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Three types of ancient Roman specula c.50 AD

- Archaeological excavations in Pompeii, the city famously preserved by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, have yielded fascinating insights into the medical practices of the time. Among the findings were speculum artefacts, providing concrete evidence of their existence during that era. The discovery of these ancient specula is a testament to the ingenuity and medical knowledge possessed by civilisations long past.


The Speculum

J. Marion Sims, a doctor practising in Lancaster County, South Carolina, developed a modern vaginal speculum. From 1845 to 1849, Sims conducted numerous surgeries on enslaved women without anaesthesia, during which he devised a technique to repair fistulas and invented the duckbill speculum.


Sims' experiments and the subsequent development of modern specula earned him the recognition as the 'father of modern gynaecology'. The modern vaginal speculum, consists of a hollow cylinder with a rounded end, divided into two hinged parts resembling a duck's beak. This device is inserted into the vagina to widen it for the examination of the vaginal canal and cervix.

In the 1860s, specula became part of the criminal justice procedures in the UK. Examinations of the cervix were made mandatory for women convicted of prostitution under the Contagious Disease Act.

During the 19th century, the vaginal speculum became a symbol of the complex relationship between women and their physicians. Medical practitioners generally avoided using the speculum, and most vaginal conditions were diagnosed based on symptoms or palpation rather than using the speculum. Even as late as 1910, physicians considered the vaginal speculum inferior to relying on their 'educated touch'.

These concerns persisted into the early 20th century, despite the speculum becoming a commonplace in gynaecology practices. Nurses often played a crucial role in ensuring the proper use of the speculum during medical examinations. 

In the 1946 and 1956 editions of a multi-volume gynaecology text for nurses, it was required for nurses to be present during examinations to protect both patients and physicians from any wrong doings. As of 2015, 85% of gynaecologists are women, leading to changes in the procedures surrounding speculum use.


14th, 15th and16th century specula

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