Alfred University News

History Professor Mallory Szymanski presents research into neurasthenia at Grenada Conference

Professor Mallory Szymanski
Professor Mallory Szymanski

Mallory Szymanski, assistant professor of history at Alfred University, recently shared her ongoing research into early treatments of neurasthenia in the United States, at a conference in Granada, Spain.


Mallory Szymanski, assistant professor of history at Alfred University, recently shared her ongoing research into early treatments of neurasthenia in the United States, at a conference in Granada, Spain.

Szymanski’s work, which she shared in the fall at a Bergren Forum, has focused on 19th century neurasthenic behaviors and their treatment. Her research, presented as “Talking about Sex in the Clinic: Treatment for Neurasthenia in the Late-19th Century United States,” was shared through a complex poster she presented at the Sex, Science, and Censorship Conference, hosted by the Rethinking Sexology program at Exeter University.

The Granada Conference drew scholars from Belarus, Australia, Europe and the US who have been researching sexual science in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Szymanski has noted the term “sexual neurasthenia” came into existence as a medical category in 1880, when Dr. George Beard, known as “the father of neurasthenia,” published Sexual Neurasthenia, contending “Americans suffered from neurasthenia more than Europeans because of their unique constitution, environment and proclivity or hard work.”

Beard’s work influenced Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who in turn founded the first hospital in the U.S. dedicated to nervous illness, the Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Disease, in Philadelphia.

“In an era where candid conversation about sexuality bore serious risk, legally and professionally,” Szymanski concludes, “medical doctors adopted the socially sanctioned language of neurasthenia to address an underserved population of men.

“Tied to broader discourses about American manhood and American exceptionalism, the sexual dimension of neurasthenia shielded men from shame and stigma associated with sexually transmitted infections or more severe mental health conditions, such as insanity.”