Victorian Nipple Rings – Part Three
The year is 1889, and the place is London, England. When last we heard from Constance, she was writing in to English Mechanic and the World of Science to inquire about getting her nipples pierced. She had read the letter of Jules Orme in April of 1888, and in May of the following year Constance and her sister were heading to the “Paris Exposition”, which we can safely assume is the Exposition Universelle, aka the “World’s Fair” which would have started on May 6th.
So for nearly a year letters had flown back and forth and were published in English Mechanic, where several men and woman spoke of getting their nipples pierced and gave some anecdotes. One lady, named Fanny, had hers done and mentioned in her letter that after five years or so she’d taken them out.
“I should very much have liked,” Constance wrote, “to hear again from ‘Fanny,’ whose answer appeared in your number for May 10th, and to know what are the inconveniences she has experienced during her five years continuous wear of the rings. I think the troubles cannot have been very serious, or she would not have continued to endure them.”
Heedless of the answer, Constance and her sister Millie went to Paris to do the deed. They were going to get Victorian Era Pierced Nipples.
The story picks up after they got to Paris. Still nervous about side effects and issues (And keep in mind that responses in English Mechanic included doctors who claimed these women could get cancer from doing this. Cancer) they sought out an American woman who was trained in medicine. That lady did not know anything about it, but she asked the surgeon at the hospital where she was working and he got back with Constance and told her it would probably be fine.
And then he gave Constance and Millie some referrals.
“He knew personally one lady,” Constance wrote, “and had heard of others, who had undergone the operation. He kindly gave us an introduction to the lady mentioned, and we visited her. We found her very obliging, and she gave us all the particulars we wanted to know. She had been wearing the rings more than three years, and during that time had had two children.”
This woman gave Constance and Millie the address for her piercer, a Madame Beaumont.
Madame Beaumont, Constance tells us, is a “nice, pleasant, middle aged lady,” and she runs a kind of salon off the Rue de Rivoli*, where she does “little services” for ladies, like hair dye, nails and “corn doctoring”. She also pierces ears, and sometimes nipples.
(*The Rue de Rivoli was, and still is, literally one of the most fashionable streets in the world. Just an FYI, so you know this place wasn’t a dump somewhere)
Madame Beaumont has a huge collection of large gold rings specifically for piercing nipples, and she sits down with Constance and Millie and shows them her own nipples, which are pierced. Her daughter also has pierced nipples, and she shows Constance and Millie too, because this was before the internet and how else were they going to see?
Madame Beaumont has also invented a set of clamps specifically for nipple piercing. “Like a sugar tongs in form, but instead of the spoons at the ends of the legs there is a pair of small tubes about one inch long, and in a straight line with each other, so that when the nipple is grasped between the inner ends of the tubes by means of a screw in the handle, a piercer* can be passed through the whole without any chance of deviating from its proper course.”
(*Constance will, regularly, refer to a ‘needle’ as a ‘piercer’)
This semi-medical device freaks Constance out.
“I must confess I felt very qualmish, and almost repented having consented to it.”
But she does it anyway, because she’s the older sister, and Millie is into it and she doesn’t want to chicken out in front of her little sis.
What follows is the procedure, word for word, from Constance’s letters:
“I partially undressed and seated myself on a couch by the side of Mdme. B., who passed her arm round my neck and held me steadily. Mdme. B. then bathed my right breast for a few minutes with something which smelt like benzoline*, and seemed almost to freeze it. She then adjusted the instrument to the nipple, and screwed it up securely, and then, almost before I was aware of her intention, she plunged the piercer through the tubes. I scarcely felt its passage through my nipple, which seemed almost insensitive. She then unscrewed and removed the tongs, leaving the piercer still sticking through the nipple, the point of a ring being then put into a hollow in the base of the piercer, the ring was passed through the nipple and closed. The whole operation, excepting the bathing, did not, I believe, occupy a minute. I felt scarcely any pain; and only a drop or two of blood flowed, which was at once absorbed by a little styptic wool**.”
*Benzoline is like gasoline, except it’s made from coal and tar.
**Styptic wool is treated with iron chloride and is highly absorbent, it also causes blood vessels to contract slightly and thereby slow or stop bleeding.
Her other nipple was even faster and even less painful. Millie got hers done (Gave a little gasp of shock when the first nipple was pierced) and then they were out on the streets of Paris with padding on their breasts.
Beaumont told them this as they left: “… we were the first English ladies who had visited her for the purpose of having their nipples pierced, but that she had had several American ladies visit her, and many from France and other parts of the Continent.”
Constance says that when the piercings were irritated she and her sister would soak them in camphorated water, which is kind of like soda water and which M. Beaumont recommended. She kept the padding going for six weeks, to the keep her corset from rubbing against the piercings.
And that is the story of how you got your nipples pierced in 1889.