top of page

The Strange Case of Mary Toft: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

The story of Mary Toft, an 18th-century English woman, remains one of the most bizarre and fascinating medical hoaxes in history. In 1726, Toft claimed to have given birth to a series of rabbits, a tale that captivated and bewildered the medical community and the public alike. This article delves into the life of Mary Toft, the details of the hoax, its impact on medical science, and the broader social and cultural implications of this peculiar event.

#### Early Life and Background

Mary Toft was born Mary Denyer in the early 1700s in Godalming, Surrey, England. She married Joshua Toft, a journeyman clothier, and they lived a relatively humble life. In September 1726, while pregnant, Mary Toft reportedly had a miscarriage. Following this event, she claimed to have experienced strange sensations and contractions, leading to the expulsion of animal parts.

#### The Hoax Unfolds

The bizarre tale began in earnest when Mary Toft started giving birth to what she claimed were parts of animals, primarily rabbits. John Howard, a local obstetrician, was called to attend to her. Initially skeptical, Howard was soon convinced by the seemingly miraculous births. He documented the events meticulously, noting the various animal parts supposedly expelled by Toft.

Howard's fascination and belief in the phenomenon prompted him to notify other medical professionals, including Nathaniel St. André, a Swiss surgeon and anatomist serving as a physician to King George I. St. André visited Toft and, after witnessing the births, became convinced of their authenticity. He brought the case to the attention of the Royal Court, sparking widespread interest and debate.

#### Examination and Exposure

As the story gained traction, several prominent physicians, including Sir Richard Manningham and James Douglas, expressed skepticism. Manningham, an obstetrician, and Douglas, an anatomist, conducted thorough examinations of Toft. Their investigations revealed inconsistencies and led to the conclusion that the births were a hoax.

Under intense scrutiny and pressure, Toft eventually confessed. She admitted to inserting the animal parts into her body, aided by accomplices, to simulate the births. The confession was a public spectacle, and the news of the hoax spread rapidly, leading to widespread ridicule and scandal.

#### Medical and Social Implications

The Mary Toft affair had significant repercussions for the medical community. It exposed the gullibility and susceptibility of some physicians to extraordinary claims without sufficient empirical evidence. The incident damaged the reputations of those who had supported Toft's claims, particularly Nathaniel St. André, whose career suffered irreparably.

The case also highlighted the challenges of medical practice in the 18th century, a time when scientific rigor and skepticism were still developing. The hoax underscored the need for more stringent verification methods and the importance of evidence-based practice in medicine.

#### Cultural Impact

The Mary Toft hoax became a subject of satire and commentary in contemporary literature and art. It was referenced in pamphlets, poems, and plays, often used to critique the credulity of the medical profession and the public. The affair also sparked discussions about women's bodies and reproductive health, topics that were often shrouded in mystery and superstition.

The story of Mary Toft remains a cautionary tale about the power of deception and the importance of critical thinking. It serves as a reminder of the complexities of human psychology and the lengths to which individuals may go to gain attention or manipulate others.

#### Conclusion

The case of Mary Toft is a fascinating chapter in medical history, illustrating the interplay between belief, skepticism, and evidence. Her story, though bizarre, provides valuable insights into the medical practices and societal attitudes of the 18th century. It underscores the enduring need for rigorous scientific inquiry and the dangers of credulity in the face of extraordinary claims.

### References

1. **BBC History**. (n.d.). Mary Toft: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Retrieved from [BBC History](

2. **Royal College of Physicians**. (n.d.). The Mary Toft Case. Retrieved from [Royal College of Physicians](

3. **History Extra**. (2017). The woman who gave birth to rabbits. Retrieved from [History Extra](

4. **The Lancet**. (2015). Mary Toft and the birth of a medical hoax. Retrieved from [The Lancet](

This article has provided a detailed exploration of the strange and compelling case of Mary Toft, offering insights into its historical, medical, and cultural significance.

1 view0 comments


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page