Victorians Thought Fast Trains Would Make Women’s Uteruses Fly Out of Their Bodies
When trains first entered service in the nineteenth century, many feared that their speed would prove lethal to passengers. New locomotives, such as the pioneering Rocket, built by Robert Stephenson in 1829, were capable of maximum speeds of 28 mph. Quite slow, by today’s standards, but until 1829, it is unlikely that any humans had ever experienced such speeds – unless they were falling off a cliff or the such. The perceived risk of such unprecedented velocities was not limited to the consequences of a crash or derailment. Naysayers – including many doctors – theorized that human physiology could not withstand travel at speeds faster than those of a galloping horse. Train alarmists reasoned that passengers’ internal organs would get compressed against their backs, with potentially lethal results.
Women were thought to be especially at risk, as it was feared that high train speeds would blow their uteruses out of their bodies. The paranoia about train speeds killing people with G forces eventually receded. Trains proliferated, and nobody died because their hearts or lungs were flattened against their backs, and no women had their uteruses fly out of their bodies. However, the early fears were replaced by another bizarre fear, this one of a danger to mental health instead of physical health. By the 1850s, Victorians worried that the steadily increasing train speeds, combined with the rattle and jarring motions within railway cars, injured passengers’ brains and drove people insane.