‘bedside manner’: originally applied to fashionable ladies’ doctors

The phrase bedside manner denotes a doctor’s approach or attitude to a patient.

The earliest instance that I have found is from the description of a character in A Tale of Bristol in 1645—60, by ‘Ecclesiasticus’, a story published in the Bristol Times, and Bath Advocate (Bristol, England) of Saturday 4th August 1849:

the Spanish physician of the Regent, whose “sweet bedside manner” made his bigoted Romanism all the more dangerous to Protestant ladies.

An article titled Modern Requirements, published in The Evening Press (York, Yorkshire) of Tuesday 22nd December 1891, explained why doctors cultivated their bedside manner:

It is incumbent on a fashionable lady’s doctor to have “a good bedside manner.”

The French-born novelist, cartoonist and illustrator George du Maurier (1834-96) satirised this requirement in the following cartoon published in Punch, or the London Charivari of Saturday 15th March 1884:

Annals of a Winter Health Resort.

Lady Visitor. “Oh, that’s your Doctor, is it? What sort of a Doctor, is he?”
Lady Resident. “Oh, well, I don’t know much about his Ability; but he’s got a very good Bedside Manner!”

Annals of a Winter Health Resort – George du Maurier – Punch, or the London Charivari – 15 March 1884

On Wednesday 23rd October 1889, The St James’s Gazette (London) published a letter denouncing the fact that in the medical profession appearances prevailed over qualifications:

A correspondent, who signs himself “A Failure,” sends us the following remarks:—
[…] Though I have worked exceedingly hard, and am not stupid, still I am a failure. I possess neither of the two things which are chiefly essential to success in the medical profession. The first is money and the second a bald head. I have no money, and my hair is inconveniently thick. I am not joking about this. Incipient baldness gives the appearance of “a high and dome-like forehead,” and inspires the ladies with confidence. The fortunate possessor of this beautiful feature is pronounced “very clever,” which settles the matter. Besides, it is almost indispensable for a “good bedside manner.” All my medical friends who are getting on well have either money or bald heads: most of them have both.

According to The Pall Mall Gazette (London) of Friday 15th May 1891, the Irish physician Richard Quain (1816-98) cautioned against an overly grave bedside manner:

There were some medical stories in Sir Richard Quain’s address at University College yesterday. […]
Sir Richard Quain also told a story which may serve as a warning to young doctors who are cultivating what is known as a good bedside manner. The husband of a patient once said to him, “I greatly appreciate the anxiety you feel for my poor wife, but please do not let her see it again, for after you left the room she asked if you were the undertaker.”

Very early, bedside manner came to be used in other contexts of personal relationships, as in the following paragraph from the North-Eastern Daily Gazette (Middlesbrough, Yorkshire) of Tuesday 16th April 1895:

“Green tea or black tea, miss?” enquired the shopman in a sort of medico bedside manner. “I don’t think it matters,” said the girl; “missus is quite blind.”

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