Menstruating is painful, expensive, and … unnecessary?
At the posthumous retrial of Joan of Arc in 1455, two decades after she was burned at the stake as a witch and a heretic, she was declared an innocent martyr. During the trial, a personal valet offered evidence of Joan of Arc’s piety and purity during her 19 years on Earth: “She never suffered from the secret illness of women.” As far as the people closest to her knew, he claimed, she never got her period.
Saintly qualifications aside, amenorrhea—the abnormal absence of periods—has historically been linked with misfortune. In 400 B.C., Hippocrates wrote that “when the menses are stopped, diseases from the uterus take place.” In 1652, the physician Nicolas Fontanus identified amenorrhea “as the most universal and most usual cause” for palsy, melancholy, burning fevers, nausea, headaches, and a distaste for meat. Some 18th-century physicians believed that suppressed menses could cause a married woman to spiral into deep hysteria, and even in 1961, the epidemiologist Frances Drew proposed that a young woman might manifest mental anguish by losing her period.