s imaginations over their pregnant bodies, in the retelling of monstrous birth stories that emphasized the importance of women’s virtue, and in the case of Mary Toft herself and the physicians who attended to her. Through these sources, male medical professionals and educated men utilized monstrous births to assert their role in pregnancy, revealing their desire to exert control over women’s bodies.


Undergraduate Research Awards - 2022 Winner, FY/Sophomore category