NLM History Talk: “The Girl in the Lion Cage: Regulating Hypnotism in Nineteenth Century France”

NLM History Talk: “The Girl in the Lion Cage: Regulating Hypnotism in Nineteenth Century France”| Katrin Schultheiss, PhD-Associate Professor, Department of History, The George Washington University

Thursday, February 27, 2019 | 2:00 to 3:00 pm | Lister Hill Auditorium, Building 38A

In 1890 in the southern French town of Beziers, a “carnival hypnotizer” put a sleeping young girl in a lion’s cage, in an effort to demonstrate how profound-and authentic-her hypnotic trance was. The awe of the assembled crowd soon turned to horror, however, as the lion seized the girl in its jaws, parading her around the cage. The victim was eventually extracted but soon died from her injuries. This incident was just one of a number of stories circulating in the French press in the late nineteenth century that vividly demonstrated the dangers of the popular hypnotism shows that captivated audiences across the European continent. Doctors seized on such episodes to argue that the practice of hypnotism should be limited to medical professionals who alone could be trusted with the power to control the minds of others. In some European nations their efforts were successful. In France, however, despite the urging of the powerful neurologist and psychologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), efforts to regulate popular hypnotism failed. This talk, based on research completed largely in French nineteenth century medical journals and on the writings of Charcot, explores the debates surrounding popular hypnotism. It argues that the failure to regulate the practice in late nineteenth-century France reveals conflicts over the authority of professional medicine, the changing role of women, and deep cultural anxiety about the power of the unconscious mind.

This lecture will be live-streamed globally, and subsequently archived, by NIH Video Casting:

Individuals with disabilities who need sign language interpreting and/or other reasonable accommodations to participate in this event should contact Ken Koyle at and/or the Federal Relay at 1-800-877-8339.  Requests should be made five days in advance.

Learn about NLM’s recently-announced 2020 series of History Talks:

Visit our blog, “Circulating Now,” to learn more about the collections and related programs of NLM’s History of Medicine Division:

Sponsored by:

Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, Chief

History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, NIH

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