Category Archives: History

Monkey Glands: The Secret of Eternal Youth?

'Va te faire greffer!!!' chanson Crayssac - Voronoff
Va te faire greffer!!!’ by Crayssac & Brubach, published by Greyval (Paris, 1923), ill. Georges Desains

Serge Voronoff (1866-1951) a Russian-born French surgeon used sex glands from chimpanzees and baboons to rejuvenate vital energy in ageing persons. He considered the testicles as distributors of energy. This idea came to him while observing eunuchs during his work in Egypt.

Serge Voronoff

After transplanting over 500 testicles from younger animals (sheep and goats) to older ones, and many experiments grafting animal organs into other animals he performed, around 1920, the first transplant of a monkey gland (testicle) on a man. Two pieces of about 2 cm by 0.5 cm and a few millimeters deep of the monkey gland were introduced in the human scrotum, attaching them with stitches. Voronoff was convinced that this would restore lost vigour. Apparently he shared this believe with a myriad of old men who couldn’t wait to get their dried-up nuts grafted. Very soon he got himself a large and rich clientele.  Voronoff even claimed that a small piece of monkey gland could cure homosexuality.

Voronoff received a lot of media attention and travelled all over the world to demonstrate his rejuvenating technique. But he wasn’t welcome in England because of the Cruelty to Animals Act. By the early thirties, more than 500 men had been ‘rejuvenated’ (grafted) in France, followed by thousands of males all over the world. One of them was his own brother, looking a lot more vigorous (?) after his family jewels had been grafted.


Voronoff did consider making grafts from one (younger) man to another (older) man but acknowledged the moral and practical problems…

Voronoff would have liked to graft a lot more testicles but his supply ran dry. In 1922 the New York Times mentions that Voronoff had to go shopping in Rouen in order to purchase two chimpanzees, exhibited there in a street fair, for 9.000 francs.

But Voronoff’s transplants were questioned by the scientific community. Also the lack of results for his quest for longevity and vitality eventually led to ridicule. He inspired a lot of jokes and songs like the one above, illustrated by George Desains. On its cover a young female chimpanzee tells an old sad-looking male: “Va te faire greffer” which means ‘Go and get yourself a graft’.

Le Train des Maris

train des maris011
Le Train des Maris‘ by Georges Bolle & Ludivic Turquet, published by Union Musicale (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Charles Biqual.

With the development of railways in the second half of the 19th century, the upper and middle classes started to enjoy the summer  at the seaside. Women and children could stay for one or two months while the husbands joined them each weekend.

Every Saturday evening, after work, a train full of happy husbands departed direction coast and returned back on Monday morning. These express trains from Paris or Brussels to and fro the North Sea resorts were called trains des maris (husband trains). In Germany it was the Ehemännerzug which brought the husbands from Berlin to the Baltic Sea and back again.

train des maris2

On the naive Parisian trade card above two men buy their tickets, first class of course, for the train des maris.

According to the Figaro there also existed ‘trains des amants’ or lover trains – so very French! On Monday morning these trains brought the young men from the cities to the ‘lonely’ married wives at the resorts. They returned home on Saturday morning before the arrival of the husbands…

The Belgian artist Félicien Rops made an amusing etching of a train des maris: a wife and her lover are seen kissing, behind huge and symbolic horns while in the distance the horn-bearing train takes her husband on his way.

Digital Capture

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Charles Biqual depicts the horned cows in the foreground of the sheet music cover, do you?


Anyway, some women seemed very cheerful when the train des maris had left, as illustrated by Herouard for La Vie Parisienne.