To be fair, there are really only a few ways that London's Hunterian Museum would end up with the uterus of a young woman floating in a jar. Given that the museum is home to surgical specimens, many of which were collected in the days before surgery involved anesthesia, it's easy to guess that the story behind the uterus is not a pretty one.
But at The Chiurgeon's Apprentice blog, we learn that the story is even more grisly than you might have suspected. In fact, it belonged to a woman who committed suicide by drinking arsenic in 1792. She was, at the time, a month or so pregnant. Medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris writes about the autopsy:
In his [autopsy] report, Ogle remarked that her stomach contained ‘a greenish fluid, with a curdy substance…an effect produced by the arsenic’. He also noted that there was ‘an uncommon quantity of blood in the vessels of the ovaria and Fallopian tubes’ and that it was ‘evident, from this circumstance, that conception had taken place’.Nevertheless, when told that the date of her last period had only been ‘a little more than a month before her death’, Ogle began to question whether Mary had been pregnant when she died.
Curious to know the truth, Ogle removed the ‘organs of generation’ and gave them over to the famous anatomist, John Hunter, whose interest in pregnant cadavers was well known. Hunter injected the arteries and smaller vessels of the uterus with a wax-like substance so that ‘the whole surface became extremely red’. The uterus was then split open and the ‘inner surface of the cavity…was examined with a magnifying glass’...
Via Deborah Blum
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.