(Carving of Mary Toft delivering rabbits published on 15 March, 1762. Below the picture is inscribed,”Believe not every Spirit, but try the Spirits whether they are of God because many false Prophets are gone out into the World.” Photo Credit: Pickover 113.)
Mary Toft was a married English servant who became a press sensation overnight. In 1726, after suffering from a miscarriage, Mary’s family noticed that she still looked very pregnant. About a month later, she gave birth to an animal part and John Howard, an obstetrician was notified of the strange occurrence (“The Curious Case of Mary Toft”). He witnessed the birth of nine dead baby rabbits and wrote to other physicians. King George I was curious whether or not a woman was actually giving birth to rabbits and other animal parts as claimed, so he sent investigators who watched skeptically as more dead rabbits emerged from Mary. Finally, the king sent the German surgeon, Cyriacus Ahlers, who examined the animal’s bodies after they emerged(“The Curious Case of Mary Toft”). He cut open the pellets he found and discovered hay and corn remains, thus proving that the rabbits could not have developed within Mary Toft’s womb (“The Curious Case of Mary Toft”). Mary later revealed during an interrogation that the births were faked and that she put the animal parts inside of herself (Pickover 112). The real reason behind the hoax is unknown for sure, but some speculate that the family developed the plan as a means of boosting themselves out of poverty, but nonetheless, many prominent physicians had their reputations ruined in the process (“The Curious Case of Mary Toft”). In any case, Mary Toft’s story illustrates how gullible one can become if they blindly follow the claims of eminent professionals in their field (Pickover 112). Mary Toft is certainly a great example of a popular medical hoax that baffled many experts at the time.
Until Next Time
- Pickover, Clifford A. The Medical Book: From Witch Doctors to Robot Surgeons, 250 Milestones in the History of Medicine. Sterling Publishing: NEw York, 2012.
- “The Curious Case of Mary Toft.” University of Glasgow Library Special Collections Department” Book of the Month. August 2009. https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/library/files/special/exhibns/month/aug2009.html