Rachel Maines

Rachel Pearl Maines (born July 8, 1950) is an American scholar specializing in the history of technology. Since 2015 she has been a Visiting Scientist at Cornell University's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her 1998 book The Technology of Orgasm won the American Historical Association's Herbert Feis Award. The book was also the inspiration for the film Hysteria and the play In the Next Room.[2]

Rachel Pearl Maines
BornJuly 8, 1950[1]
Known forWritings on the history of technology

Early life and careerEdit

Maines was born in Brookline, Massachusetts and received her BA in classics with a specialization in ancient science and technology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1971. She received her PhD in applied history and social science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1983 with a doctoral dissertation entitled Textiles for Defense: Emergency Policy for Textiles and Apparel in the Twentieth Century.[3] Much of her early scholarship centered on the history of textiles and needlework. She was one of the founders of the Center for the History of American Needlework in Pittsburgh.[4]

She is married to Garrel S. Pottinger, PhD, a retired professor of Philosophy, with whom she has written several books.[5][6] They have a daughter, Rachel Amanda Pottinger of Acme, Washington.

Vibrator researchEdit


While researching needlework in late 19th- and early 20th-century women's magazines, Maines encountered what she would argue were highly circumspect advertisements for vibrators. The advertisements, she claimed, showed women using the electrical devices to massage their necks and backs but the accompanying text described the devices as "thrilling, invigorating" and promised that "all the penetrating pleasures of youth will throb in you again". Maines recalled in a 1999 interview, "I kept thinking to myself, this can't be what I think it is."[7]

She then began researching and writing articles on the history of vibrators, the first one for the newsletter of the Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life. According to Maines, the article caused her to lose her post as associate professor at Clarkson University in 1986 because the university was convinced that the nature of her research would drive away benefactors and alumni donors. Three years later she submitted a more detailed article, "Socially Camouflaged Technologies: The Case of the Electromechanical Vibrator", to Society and Technology, the magazine of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology. Initially, the IEEE thought the article was a joke perpetrated by the magazine's editors and that there was no such person as Rachel Maines. However, after checking all the internal citations and Maines's own background, the IEEE finally allowed the article to be published in the June 1989 edition of the magazine.[7][8] Her book-length treatment of the subject, The Technology of Orgasm, was published in 1998 by Johns Hopkins University Press. Subtitled "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction, it won the American Historical Association's Herbert Feis Award and was the inspiration for Sarah Ruhl's 2009 play In the Next Room and Tanya Wexler's 2011 film Hysteria.[9][10] The book also formed the basis for Passion & Power, a 2007 documentary by Emiko Omori and Wendy Slick.[11]


Many of Maines's claims in The Technology of Orgasm have been challenged, notably by classicist Helen King and researchers at the Wellcome Collection.[12][13] In 2012, King's article on Maines's misuse of classical material was awarded the Barbara McManus Prize of the Women's Classical Caucus.[14]

A central claim in Maines's book—that Victorian physicians routinely used electromechanical vibrators to stimulate female patients to orgasm as a treatment for hysteria—was challenged by Hallie Lieberman and Eric Schatzberg of the Georgia Institute of Technology.[15] Lieberman and Schatzberg failed to find references to this practice in Maines's sources.[15] In January 2020, Lieberman wrote an op-ed in The New York Times which drew further attention to Maines' role in promoting the latter widespread myth as fact.[16]

Other researchEdit

Maines's next book, Asbestos and Fire: Technological Trade-offs and the Body at Risk, was published by Rutgers University Press in 2005.[17] She returned to the subject of needlework and textiles in Hedonizing Technologies published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2009. The book traces the evolution of fiber arts from an industry to a hobby.[18][19] Since 2015 Maines has been a Visiting Scientist at Cornell University's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.[3][20]


  1. ^ CV of Rachel P. Maines
  2. ^ Cornell University Faculty Profile for Rachel P. Maines
  3. ^ a b Cornell University. Dr. Rachel P. Maines. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  4. ^ Sexton, Sharon (12 December 1975). "Needle Art Reveals History", p. 22. Mansfield News Journal via UPI. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  5. ^ [Crater Lake National Park (N.P.), General Management Plan: Environmental Impact Statement, p. 265, middle, right side]
  6. ^ Historical and Scientific Resources on Crater Lake National Park, 392 pages, 17 March 1998, prepared by Rachel P. Maines and Associates under contract for the National Park Service. Ithaca, NY
  7. ^ a b Kling, Cynthia (14 August 1999). "Objects of Desire". The Independent. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  8. ^ Upson, Sandra (1 August 2007). "Tracing the Technology of Pleasure, Rachel Maines's quirky research project makes it to the big screen". IEEE Specturm. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  9. ^ Wypijewski, JoAnn (30 May 2012). "Playing Doctor". The Nation. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  10. ^ American Historical Association. Herbert Feis Award Recipients. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  11. ^ Straus, Tamara (22 February 2008). "Review: 'Passion & Power' touts vibrators". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  12. ^ King, Helen (2011). "Galen and the widow: towards a history of therapeutic masturbation in ancient gynaecology" EuGeStA: Journal on Gender Studies in Antiquity, 1 pp. 205-235. Retrieved 08 August 2018.
  13. ^ Jaffray, Sarah (15 August 2015). "Hysteria" Retrieved 08 August 2018.
  14. ^ "Awards, Revue EuGeStA". Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  15. ^ a b Lieberman, H., & Schatzberg, E. (2018). "A failure of academic quality control: The Technology of Orgasm," Journal of Positive Sexuality, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 24-47.
  16. ^ Lieberman, Hallie (January 23, 2020). "(Almost) Everything You Know About the Invention of the Vibrator Is Wrong". The New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  17. ^ Knowles, Scott Gabriel (January 2007). "Review: Asbestos and Fire: Technological Trade-Offs and the Body at Risk by Rachel Maines". Technology and Culture, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 175-177. Retrieved via JSTOR 26 December 2016 (subscription required).
  18. ^ Fischer, Suzanne (7 November 2011). "The Technology of Socks in a Time of War, A historian traces the history of humble footwear in the trenches". The Atlantic. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  19. ^ Gelber, Steven M. (Summer 2010). "Review: Hedonizing Technologies: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure by Rachel P. Maines The Business History Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 400-402. Retrieved via JSTOR 26 December 2016 (subscription required).
  20. ^ Cornell University Faculty Profile for Rachel P. Maines

External linksEdit