[Editorial Note: Medical education for women was one of the central demands of the first national woman's rights convention held in1850, a demand they made despite their doubts about the value of orthodox training. Mrs. E. A. Stowell, whose criticisms of the Boston Female Medical Education Society for restricting its training to midwifery is reprinted here, seems to have been typical in this regard. Many were convinced that the overall health of American women was declining. Female practitioners, they argued, could scarcely do worse than male doctors and might possibly do better.
One way of grasping the disrepute into which so-called regular physicians, that is, those who had either graduated from a medical college or apprenticed to another "regular," had fallen by the 1840s is to examine the claims of alternative practitioners such as George Hoyt whose advertisement for the "Athol Water Cure" is reprinted here. What Hoyt and his colleagues shared, aside from a strong entrepreneurial drive, was a conviction that the "natural" state of the body was health and that the appropriate response to illness was to seek to restore the body's natural "balance," through diet or baths or exercise or dress reform (virtually all alternative practitioners denounced the corset) or electric shock or some combination.
For a more systematic exposition of the "water cure" see A GUIDE TO HEALTH, being an Exposition of the Principles of the THOMSONIAN SYSTEM OF PRACTICE, and their Mode of Application in the Cure of Every Form of Disease, By Benjamin Colby 3rd ed., (Milford, N.H. JOHN BURNS,1846). For an account of one of the most successful water cure spas, Dansville's "Castle on the Hill," pictured left, click here.]
Many practitioners incorporated other innovative therapies such as Halsted's combination of hydropathy and electric shock treatment. Thomas Hamilton used water in conjunction with an unspecified "analytic" treatment. This advertisement for his "Hydropathic and Analytic Asylum" detailed the array of illnesses and "conditions" supposedly "peculiar to females" and promised relief where all other treatments had failed.
How popular were these spas? Very, to judge from the number of advertisements. Another clue lies in the fact that the April 1850 issue of Godey's Ladies' Book carried a fashion plate showing the latest style for invalids. The text read: Figure 2d. Dress of an invalid, or rather convalescent. Robe of white spotted or embroidered cambric, with a deep flounce. Dressing-gown of white or any light-colored cashmere, with a rich embroidery surrounding it, lined with rose colored mantus silk, closely quilted. A cord confines it at the waist. The full cambric sleeves are displayed at the wrist. A pretty morning-cap of white-spotted India muslin is relieved by knots of green ribbon. Embroidered slippers, ornamented by a small rosette upon the instep, ease the feet. The illustration was entitled "I am sorry you are unable to go."
It would be an appropriate costume to wear at one of the many spas and health establishments that opened in the 1840s and 1850s. Here are some advertisements taken from a single issue of The North Star.
The Subscriber begs leave to call the attention of Invalids, especially those suffering from chronic disease, to his hydropathic establishment in Athol, Mass.
His house was opened for the reception of patients [this] past season, and it is believed offers excellent facilities for a philosophic and thorough course [of treatment] in hydropathy. The supply of water is abundant, and in purity has been pronounced "equal to water on a distilled [?]." The location is quite eligible [i.e., convenient], being but a short distance from the V. and M. railroad. The vicinity abounds in a variety of scenery, and has charming grounds for walks and rambles. So that with the water, suitable regimen [i.e., diet], mountain air, and exercise, patients can scarcely fail to obtain the healthful results for which they labor.
The following case illustrates this remark. Mrs. B, wife of Den. B., of Warwick, Mass., aged about thirty-five years, was brought to me last August. Her case presented the following phenomena. If placed in an erect position, and left unsupported, she forthwith fell backward to the ground. If being well supported, she made an effort to walk, either foot, when carried forward, despite her efforts to the contrary, would cross the other. She had been in this condition nearly a year. Her treatment commenced the 16th of Sept., and was continued to the 25th Oct. only, when she left, so far recovered as to be able to walk half a mile with ease. Since her return to her family, she has continued her baths, with corresponding improvement to her health. She now attends to her domestic duties, and with the assistance of a small girl, does the work of her family.
. . . Terms, from five to ten dollars per
week, according to the necessities or choice of the patients.
Those who are less particular in the selection of rooms, or are
will to occupy them in common with others, will be charged less.
Athol, March, 1848 GEORGE HOYT.
This institution has been in successful operation, during fourteen years, for the cure of all Chronic Diseases, and such as cannot be removed by medicine alone.
MORE THAN THREE THOUSAND Patients have been restored to health and usefulness by the treatment pursued at this Institution, who could not find relief by any other course of medicine. Hundreds who had been confined to their beds for years, and who were almost in despair, have had renewed hope and courage when they have learned that others, laboring under as many discouragements as themselves, have been cured by this treatment after everything else had failed.
Those who are laboring under CHRONIC, NERVOUS, or SPINAL difficulties, CURVATURES, and such, which produce symptoms of almost all other diseases, with their accompaniments--as DYSPEPSIA, RHEUMATISM, NEURALGIA, COSTIVENESS [constipation], LOSS OF THE USE OF THE LIMBS, NUMBNESS, LOW SPIRITS, PARTIAL INSANITY, and a host of other diseases arising from the same cause--SPINAL WEAKNESS, which they nor their physicians understand, and which medicine alone will not cure--to such sufferers we would say, we are curing hundreds just like you every year. Physicians bring their wives and children to have them cured--why not come yourselves, and save life, time and money?
We are using water all the various ways
in which it is applied in water cure establishments; yet we do
not rely solely upon it, or upon medicines as they are generally
understood and applied; but a COMBINED TREATMENT WITH ELECTRICITY,
and a new mode of application which truly is magical in its efficacy,
and is always sure to cure, in one half the time it takes under
any other treatment, allowing that treatment to be successful,
which is not the case one time in ten.
Dr. Hamilton's Hydropathic and Analytic Asylum, NO. 217 Exchange Street, opposite the Orphan Asylum, Rochester, N.Y. This Institution is now firmly established and in successful operation. The proprietor analyzes every disease that is admitted there, and applies the natural and appropriate remedy. Although water is used in every way that it applied in any water cure establishment in the United States, yet the proprietor wishes it to be expressly understood that it is not relied on as the only or principal remedy in the treatment of disease submitted to his care.
This Establishment is designed for that class of invalids who have failed to obtain their health by all other systems of practice, and are still unable to walk or stand on their feet, and are confined to their beds, wearing out a life of misery and suffering without any hope of ever being any better.
The remedies made use of in this Institution
not only entirely remove disease but give increased strength and
elasticity to the system. Many have been brought here from different
parts of the country, who had neither walked or borne their weight
on their feet from five to fifteen years; and some who have been
unable to dress or undress, or even to feed themselves, and in
the course of a few weeks would be walking with the elasticity
of youth and the quickness of a pedestrian, astonished at themselves,
and surprising their friends and all who saw them when they first
came. The treatment of this Institution is particularly calculated
to remove the diseases peculiar to females, such as
1st. The falling of the Womb, in all its stages and conditions in patients, from twelve years of age up to sixty, and even if they have been confined to their beds from one to twenty, unable to stand, walk, dress, or undress themselves, or even too feeble to bear any noise or speak aloud.
2d. Weakness and Falling of the Bowels; Pain in the Side, Shoulders, Back and Head; Spinal Diseases, Liver Complaints, Sinking Sensation at the Stomach, Palpitation of the Heart, Dyspepsia [in] all its forms and stages, Piles, Costiveness [Constipation], Diarrhoea, Suppression of the Menses, Excessive Menstruation, Whites [vaginal discharge also known as leukorrhea], all Nervous Diseases, Cold Feet and Hands, St. Anthony's Dance [St. Vitus's Dance? also known as chorea, a nervous disorder causing involuntary muscle spasms], Tetters [skin diseases] of all kinds, Salt Rheum [eczema], in its worst forms, Neuralgia, Tic Douloureux [trigeminal neuralgia, a highly painful inflammation of the facial area near the trigeminal nerve], Rheumatism, Consumption in its first stages, General Weakness, and Debility.
The proprietor has give his whole attention to the above diseases for the last ten years, and has treated them in an entirely different way from any other private practice or public Institution in this country; and such has been his success, and so certain are his remedies in their effects on those diseases, that instead of publishing a long list of certified cures, he wishes to give that class of invalids seeking to obtain their health a sufficient guarantee against any false pretensions, exaggeration, imposition or deception, so that no one need be to any expense in this Institution without being benefitted.
The proprietor will enter into a special contract with any one who wishes to do so, that he will admit into the Institution, to advance the money and pay all the expenses from any part of the United States here and back home again, before he commences the treatment, and give a bond to board them, together with his professional services for nothing, if he does not help them according to contract. Any one thinking the above proposition not a sufficient guarantee against misrepresentations and expense without receiving equal benefit, can let the proprietor know what will be satisfactory, and it shall be duly considered.
This Institution has grown up from private practice by the influence of those who have been helped here, as nothing has ever been published before; and the proprietor means that it shall sustain itself by its own merits, or pay the expense of those who choose to make a contract in case of failure. The design of this Circular is not to make known the cures that have been made in this institution, because they must soon be believed; but to let it be more extensively known to the poor suffering invalids that have spent hundreds of dollars in trying all other systems of practice, and without much or any benefit, and still remain confined to their beds from five to twenty years, that there is an Institution whose treatment is different from any other one [in] the whole United States, and is particularly adapted to their situation, and can have it cost them nothing unless they are materially benefitted.
From the nature of treatment in this Institution, the number of patients must be limited, therefore the proprietor does not solicit the patronage of slight and ordinary cases which may be easily helped by other systems of practice; nor does he want any one to come, unless they wish to get well, and are willing to be made well enough to walk from five to twenty miles at a time and follow it up day after day in succession; and also willing to be made able to endure as much labor and fatigue as most people that call themselves well, as he means that every one that goes through a thorough course of treatment in the Analytic Institute shall show by their increased strength, elasticity of motion, firmness of texture, capability of endurance, and improved health, that the treatment in this Institution is founded on the natural laws of organized matter, and consequently its superiority over every other different system of practice.
All communications addressed to Dr. THOMAS HAMILTON, Rochester, post paid, will receive immediate attention. If requested, reference will be made to those who have been helped in this Institution; and also good references as to the responsibility of the proprietor to meet the above expenses, if required.