Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The corset in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe was not merely an article of clothing. The corset was a complex and often contradictory social and cultural symbol. It symbolized both the sensual female body and the chaste virgin; the female control over male desires, and the male’s control over the female body. The ubiquity of the corset in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe is an important commentary on historical European society. Reports of women (and men) who have died as a result of the tightness of their corsets abound in the literature. Case studies from medical professionals provide information on the changes corsets wrought in the soft tissues of the women who wore them. However, to date, no systematic studies have been conducted which detail the changes in the bony pelvis. This study examines the effect of corseting upon the female and male pelvis of the Spitalfields skeletal collection, with consideration of consequential reduced fecundity and difficulties in parturition. Corseting status was determined through the presence or absence of compression on the ribs. Results show arcurate line length was significantly shorter in females with deformed ribs than in females with normal ribs, and the females with deformed ribs were significantly younger than the normal rib females. In addition, transverse diameter of the inlet and maximum femoral length approached significance, with females having deformed ribs being smaller. There was no significant relationship between pelvic contraction and deformed ribs, and deformed rib females retained a significantly larger pelvis than normal rib males. These data indicate that corseting did change the average size of the female pelvis, but not sufficiently to change the obstetrical sufficiency of the corseted pelvis.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

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Committee Chair

Robert G. Tague