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Mary Toft

Mary Toft was a maidservant from Godalming, England who in 1726 became the subject of considerable controversy when she was alleged to have given birth to at least 16 rabbits, according to her doctors.

Toft was 25 years old and married at the time, and despite a miscarriage in August still seemed pregnant. She went into apparent labor and the local doctor John Howard arrived to assist. Howard reported that he delivered several rabbits, all stillborn, and that afterward she still seemed pregnant. He sent letters to some of England's greatest doctors and scientists asking for help investigating the situation, and among those who came to his assistance were Nathaniel St. Andre, surgeon-anatomist to King George I, and Sir Richard Manningham, the most famous obstetrician in London. Toft gave birth to several more dead rabbits in their presence.

Toft claimed that during pregnancy she had an intense craving for roast rabbit, that she tried to catch rabbits in the garden, that she had admired them in the village market, and that she had dreamed about rabbits. Based on this the doctors explained the births as a result of "maternal impressions", contending that a pregnant woman's experiences could be imprinted directly on the fetus at conception and cause birth defects. Sir Richard Manningham eventually exposed the rabbit birthings as a hoax, but not before many of Londonís most eminent doctors had been thoroughly taken in by it. In the aftermath of the hoax the medical profession recieved a great deal of public mockery for its gullibility.