A fainting couch is a couch with a back that is traditionally raised at one end. The back may be situated completely at one side of the couch, or may wrap around and extend the entire length of the piece much like a traditional couch. However, fainting couches are easily differentiated from more traditional couches, having one end of the back raised.
Fainting couches were popular in the 19th century, and were particularly used by women.
Some houses would take this to the level of having separate fainting rooms, where these couches would be the featured furniture.
Speculation about the need for fainting couches
- Corsets: One theory for the predominance of fainting couches is that women were actually fainting because their corsets were too tight, restricting blood flow. However, pictures from the 1860s show women horseback riding, playing tennis, and engaging in other vigorous activities in corsets without hindrance.
- Female hysteria: The second most common theory for the predominance of fainting couches is home treatment of female hysteria through manual pelvic massage by home visiting doctors and midwives. As a "disease" that needed constant, recurring (usually weekly) in-home treatment with a procedure that through manual massage could sometimes take hours, creating specialized furniture for maximum comfort during the extended procedure seems likely, as does the later creation of fainting rooms for privacy during the intimate massage procedure.
- John Gloag, A Short Dictionary of Furniture, rev. ed. 1962. (London: Allen & Unwin).
- Ellis-Christensen, T., & Wallace, O. (2014, July 7). . WiseGeek. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-fainting-couch.htm
- Media related to Fainting couches at Wikimedia Commons