The “Seaside at Home”: A Rocking Victorian Bath

Hydropathy, or the water cure, was hugely popular in the 19th century. And as such, people of all kinds – well meaning and otherwise – developed a panoply of devices and contraptions to help people wash out disease with cold, pure water.

The best might have been this one: the Niagara Wave and Rocking Bath

Source: sundogrr

Source: sundogrr

The bath, manufactured by the “Jersey” Co. (not sure about those parenthesis in the name – were they trying to hide something?),gave users the agitating sensation of the sea, an experience meant to replicate a visit to a real water cure where patients took all manner of baths, water wraps, and showers.

Visiting a water cure was expensive. A week’s stay could cost $10, which was more than the average American earning a$1 a day in the mid-19th century could afford. But water cure practitioners wanted to make sure their cure was affordable and accessible to all so they published reams of books and articles offering advice on home treatments. Any able bodied person could do it, they claimed. And judging by the letters in the main hydropathy magazine, the Water-Cure Journal, many people did and found relief.

The makers of the rocking bath hoped their product would help make home treatment even easier. It “will delight and benefit, especially invalids, delicate people and children” read one article. The back could even be wedged into an upright position to serve as a regular tub if no rocking was desired.

It was truly, as the ad copy reads, “A TREAT never experienced before.”

 

Pioneering Women in American Medicine

“Every woman is born a doctor… [while] men have to study to become one,” declared American educatorElla Flagg Young in the mid-19th century. Looking around much of the country, it certainly must have seemed that way.

Long before marketers invented “Dr. Mom,” women had served as nurse, doctor, and pharmacist to their family and friends. Doctoring a family required a great deal of knowledge and skill, which often passed down, woman to woman, through families for generations. Even so, mainstream medicine generally barred women from pursuing medical careers until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Those women that did see doctors rarely received adequate treatment. Many doctors refused to physically examine women for fear of offending their modesty. Others dismissed women’s illnesses, contending that reproduction made women irrational and emotional. As a result, women often found themselves suffering from a dangerous or inappropriate remedy—or no treatment at all—without the benefit of a thorough analysis.

Despite these limitations—or maybe because of them—many women did break through the discrimination and gender assumptions to pursue a career in health, particularly women’s health. Alternative medicine, then known as irregular medicine, welcomed women as both patients and practitioners. The first generation of female doctors practiced homeopathy, water cure, phrenology, and osteopathy, among other therapies. Medicine was second only to teaching in attracting professional women in the 19th century.

Here a few of those pioneering women you should know:

 

 Mary Gove Nichols, The Library Company

In the 1830s, Mary Gove Nichols made a name for herself lecturing and teaching on the shocking topics of women’s health. She championed the benefits of cold water, fresh air, vegetarianism, and regular exercise. She urged women to take charge of their own health as much as possible and lauded women as natural caregivers with their inherent thoughtfulness and gentler dispositions. Nichols never attended medical school (the same could be said of most 19th century doctors, male or female, regular or irregular) but became a trusted healing expert through her popular lectures, publications, and medical practice.

 

Lydia Folger, National Library of Medicine

 

 

Lydia Folger became the first American woman to receive a medical degree in the United States (Elizabeth Blackwell was born in England). Graduating in 1850, Folger hit another first by becoming the nation’s first female professor of medicine at Central Medical College in New York. She practiced phrenology, the science of reading character on the skull, anatomy, and hygiene. Her medical practice in New York City specialized on the health of women and children.

 

Harriet Judd Sartain, Drexel University College of Medicine

  

Harriet Judd Sartain operated one of the most successful medical practices in 1850s Philadelphia. Sartain practiced homeopathy and used her powerful position in her community to fight for women’s right to practice medicine. She lobbied for coeducation and formed a medical club for women. Sartain became a national figure in 1871 when she became one of the first women to join the American Institute of Homeopathy, the field’s national professional association.

 

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Wikipedia

 

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Elizabeth Cady Stanton weren’t doctors but few championed the cause of women more vocally. In 1867, the 23-year-old Phelps decried the misery of the American woman burdened with housework or leisured idleness. She suggested a range of jobs for women to pursue but saved her highest praise for medicine as the most “noble” career. Phelps advocated for women in medicine repeatedly in essays, letters, and novels. Her enthusiasm for homeopathy was so great that she even named her dog after the field’s founder, Samuel Hahnemann.

 

 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Library of Congress

Stanton, too, saw freedom and purpose for women in medicine. After witnessing her brother-in-law’s recovery from heat disease under the care of a homeopath, Stanton purchased her own homeopathy kit and began doctoring her family and friends. “I have seen wonders in Homeopathy,” she reported to her cousin, and “I intend to commence life on Homeopathic principles.” She nursed her children through malaria, mumps, and whooping cough. She even treated herself during childbirth in 1852. Homeopathy felt like nothing less than liberation for Stanton. “Dear me, how much cruel bondage of mind and suffering of body poor women will escape,” wrote Stanton to her friend Lucretia Mott, “when she takes the liberty of being her own physician of both body and soul.” 

 

 

An Illustrated History of Alternative Medicine in Early America

Sickness was a major part of early American life. Many people suffered from poor health their whole lives.

But scientifically valid medical knowledge was limited. The world in 1820 was not a much more comfortable place to fall ill than it had been two hundred years earlier. No one knew about germs or the significance of human contact or insects in spreading disease.

Medical theory of the time held that sickness resulted from a body out of balance. It was an idea that went back hundreds of years to Roman physician Galen in the 2nd century. To restore balance, mainstream doctors bled, blistered, and sweated patients to large and often painful degrees. They administered large doses of drugs like calomel, a form of mercury, to purge patients. Doctors chose treatments that caused quick and drastic changes in a patient’s condition, which could be interpreted as progress. Though well-intentioned, these mainstream treatments also caused as much, if not more, pain than the sickness itself. As a result, doctors could rarely offer sick Americans a medical means of getting better.

But as industrialization, urbanization, and new technologies remade everything from where people worked to how they lived and got around in the 19th century, many Americans began to question why medical care didn’t seem to be improving, too. Anyone who could offer a remedy that seemed effective, didn’t hurt as much as bleeding, cost less than a trip to a doctor, and even allowed you to treat yourself was bound to be popular. (Even a cursory study of the past reveals that Americans have been staunchly independent and looking for deals for centuries.)

And so, phrenologists read character on the topography of people’s skulls, hydropaths attempted to wash out all disease with cold water, and mesmerists transmitted an invisible fluid known as animal magnetism. And millions of Americans became devotees.

But why would anyone believe these things could work?

Burns Archive

Burns Archive

Read the rest on The Beacon Broadside.

Empowering Women With Water

Announcing the 1850 birth of his daughter in the pages of the Water-Cure Journal, Thomas Nichols asserted that childbirth could be not only easy but nearly pain free for women. His declaration wasn’t the smug opinion of a man standing idly by while his wife labored for hours in the other room. His wife, in fact, fully agreed with him.

Mary Gove Nichols’s secret was hydropathy, a system of healing that relied on the power of cold, pure water to flush sickness from the body. Mary had suffered the agony of four successive stillbirths before submitting to its rigorous but healthful routine. Coming from anyone else, few Americans would likely believe their claim but Mary was one of the most influential and authoritative advocates of hydropathy in the nation.

Largely self-taught, Mary first made a name for herself in 1838 lecturing — a scandal in and of itself for a woman — on the shocking topics of women’s health and anatomy. Women’s health was a topic rarely, if ever, discussed at the time. Standards of female propriety meant that many women endured their sicknesses in silence to avoid being examined by a man.

Mary made it her mission to educate women….

Read the rest of Mary’s story at Biographile

19th Century Health Resolutions for the New Year

Resolutions to be healthy and fit are among the most common this time of year. Only two days in to the new year, we’re all still winning our resolutions (good news!). In honor of my soon to be released book Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine, here are some 19th century tips for living healthy and well:

1. Drink water, the colder the better. Nature’s purest drink was the health beverage of choice for hydropaths, who promoted the benefits of regular bathing, soaking, and imbibing at least eight (and often a lot more – one guy claimed 30 glasses before breakfast!) glasses of cold water a day to wash out disease.

2. Think positive. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby believed that the cause of all disease was wrong thoughts. Replacing bad thoughts with good thoughts led to happiness and health.

3. Go natural. Samuel Thomson was a self-taught American herbalist who believed that nature knew best. He devised his own system of healing known as Thomsonism that relied on remedies made from the plants growing out your backdoor.

4. Move. Outside, if possible. Between drinking water and bathing, hydropathic patients went on long walks in the woods. The fresh air, trees, and other plants made for particularly restorative forms of exercise. On rainy days, patients juggled, danced, or chopped wood – anything to move more.

5. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other spirituous substances. Homeopaths believed that certain foods and drinks inhibited healing. The movement’s founder, Samuel Hahnemann, even cautioned against drinking coffee, claiming it could lead to impotence, sterility, and mental and physical “degeneration.” But even Hahnemann couldn’t deny its pleasures, particularly in the morning: “In the first moments or quarters of an hour after waking, everyone who is not living completely in a rude state of nature, has a disagreeable feeling of not thoroughly awakened consciousness, of confusion, of laziness, and want of pliancy in the limbs,” Hahnemann wrote. Coffee “removes this disagreeable situation” and makes drinkers “completely alive” with each sip.

L0025612 R.T. Claridge, Hydropathy, or the cold water cure...

 

My new book is only days away from its release into the world (January 7th!). It’s about health and sickness and how Americans throughout the 19th century struggled and embraced a variety of ways to be well before we knew about things like germs. They even got a few things right.

 

 

 

A Wisconsin Chiropractic Tale

After spending several years researching alternative healing methods for my new book, I was surprised to only recently learn the story of chiropractor Clarence Gonstead. Even more so because I’ve driven by the modernist Gonstead clinic in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, countless times.

Born in South Dakota in 1898, Gonstead grew up on a dairy farm in Primrose, Wisconsin, with an interest in automotive and tractor repair. Stricken with rheumatoid arthritis at 19, the bedridden Gonstead had exhausted nearly all of his medical options when he sought the services of a Madison chiropractor. The treatment worked. Gonstead was soon up and walking. This life changing experience led Gonstead to devote his life to chiropractic – a not uncommon conversion story in the annals of alternative medicine.

Source: Wikichiro

Source: Wikichiro

To save money for school, Gonstead worked as an automotive engineer. In 1923, he graduated from the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa (the Palmers had founded chiropractic in the 1890s), and a few years later, set up his own practice in Mt. Horeb.

Gonstead didn’t stick with the Palmer’s original theory. Rather than a vertebral bone causing nerve pressure (and thus disease) as founder D.D. Palmer and his son B.J. believed, Gonstead suggested that the vertebral disc caused nerve pressure. He developed his own method of spinal assessment to locate the spinal impingement, known as a subluxation in chiropractic.

“The principles of the Gonstead Method are the simple principles of chiropractic put to work; how to understand what causes nerve pressure, how to find it on the patient, how to achieve a corrective setting of the offending vertebra, and how to know when the chiropractor’s job is done, and nature’s begins,” explained Gonstead.

Neither D.D. nor B.J. Palmer took kindly to the ideas of others, even other chiropractors, so Gonstead likely received a chilly response to his technique.

Patients, on the other hand, loved Gonstead’s methods and they came from all over the country seeking his care. His clinic, a midcentury modern structure designed by Wisconsin architect John Steinmann, was one of the largest in the world with seating for 106 patients, a lab and research facilities, and seminar rooms. He even built a hotel, the Karakhal Inn, in 1965 to accommodate patients from out of town and other chiropractors seeking to learn his method. Business was so good that a regular limousine service traveled between the Madison airport and the Mt. Horeb clinic. Patients with their own private planes could land at Gonstead’s personal airstrip on the outskirts of town. For many years, the clinic was the largest chiropractic clinic in the world.

Gonstead also had a rather notable home. Herb Fritz, Jr., an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the private home on 55 acres in the late 1940s or early 50s. Unfortunately, the home burned down in 1992.

Gonstead died in 1978 and a nonprofit foundation now runs his clinic. His method has spawned followers and practitioners around the world.

Christmas Comes Early: My Advance Copies Have Arrived

My husband lifted two boxes inside the front door when he came from work on Friday. “Something for you,” he said. My mom had warned that she’d sent presents and not to open them so I paid little attention to the boxes and left them sitting by the door. Until the next morning when I happened to glance at the return address, fully expecting to see my mom’s name but instead saw: Beacon.

My books!!

The official publication date isn’t until January 7 but here’s some visual proof that this thing is real. At this time last year, I was tearing my hair out finishing the draft, rewriting, deleting, questioning everything, undoing that previous deletion, writing, deleting, repeat. Repeat.

This year is much better.

Books

Snake oil

You’ve heard of snake oil, right? It’s one of those phrases I heard and read for years without giving much thought. Snake oil means fake, fraudulent, bad – I took it in without really taking it in. I mean, what is snake oil exactly? And why snakes? Why not pig or frog oil? Fish oil? Now that’s a good oil. But snakes? That’s just bad medicine.

Popular lore equates patent medicines with snake oil. Most patent medicines did not literally contain this reptilian liquid. But some did.

Stanley's snake oilSource: Wikipedia

Stanley’s snake oil
Source: Wikipedia

Clark Stanley, better known as “The Rattlesnake King,” likely inspired the association with his “Snake Oil Liniment,” which cured everything from rheumatism and sciatica to lumbago, frostbite, and sore throat. Stanley claimed to have learned of snake oil’s healing powers from his years as a cowboy out west with the Hopi Indians in the 1870s and 1880s. He shared his discovery with the public at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where he pulled live snakes out of a sack, slit them open, and plunged their bodies into boiling water. As the fat from the snakes rose to the top of the pot, Stanley skimmed it off, mixed it with his previously prepared oils, and sold his liniment freshly prepared to the crowd that gathered to watch the spectacle.

A few years later, in 1897, he published The Life and Adventures of the American Cowboy: True Life in the Far West by Clark Stanley, Better Known as the Rattlesnake King, which explained cowboy life, contained lyrics to cowboy songs, and of course, promoted the healing wonders of his snake oil liniment. Stanley’s liniment became so successful that a reporter who visited his office in Beverly, Massachusetts, found it filled with snakes, some more than seven feet long. He claimed to have killed 3,000 snakes in 1901 alone to meet demand for his product.

Stanley’s was not the only snake oil remedy on the market. Consumers could also find Tex Bailey’s Rattle Snake Oil, Tex Allen’s Rattlesnake Essential Oil Compound, and Monster Brand Snake Oil, among others, that capitalized on American fascination with cowboys, the Wild West, and Indians.

Snake oil itself had an even longer history in Chinese medicine where people had rubbed the fat of the Erabu sea snake, not rattlesnakes, on aching joints for centuries. Stanley may actually have learned about snake oil from Chinese laborers in the West rather than the Indians as he professed. [1]

Either way, Stanley (and others like him) made snake oil a popular fixture in both the pharmacy and our language.

 


[1] James Frank Dobie, Rattlesnakes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), 75-76; Dan Hurley, Natural Causes: Death, Lies and Politics in America’s Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry (New York: Broadway Books, 2006), 1-2; Gene Fowler, Mavericks: A Gallery of Texas Characters (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008), 97-100; Joe Schwarcz, “Why are snake-oil remedies so-called?” The Gazette [Montreal] (23 February 2008), http://tinyurl.com/d7tcfbc

 

History of the Apple in 10 Objects: Paris Green

Paris green was the first arsenical insecticide used on apples. Developed in the 1870s, it was developed to control the codling moth, a pest accidentally brought to North America by European settlers.

Before the late 19th century, pesticides and insecticides were not widely used in North America. Many of the pests that would eventually become troublesome had not yet made the trip to the New World. Public perceptions of how fruit should look also discouraged the use of pesticides – some pest damage was een as natural and unavoidable. Many people saw no problem with bumpy, pock-marked fruit. Still-life paintings from before the 19th century clearly show insect damage and disease. Insects simply came with the territory of fresh fruit consumption.

All this began to change in the 19th century as more growers began producing fruit for market and fresh eating rather than for cider and home consumption. Blemish-free fruit became the new standard.

By the 1940s, apple growers used up to seven applications of lead arsenate each season. And after World War II, DDT found a place in the orchard.

While concerns over pesticide use led to the development of integrated pest management for apples, pesticide use on apples remains higher than on most other crops as fruit growers strive to meet marketplace demands for inexpensive and perfect, shiny fruit.

 

 

Medicine on the Radio

On February 18, 1922, B.J. Palmer took to the airwaves of radio station WOC:

“WOC is coming to you from the Up-E-Nuf tower atop the Palmer School of Chiropractic, the Chiropractic Fountain Head, in Davenport, Iowa, where the west begins and in the state where the tall corn grows!  Broadcasting by authority of the Federal Radio Commission…”

Palmer at the WHO mic

Palmer was the son of chiropractic’s founder, D.D. Palmer. A lover of technology and a savvy businessman, Palmer quickly saw the potential of this new technology to communicate messages to a large audience. He hoped that by spreading the message of chiropractic that he could “broaden listener’s intellectual power” and ultimately, “uplift the American standard of intelligence.” Although the station call letters were arbitrarily assigned, Palmer seized on a marketing opportunity when he saw one and proclaimed that WOC stood for “Wonders of Chiropractic.” It became the nation’s first commercial radio station west of the Mississippi.

Broadcasting from the Palmer School of Chiropractic, the Wonders of Chiropractic” drew nearly one million listeners daily. Programming extended beyond spines and adjustments to include sports, news, farm reports, stock updates, music, and church services. In fact, one of its early sportscasters was a young Ronald Reagan who recreated sports events for fans in the Quad Cities. Games weren’t called live as they are today. Instead, sportscasters would dramatize the game based on information picked up from the tele-type. So the job required an interest in sports as well as decent storytelling skills.

But chiropractic education remained a big part of the schedule and Palmer would take to the airwaves each evening to explain the benefits of chiropractic care. “The Mission of WOC is to establish Good Will for Chiropractic,” Palmer explained. “WOC is educating millions to a favorable mental receptivity to Chiropractic.” He proudly proclaimed that the name chiropractic was said on air an average of 28 times daily.

Thousands of people came to visit the WOC studios, anxious to see radio in action. Visitors saw the recording studios but also the music room where the Palmer School of Chiropractic Orchestra performed.

Palmer later went on to purchase another station in Des Moines. Its call letters were WHO, or “With Hands Only,” the standard method of chiropractic adjustment.  Palmer also wrote a book for radio broadcasters called Radio Salesmenship in 1942 that became a standard in broadcasting schools. He later added television stations to his broadcasting venture, truly embracing all avenues to spread the gospel of chiropractic.

Both stations are still around today, though chiropractic education has slipped from the schedule. Palmer’s story is a fascinating piece of early radio history.