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Doubtful sex: The fate of the hermaphrodite in Victorian medicine

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On Wednesday, 25 April 1888, at a regularly scheduled meeting of the British Gynaecological Society, the esteemed gynecologist Dr. Fancourt Barnes, physician to the Chelsea Hospital for Women, the British Lying-in Hospital, and the Royal Maternity Charity, announced that he had "in the next room a living specimen of a hermaphrodite" (fig. 1). (All figures omitted) Barnes added that he used the term hermaphrodite "on general principles, because it is the case of an individual who has been brought up to the age of nineteen as belonging to the female sex, when it is perfectly clear that he was a male" (205). Or was it perfectly clear? Although a few colleagues--among them the well-known gynecologist Lawson Tait, surgeon to the Birmingham and Midland Hospital for Women, a man (like Barnes) well versed in hermaphroditism--supported Barnes's diagnosis, several Society members in attendance were not so sure. Pressed by the latter to defend his claim, Barnes explained that

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is own reasons for believing the person to be a male were, (1) the appearance of the head, (2) the timbre of the voice, (3) the non-development of the breasts, (4) the undoubted existence of a well-formed prepuce and glans penis, (5) the imperfectly formed urethra running down from the tip of the glands

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and passing into the bladder, (6) the utter absence of anything like a uterus or ovaries, and (7) the appearance of the perineum. The thighs were covered with masculine hairs....Lastly, the patient never had the menstrual molimina. (212)

These seemed to Barnes significant and sufficient symptoms of malehood. But if Barnes thought his diagnosis (that the patient was "undoubtedly a man"

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) would be uncontroversial, he was sorely mistaken.

Criticism and controversy began with a question from Dr. Charles Henry Felix Routh, Consulting Physician to the Samaritan...