Medicalizing the female reproductive cycle in rural Ireland, 1926–56


  • This research has been generously funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2008–10. Prof. Anthony McElligott, University of Limerick, was principal investigator and project partners included Dr. Laurence M. Geary and Dr. Oonagh Walsh, both at University College Cork. Dr. Georgina Laragy was the postdoctoral research fellow and she is working towards publishing further qualitative analysis of the datasets. This project forms the basis of a virtual research environment developed by the Consortium for Medical Humanities, which involves partners at the University of Limerick, University College Cork and Queen's University Belfast. The digitization was conducted in conjunction with Eneclann, a historical records management company in Dublin. Rose Molloy and Jutta Kruse, doctoral candidates at the University of Limerick, both provided invaluable assistance with the digitization process.


This article highlights the parameters of a lifecycles project that was funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, entitled ‘From the cradle to the grave: lifecycles in modern Ireland (pilot study: maternity)’. The project used individual hospital records to bring the regional effects of ‘medicalization’ outside metropolitan areas into a sharper focus. With an emphasis on rural Ireland from 1926 to 1956, this ‘pilot’ study used longitudinal data modelling to explore the medicalization of the female reproductive cycle in a general hospital and again in a psychiatric hospital setting. The project team chose disparate clinical settings to test how people understood their functions, to see, for example, if medical cases were presenting to the psychiatric setting. This article describes the digitization and data modelling processes and the parameters of the research agenda. It locates the broader medical and statistical findings of the project in their socio-economic context to highlight whether such matters conditioned when and how women resorted to medical care. It discusses the analytical challenges that the project posed and points to avenues of further research and future publications. It concludes that for historical reasons, in the rural Irish context, people engaged more freely with the asylum than the general hospital setting.