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Medical Modesty

January 28th, 2004 · 1 Comment

Again from my college magazine…a curiousity and a good segue from the post I just wrote and into my next piece….

Medical Modesty by Charlotte Bruce Harvey ’78

In seventeenth-century China, no lady would have endured the indignity of a hospital johnny. It was improper for a physician to see her body, much less conduct a physical exam. So on a house call to a woman of rank, he would pull from his pocket a palm-size diagnostic doll.

“The lady would be lying in a four-poster bed behind curtains, and the doctor would hand the doll to the maid, who would hand it to the lady,” explains Sidney Brody, a retired professor of medicine who recently donated his collection of antique medical instruments to Brown. “She would point to the place where it hurt, and he would make his diagnosis based on that.”


Diagnostic dolls were typically nude except for their tiny feet, which were covered with drapery or shoes. Foot-bound as toddlers, ladies never exposed these, their most erotic and private parts. Even in bed with her husband, a lady would cover her feet, reports Strait. For a stranger—even a doctor—to see them would bring disgrace.

Tags: news

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 medmusings // Jan 29, 2004 at 12:42 am

    Chinese Medical Modesty VS Modern Medicine

    Remember the whole hulabaloo about intelligent agents of the future which would complete tasks for you based on your preferences? Well, my friends’ blogs are my agents for news gathering & filtering now. Julie blogs today about our alumni magazine …