The Great American Water-Cure Craze

Harry B. Weiss, The Great American Water-Cure Craze: A History of Hydropathy in the United States, (Trenton: The Past Times Press, 1967).

Harry Weiss’s work provides an excellent starting point for anyone trying to grasp what hydrotherapy was, when it was prominent, and who practiced and promoted it. The book is full of facts, images, dates, publications, and names that prove very useful for expanding on Weiss’s work. It was a bit strange to read a work of history that did not put forth a clear argument, but frankly, I sometimes wish more books were written this way. I suppose once the conversation has been started, however, it’s difficult to continue to produce more meaningful scholarship in this format.

Weiss makes an interesting and useful distinction between “hydropathy” and “hydrotherapy.” The former he associates with the earlier movement, commonly thought to be initiated by Austrian Vincent Priessnitz and characterized by strict adherence to routines (often involving a lot of exercise and various kinds of baths at strange hours), abstinence from stimulating food/drink, the exclusion of therapeutic drug use, and a vehement opposition to mainstream medicine. The latter, which emerged in the last decades of the 19th century, was less radical; most proponents were not only hydrotherapists, and they did not espouse a therapeutic strategy that relied exclusively on water. There was also more of an effort put forth by its main practitioners to provide a scientific foundation for the water’s efficacy and less of a tendency to denounce allopathic medicine. Instead, many of these men (and most of them were men — it seems the closer a sect associated with mainstream medicine, the less women were allowed in their midst) published in standard medical journals and associated with regular physicians.

Simon Baruch, M.D., provides an excellent example of this new kind of scientific hydrotherapist. He studied in Vienna under W. W. Winternitz, which is telling; I have seen in a couple of other places (Valenza, Taking the Waters in Texas and Weisz, “Spas, Mineral Waters, and Hydrological Science in Twentieth-Century France”) the contention that the effort to “scientize” hydrotherapy was far more prevalent in Europe than in the United States. In 1898, Baruch published The Principles and Practice of Hydrotherapy, A Guide to the Application of Water in Disease in New York.

“[It]…was written for students and practitioners of medicine, and represented the observations of Baruch who had gathered material for a third of a century from his private and hospital practice, together with the observations of other investigators. It includes a discussion of the application of water in its various forms, both internally and externally, and its mechanical and thermic action in disease. He thought ‘the nerve fibers and endings furnished a clue to that remarkable sensitiveness of the epidermic layer which opened to hydrotherapy a free gateway to the central nervous system,’ and believed in the ‘existence of active contrastibility upon the part of the muscular walls of the arteries and arterioles, and in a less degree of the veins and lymphatics, and of the capillary epithelium.’

“…Baruch studied the effects of hydriatic applications upon the distribution of the blood, upon blood pressures, upon changes in corpuscular elements, upon respiration and muscular systems, both in man and animals. Many case histories of cures by hydrotherapy are described. He deplored the neglect of the application of water in disease in America, characterizing it as ‘vague and timid until recent times.'” (66)

He evidently succeeded in his goal of bringing medical acknowledgement to hydrotherapy, as he served as professor of hydrotherapy at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. (See if I can find the years of this, as Weiss does not give them?)

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg also conducted extensive research into water’s use as a therapeutic agent, publishing a book on the subject — Rational Hydrotherapy. A Manual of the Physiological and Therapeutic Effects of Hydriatic Procedure, and the Technique of Their Application in the Treatment of Disease — in 1901. Kellogg operated a laboratory beginning in 1883, where he “began to make hundreds of observations with the aid of the calorimeter plethysmograph (for measuring variations in size of an organ or limb), ergograph (for recording work done by muscles), and other devices.” He classified the effects of water extensively — “excitant and sedative,” which were then “subdivided into primary and secondary, and then into general and local effects. The general effects he labeled as restorative, tonic and caloric, and the local effects as sudorific, diuretic, cholagogic, peptogenic, emmenagogic, revulsive, derivative, resolutive, alterative, and caloric.” (66-67) Kellogg also did not believe that water should be used exclusively in medical treatment, and he held that each disease required experience and knowledge on the part of the practitioner before a therapeutic strategy (water-based or otherwise) should be attempted.  (I have read elsewhere that Dr. Kellogg had a bit of an odd reputation toward the end of his life. Could this have affected the reception of his hydriatic studies?)

As hinted at earlier, Weiss provides a very helpful summary of water-cure journals, some of which I was pleased to find were published on into the late 1890s. I need to check out the “Herald of Health,” which ran from 1863-1892, and the same journal under a different title, “Journal of Hygiene and Herald of Health,” which ran from 1893-1897. It’s unlikely I’ll find anything related to Arkansas in the journal, seeing as the state is completely excluded from Weiss’s book, but maybe I can get a feel for the periodical’s  relationship with mainstream medicine.

I do want to talk about how Arkansas was absent. I’m used to seeing only Hot Springs mentioned, but for the entire state to be absent is a bit strange. The entire last half of the book (the “Appendix”) is a state-by-state breakdown of what was going on with the water-cure. States covered include: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas Territory (really?), Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota Territory, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York City and vicinity, New York State, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Canada. This is an old book — published in 1967 — but Weiss read a lot of primary source material, and it worries me that he didn’t run across Arkansas once. Either my subject area is more isolated than I thought or I’ve found an oversight… I guess either way, it’s an interesting little lacuna I’ve stumbled across.



The patient’s narrative & hospital medicine

Mary Fissell, “The disappearance of the patient’s narrative and the invention of hospital medicine,” in British medicine in an age of reform, eds. Roger French and Andrew Wear (London: Routledge, 1991).

In this piece, author Mary Fissell traces the changing nature of the doctor-patient relationship in the 18th century through the narratives doctors and patients used to understand illnesses. As the century wore on, physicians’ notebooks contained fewer patient voices. Where once lay vocabulary, only slightly filtered through the doctor, had been the source for both parties’ understanding of an ailment, a new, professional language emerged and began to eclipse that of the patient. The hospital facilitated this development, changing the landscape in which the patient and doctor interacted from one where the patient retained interpretive authority to one where he or she came to be examined. In this new setting, his or her physical characteristics spoke to the authoritative doctor trained to interpret them. “The body, the disease,” Fissell argues, “became the focus of the medical gaze, not the patient’s version of illness.” (100)

The testimonial is a difficult source to include for the historian because of its proclivity for exaggeration and potential issues with its authenticity. Fissell uses testimonials to discuss patient narratives, and her strategy for mitigating these issues is, I think, both elucidative and adequately tempered. “The veracity of some of these puffs is open to question; but whether ‘genuine’ lived experience or not, these tales followed similar narrative conventions about illness.” (97) She traces the commonalities between the content of the testimonials, concluding that all used a hot/cold, wet/dry framework for understanding the cause and cure of ailments. This gave patients some command over the what would otherwise seem to be random and uncontrollable health problems they encountered.

Next time I read through a set of testimonials, I plan on looking for narrative patterns — similarities and differences between what patients and doctors understood to be the reason for the springs’ efficacy. Did this change over time, as the claims in other parts of the ads become more scientifically oriented?

Fissell also discusses the use of what I have seen termed as “heroic therapies” — “an anti-phlogistic regimen that featured bleeding, purging, blisters, and a bland diet” — in silencing the patient’s narrative. In these regimens, it was the body’s response to treatment that aided in diagnosis and the evaluation of therapeutic efficacy. A fast pulse and red complexion called for bleeding, while a “languid” one indicated that the patient was “contraindicated.” (105)

I have seen in many of the works I have read on hydrotherapy that a major reason it became so popular was due to the fact that people were becoming increasingly skeptical about and weary of allopathic therapeutics. Obviously patients were growing tired of draining (literally) and ineffective treatments; I think, after reading this, they were probably also exasperated by the lack of agency they had in their relationships with their doctors. If their bodies always spoke for them, what control did they have over their health? Add to that the evidence (and it was piling up) that these kinds of treatments were ineffectual, and you have a scientifically-informed populace that is looking for an understandable health system in which they have a voice. A big part of the hydrotherapeutic movement was its emphasis on the importance of the doctor-patient relationship, the sharing of experiences between patients, the social outings, dances, clubs… You went to resorts to heal, but it was a communicative, socially stimulating practice as well. Where an allopathic physician had little interest in communication with his patient, hydrotherapeutic regimens and resorts were constructed with the importance of communication in mind.

Taking the Waters in Texas

Janet Mace Valenza. Taking the Waters in Texas: Springs, Spas, and Fountains of Youth. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.

In her survey of Texas health spas centered around mineral springs, Valenza traces the rise, experience, and demise of the many resort-towns that played a role in the settling and development of the Lone Star State. She covers a large swath of time, from the beginning of the nineteenth century up until modern-day, and her narrative style is captivating. Valenza opens up chapters and brings home a few larger themes through her own experiences traveling around Texas and Europe during her research, where she got stuck in terrifying thunderstorms and chatted with a few experienced bathers before whimping out after just a few minutes in the hot, steamy waters.

Valenza comes from a background in geology, and Taking the Waters is a reworking of her dissertation. The difference in methodology was evident from the beginning, and I found it both annoying and refreshing. She went into a lot of depth in a few areas I previously hadn’t put much thought into, a very pleasant surprise. At one point, she discusses how the makeup of the rocks the waters travel through affects their mineral content and thus their taste, color, and effects on the body. Also discussed extensively is the relationship between humans, health, and the environment. What gives a place value to people? Why are particular values attached to certain kinds of places? How do these relationships change, and what sorts of factors facilitate these changes? Such questions lend themselves well to an analysis of why ill people may have trusted spring water and the resorts built around them to improve their health and why that trust may have dissipated.

I was frustrated at times with the cursory coverage of what I took to be pretty important elements in Valenza’s story, particularly when she was dealing with differences in American scientists’ interest in the sciences of balneology (“Because of the imprecise nature of balneotherapy, American scientists generally neglected it…” [10]) and hydrotherapy (“…American medicine disregarded water therapies, as the effects of from mineral water bathing were difficult to attribute to any one factor in a complicated mineral melange.” [146]). Though she gives due credit to physicians’ importance in encouraging their patients to seek health at springs, she does not connect their therapeutic recommendations to discussions in the scientific community. From what I have seen, it is not accurate to say that American scientists were not interested in the science — specifically the chemistry and climatology — behind mineral waters’ and their locations’ effects on the body. I think the role that science played in declining interest in hydrotherapy and balneology is a lot more complex than Valenza attests.

To Read from the Bibliography:


Bell, A. N. Climatology and Mineral Waters of the U. S. New York: William Wood, 1885.

Crook, J. K. The Mineral Waters of the United States and Their Therapeutic Uses. New York: Lea, 1899.

Kisch, E. Heinrich. Balneology and Crounotherapy. Vol. 9. Translated by A. Eshner. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston’s Son, 1902.

Pepper, W., and H. Bowditch. “Report of the Committee on Sanitaria and on Mineral Springs.” In American Medical Association, ed., Transactions 31 (1880): 537-565.

Walton, George E. The Mineral Springs of the United States and Canada. New York: D. Appleton, 1883, 1892.

Weber, F. Parkes, and Guy Hinsdale. Climatology: Health Resorts — Mineral Springs. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston, 1901.


Albanese, Catherine L. Nature Religion in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Fuller, Robert C. Alternative Medicine and American Religious Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Billy M. Jones. Health-Seekers in the Southwest, 1817-1900. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

Lawrence, Henry W. “Southern Spas: Source of the American Resort Tradition.” Landscape 27, no. 2 (1983): 1-12.

Levin, Alexandra. “Taking the Waters.” Early American Life (August 1988): 10-13, 79.

Valenza uses a lot of U. S. Geological surveys, something I haven’t looked into. Should probably see if geologists were talking about the waters, too, and whether their use for human health was a part of that conversation.




Foundation of post-colonial studies; methodology is post-structuralist.

Discussion Questions:

Let’s start where we left off last week — would you say that what Said has written is a cultural history?

What sorts of sources does he use to get at the culture of Orientalism, and how does he link the culture to the psychological, ideological, and tangible effects he’s arguing it resulted in?

Science (geographical surveys, linguistic treatises), politics (Napoleon’s correspondence), popular culture (literature [travel, novels], art [paintings],

There’s one aspect of this book that I find particularly important for historians of science to pay attention to, and it’s something Aparna asked us to look out for this week. Said raises a very pertinent question about how we should be writing history; in this case, he’s talking in particular about histories of “the Other.”

Have you seen the kind of discourse Said describes in the primary or secondary sources you consult when your actors or authors are writing about “the Other?”

How can one study other cultures and people from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective? (24)

“Academic mindfulness”


How would you answer this question in the context of the history of science, or even more importantly, within the context of your own research?

It seems incredibly important who is assigned the role of “actor” and who is viewed in terms of their “reactions.” Who is changing and who is changed.

Another issue, and one that we’ve discussed at length in other courses but something I think Said deals with well, is the pitfalls of specialized disciplinarity. As historians, in our training, we are expected to read all the “great works” our forebears have composed in order to understand the acceptable methodologies and limits of our field. In a way, this distances us from the reality of the history we’re trying to comment upon, like it did for many intellectuals within the Orientalist community. Instead of looking at the Orient as it was, letting it speak for itself, these actors read what other men in their discipline had written about the Orient and took this as truth. (67)

As historians, should we be trained with such an emphasis on secondary source material? We’re joining a conversation, but we also are responsible for representing people of the past. How can we do so with so very little of their voices being heard? Where is the line between being a part of an intellectual community and making sure the subject of study for which the community has been founded is the centerpiece of the conversation?

What is science’s role in the construction of cultural domination of the West over the East? In the formation of the “Orient”?

What is the relationship between knowledge and power in Said’s narrative?

Does knowledge have to be based in reality for it to be powerful?

Is essentialist knowledge, taking something specific and applying it in a general manner, especially prone to produce problems of difference and inequality?


Why not focus on more European-dominated colonial examples, like the British in India or the Russians in Asia?


This is anti-western

Made “Orientalism” into a bad word, condemning all those who would have proudly identified as such before the book was written.

“Said had constructed a binary-opposite representation, a fictional European stereotype that would counter-weigh the Oriental stereotype. Being European is the only common trait among such a temporally and stylistically disparate group of literary Orientalists.” Ibn Warraq, O.P. Kejariwal

Notes from Class:


Reproducing Empire, Laura Briggs

Early 20th century history of eugenics in Puerto Rico

Decolonizing Methodologies

The scholarship that we read is so heavily inundated with empire we don’t even see it.

You need to read Marx to understand this stuff (especially the violence aspects).

Oklahoma as a postcolonial space

Learning how to inhabit the space of the people we study

Any action in a colonized space is viewed as a reaction to the colonizers (by the colonized and the colonizers).

It’s not taking away colonial agency, it’s taking away their individuality.

Colonized cannot go back.

Culture must change to accommodate colonizers. It must change again to unify against colonizers. And it changes again after the colonizers are gone.

French Paracelsianism on Trial


This was my final project for Dr. Rienk Vermij’s 5523 class — Renaissance and Early Modern Science, Fall 2017. I found out in the final stretch of the semester that Hervé Baudry, a French academic, has made a similar argument to the one I attempt, although he uses Roch le Baillif’s more well-known book, Le Demosterion, to do so, and he does it far more thoroughly. It was a wonderful exercise and introduction to historical research in the early modern period, though, and I’ll definitely be careful to consult more recent scholarship and that written in other languages more thoroughly in the future.


French Paracelsianism on Trial: Roche Le Baillif’s Astrology and the Comet of 1577

Roch Le Baillif, Sieur de la Rivière (1540-1598) was an early promulgator of Paracelsianism in France whose trial and conviction between 1578 and 1580 has received far more attention than the man himself or his work. This is due to his longstanding designation within the scholarship of Paracelsianism as “le premier martyr du Paracelsisme en France,”[1] the first casualty in the epic battle between the University of Paris’s Galenist medical faculty and the rising tide of Paracelsian chemical medicine. Le Baillif is portrayed as a “fanatical”[2] Paracelsian physician intent on blaspheming his way to the very top of the ladder of aristocratic patronage. His defeat in the trial is attributed to his “vulgar” brand of Paracelsianism, inundated as it was with the less sophisticated, astrological aspects of Paracelsus’s beliefs. I will argue that this interpretation is colored by presentist tendencies to privilege the alchemical aspects of Paracelsus’s philosophy, which is understood as a precursor to modern bio- and physio-chemistry.[3] The emphasis Le Baillif places on the astrological components of Paracelsus’s worldview were, when placed in the context of the early phases of Paracelsus’s quickly accelerating absorption into mainstream natural philosophy and medicine, neither vulgar nor contemporaneously unpalatable. Roch Le Baillif’s work on the comet of 1577 proves that Paracelsus’s writings on and understandings of the relationship between the heavens and the earth were just as if not more important to early French proponents of Paracelsus as his alchemical ones — especially during a time of heightened concern about disconcerting and penetrating cosmological questions, exacerbated by an especially active cometary record.

Roch Le Baillif was born in Normandy, and he claimed to have been educated at the University of Caen.[4] He then moved to Brittany, where he began to serve the Huguenot Rohan family. After the death of Henri de Rohan in 1576, Le Baillif served his younger brother, Louis de Rohan. Sometime in 1577, however, some sort of controversy involving a violent squabble with some of the Rohans’ servants sent Le Baillif searching for a new patron and out of Brittany altogether.[5] It is unclear how Le Baillif gained the support of Philippe-Emmanuel, the Duke de Mercoeur, a powerful Catholic aristocrat who would later lead a rebellion against Henri IV as he attempted to take the throne, but it was probably with the help of such an influential patron that Le Baillif secured the title of médecin ordinaire to Henri III after his arrival in Paris.[6] It was not abnormal or a sign of his ineptitude that he would have acquired his appointment in this manner, though it certainly would not have ingratiated him with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris, as we shall see. There is a general consensus among historians of Paracelsianism that due to the often vehement opposition many university professors and officials had to the socially and intellectually subversive doctrines of Paracelsus, the patronage system was invaluable in supporting the study, development, and propagation of Paracelsianism.[7]

It was antagonism from the University of Paris that led to Le Baillif’s historical significance for many scholars of Paracelsianism. The Faculty of Medicine, increasingly annoyed or threatened by Le Baillif’s appointment and his practice and dissemination of Paracelsian medicine, was finally moved to forbid him the right of treating patients and teaching within the limits of the capital city. When he ignored their orders, they brought him to trial in front of the Parliament of Paris. In a lengthy and dramatic affair between the years of 1578 and 1580, related in slightly different ways by various historians attempting to bolster their arguments, Le Baillif (it is generally said) was convicted and banished from the city. He then returned to Brittany, where he lived out the rest of his days peacefully and productively, enjoying the patronage of the Rohans once again and publishing more “vulgar” Paracelsian tracts until his death in 1598.

These works, though not generally mentioned in the narratives presented below, deserve a mention. The only extant piece written before his tract on the comet of 1577, to be treated later, is a survey of his home region of Bretagne; Petit traité de l’antiquité et singularité de Bretagne Armorique (1577). After the Brief discours… sur le comette, Le Baillif published his most Paracelsian production, La Demosterion (Rennes: Pierre le Bret, 1578). While it will not be discussed at length, it purports to lay out Paracelsus’s medical philosophy in 300 aphorisms and includes a Latin to French dictionary to aid in interpretation. Following his move to Paris, Le Baillif published several less controversial (in other words, less Paracelsian) books. These included Traicté du remède à la peste (Paris: Abel l’Angelier, 1580), Premier traicté de l’homme et son essentielle anatomie (Paris: Abel l’Angelier, 1580), and his Sommaire défence (Paris: 1579), in which he defends himself against the onslaught of the Faculty of Medicine during his trial. Following his return to the provinces, he published Traicté de la cause de la briefve vie de plusieurs princes et grands (Rennes: Michel Logeroys, 1591) and Conformité de l’ancienne et moderne médecine, d’Hippocrate à Paracelse (Rennes: Michel Logeroys, 1592). His final work is a dialogue between Hippocrates and Paracelsus in which the latter enlightens the former.

This story, omitting the survey of Le Baillif’s work, appears in slight variations in the work of both Hugh Trevor-Roper and Allen G. Debus, who have written accounts of Paracelsianism that treat its sixteenth century manifestations. Debus has understood Paracelsianism in an almost singularly medical context, and the French Paracelsians of his works are those physicians and scholars who fought valiantly against the Galenists in control of the Faculty of Medicine for the integration of Paracelsian iatrochemistry into the medical cannon of the University of Paris. His first work on the topic encompassed more than just France, and its title betrays its conception of what being a Paracelsian meant. Published in 1977, The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries covers the acceleration of publications in France of Paracelsus-inspired texts, including Pierre Hassard’s La grande, vraye et parfaicte chirurgie (1567) and Jacques Gohory’s Compendium (1568), though Debus claims the latter “lacks satisfying depth,” citing as evidence the fact that the author places no special emphasis on Paracelsus’s chemistry, treating “talismans, seals, characters, and amulets” alongside more “modern” alchemical writings.[8]

Almost fifteen years later, in 1991, Debus’s The French Paracelsians: The Chemical Challenge to Medical and Scientific Tradition in Early Modern France continued the tradition of privileging the iatrochemical aspects of Le Baillif’s work, and his interactions with the Faculty are interpreted through this lens as well. Debus describes many of Le Baillif’s more notable publications, drawing particular attention to passages on the Chemical Creation, on the archei responsible for alchemical reactions within the body, and on the primacy of the three principles. Only once does he make reference to the micro- and macrocosm, a concept especially important in Paracelsian astrology. The trial is seen as “a victory for the medical establishment,” and Le Baillif is said to have returned to Brittany where “he continued to write… [but] no longer played a significant role in developing the debate”[9] — the debate being, of course, between Paracelsian proponents of chemical medicine and adherents to strict Galenism. Le Baillif, though one of the first relatively highly regarded French Paracelsians if we take the rank of his patrons into consideration, is relegated to the role of ill-received martyr.

Hugh Trevor-Roper also offers a history of Paracelsianism in France. He opens his discussion of Roch Le Baillif as the second instance of the Faculty fighting back against Paracelsianism, introducing him as “a notorious Paracelsian ‘empiric’… who wrote books of vulgar Paracelsianism.”[10] The trial is covered in a few sentences, the conclusion of which was Le Baillif being “hounded out of Paris,” his only positive contribution to the cause having been the attention his trial brought Paracelsus’s ideas. To his credit, Trevor-Roper does a thorough job placing Le Baillif’s struggles into the context of the complicated relationship between court-patronized heterodox physicians and university-sponsored orthodox ones. He highlights as well the increasingly marked association between Paracelsian medicine and Protestant faith, a doubly unorthodox combination that greatly troubled the Faculty and may have contributed to the ferocity with which Le Baillif was persecuted.

Trevor-Roper wrote another piece, “The Sieur de la Riviere, Paracelsian Physician of Henry IV,” where his primary goal was to prove wrong a long-standing assumption that Roch Le Baillif and D. Ian. Riverius were the same person. Though not addressed in detail in this essay due to the unanimous acceptance of Trevor-Roper’s thesis, some of the subsidiary arguments he employs to prove his point are troubling. Rivierus was a premier medecin to Henri IV and a Paracelsian, and Trevor-Roper feels that he needs to be “rescued” from his association with our Le Baillif, whom he dubs variously “a fanatical Paracelsist,”[11] “a man of limited horizons, both intellectual and local,”[12] and “a monoglot provincial crank,”[13] and whose work he characterizes as “primitive, fundamentalist, even vulgar.”[14] He finds it particularly offensive that Le Baillif would “pique himself, above all, on astrology.”[15] Trevor-Roper does cite convincing evidence that some of Le Baillif’s work was heavily criticized, but here he does not attempt to consider the religious and medical conflict that may have engendered such opposition, preferring to attribute it all to the quack physician’s intellectual inadequacy. This seems a stretch when his patrons were so highly regarded. Nonetheless, Le Baillif is duly juxtaposed with the enlightened, critically-thinking premier medecin Ian. Rivierus, and historians have not made the mistake of conflating the two figures since.

Roch Le Baillif does not come out of any of these narratives looking like anything more than a radical, dogmatic fool whose childish handling of Paracelsus’s sophisticated and overwhelmingly alchemical philosophy rendered him important only insofar as his trial in Paris. An analytical reading of one of his most heavily astrological works, however, will paint a very different picture, if we can refrain from condemning a sixteenth century figure for a well-developed interest and belief in the astrological significance of heavenly bodies.

Absent from any history of Le Baillif is what occured on the tenth of November, 1577. After his initial falling out with the Rohans, Le Baillif was in the process of solidifying his relationship with a new patron, the influential Prince Philipp-Emanuel, Duke de Mercoeur when a comet made its appearance in the evening sky. Immediately, the duke requested the opinion of his physician on the comet’s meaning, demanding a full interpretation posthaste.[16] The result was a small and cheaply printed book titled Brief discours sur la signification veridique du Comette apparu en Occident au signe du Sagittaire, le dixiéme de Nouembre 1577. Le Baillif identifies himself as the author on the title page, proudly displaying his philosophical leanings by including among his titles “Edelphe,” understood by Trevor-Roper to mean “Paracelsian seer.” Le Baillif wasted no time in compiling the twenty-six page work; according to the title page, the book was printed before the end of the year, 1577. It is dedicated to his new patron, the Duke de Mercoeur, a fervent Catholic who evidently did not have the same reservations about Paracelsian doctrine that would so alarm the Faculty of Medicine ten years later.

The contents of the work help solidify Le Baillif’s knowledge of Paracelsian concepts and give some hints as to in what circles he may have picked them up. He begins by giving an account of the Biblical flood and the formation of the three elements through the agency of the seven Nymphs, something he may have garnered from a reading of Jacques Gohory’s Compendium or perhaps from the work of Adam von Bodenstein, Gerhard Dorn, or Pierre Hassard, all three of which he praises in a book he writes a year later, Le Domesterion.[17] Le Baillif then discusses the multifaceted human spirit, which he connects to the stars through the “Enatrim,” what I take to be an alternative spelling of Paracelsus’s “Evastrum,” or astral body. In Paracelsus’s astrology, this Evastrum reflected “a view of [man] as a microcosm faithfully reproducing the greater world outside.”[18] Each planet had a corresponding organ in the human body, and an adept Paracelsian physician was expected to understand the way that this correspondence affected the physiological function of his patient.[19] These ideas, though elaborated upon by Paracelsus, were not new; medical astrology had been taught at universities since the Middle Ages, and the belief that the heavens could and did influence human health, according to historian Allan Chapman, passed “without question” in the sixteenth century.[20] It was neither strange nor a sign of his “vulgar” understanding of Paracelsus that Le Baillif would have included this in a tract attempting to understand a celestial event.

Next, Le Baillif places God into his cosmology. The higher spirit of man is invisible and created in the image of God, and as such, it is infinite, free, and immeasurable. This also reflects Paracelsus’s conception of the complicated nature of man’s spirit; though man and animal, through their astral spirits, are subject to the will of the stars, man also contains a divine spirit that differentiates him from animals and allows him to overcome and even alter the influence of the macrocosm, i.e., the stars.[21] We will come back to this concept later, but suffice it to say that the role assigned to God in Le Baillif’s world is very much in line with Paracelsus’s own understanding. Le Baillif then moves on to the problem at hand. If God, through the divinity of the human spirit, assumes an active role in the relationship between the heavens and Earth, what is his role in the appearance of comets?

He answers succinctly: “God, in order to represent His will before his image [humanity], makes certain signs appear, most often associated with the elements, and principally in his seat which is the firmament.”[22] Comets are sent by God to express His will. This concept had been upheld by not only Paracelsus, but also, during Le Baillif’s time, by a well-developed school of Lutheran natural philosophers centered around Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560).[23] Paracelsus published several pamphlets on comets between 1531 and 1534, although, as pamphlets tend to, many have been lost. Nonetheless, enough are extant for historian Didier Kahn to outline Paracelsus’s basic assertions about their cause and meaning. The main purpose of his pamphlets seems to have been to denounce prognosticators who would interpret the comets as anything other than divine portents, comprehensible only through devoted study of the Bible. Any predictions or prognostications based on the contemporaneous astrological tradition or having to do with the weather were, in Paracelsus’s mind, “Pharisian and Sadducean.”[24] Unlike the fixed stars, comets were understood as novel or transformed matter, and as such, they “belong[ed] to the omens of the present time.”[25] Thus, Paracelsus’s reasons for interpreting comets as divine portents were, somewhat ironically, naturalistic. This was not the case for Le Baillif, who employed a different style of argument more reminiscent of his Lutheran contemporaries, as we shall see.

The middle portion of Brief discours is the longest at eighteen pages and consists of paragraph-length examples of various irregular natural phenomena and the associated historical events Le Baillif argues they portended. He gives no fewer than forty instances, some from antiquity and some as late as the 1560s. Many are grand, celestial and terrestrial events — floods, earthquakes, especially violent storms, and eclipses — but some are merely odd occurrences — strange accumulations of and irregularly colored animals (rats and mice, birds, white crows), temple doors breaking inexplicably, water in fountains transforming into oil, and violent battles played out in the sky, to name but a few. The events with which he associates them are rarely positive. They mostly signify epic battles, the death of kings and prophets, dramatic and game-changing betrayals, and invasions, although occasionally God chooses to display his pleasure through the manifestation of some miracle. Some of Le Baillif’s evidence is Biblical; the first rainbow was produced by God as a sign of his everlasting promise never to flood the earth again. The three magi followed a great, bright star, placed in the firmament by the Lord, to the location of Jesus Christ’s birthplace.

Adam Mosely noted similar tactics in his study of cometary historiae. He argues that the genre began to develop more systematically during the 1530s and 1540s among Protestant natural philosophers, who frequently cited “recent or more distant examples” when arguing that comets portended cataclysmic events.[26] Rienk Vermij and C. Scott Dixon’s work on Lutheran understandings of comets provide needed context to this propensity for Protestant scholars to argue for inauspicious comets. The sixteenth century was, both authors argue, “an anxious age.”[27] Aristotelianism was crumbling, a new cosmology had yet to present itself as a viable alternative, and the Church was fractured. In this context, Lutherans attempted to construct order within chaos, and to do so they employed an active God that would enforce it. To this end, they saw comets as divine manifestations of God’s displeasure and demanded that the populace heed the warning, repent, and pray for mercy at the dawn of an impending apocalypse. A common tactic, as Mosely has proven, was to refer to historical comets and the happenings for which they served as warnings. Thus, Le Baillif’s use of past unusual or dramatic events signalling present or future happenings was not out of the ordinary, and it was being done by some of the most prestigious and influential intellectuals of his day.

At the conclusion of his book, Le Baillif gives what be believes to be the meaning of the comet of 1577, and as is the case with his Lutheran contemporaries, the news is not good. Many will die from plague and dysentery; there will be a division between Ecclesiastics; foreigners and plunderers will descend upon the land; popular unrest will mount against the magistrate; temples will be ruined; due to the influence of Venus, women’s diseases will run rampant; “and what is worse, infamous instances of adultery, incest, and sodomy will reign…”[28] Le Baillif’s prognostication is heavily based upon the positions of the planets and stars in relation to the comet; he situates the comet in the third quarter of the sky, its tail extending to the point at which Sagittarius and Mercury join. It is almost sextile in aspect to Jupiter, Mars, and Venus and across from the moon.[29] The precision with which he situates the comet and the meaning he subsequently derives from its position — for instance, the relative position of Venus signalling the onslaught of women’s diseases — speaks to the faith he placed in astrology. This was a faith that Paracelsus, many Protestant scholars, and the populace in general shared.[30], [31]

Concluding his grim forecast, Le Baillif does offer some comfort, reassuring his readers that the effects will not last long due to the comet’s sudden disappearance. He emphasizes over and over again throughout the work, especially following his bleak interpretation of the comet’s meaning, that prayer and repentance are of the utmost importance during this dark time. This is characteristic of Lutheran understandings of comets, as we have seen, and it is also reminiscent of Le Baillif’s intellectual predecessor Paracelsus; though the magus believed that humans were directed by heavenly correspondences, the divine aspect of their souls permitted them, with devotion to God and a strong will, to overcome these influences.[32]

In considering Le Baillif’s possible interactions with Lutheran scholars, especially during a time of religious strife both within and outside of France, his religious beliefs prove necessary to discuss. They have, however, proven elusive to those who have written on him, and for good reason. He served the flagrantly Protestant Huguenot family, the Rohans, at the beginning and end of his career, but his most colorful years saw him as a serviteur of the Duke of Mercoeur, the leader of a radical Catholic uprising. Hugh Trevor-Roper has concluded that he was a Huguenot based upon his early associations and lifelong friends; his printers in Rennes, Julien de Clos and Pierre le Bret, were Protestant, as was his longtime friend Noël du Fail.[33] He was called “a Luther” during his trial in Paris, but this could just as easily have referred to his heterodox medical leanings. That being said, the rhetorical strategies he employs in Brief discours to argue for the divine interpretation of comets, as we have seen, seems to have been very characteristic of Lutheran writings produced before and during his time. Add to this the ambiguity of his early years, which, if not spent at Caen (a provincial university where Protestant teachings may have seeped in),[34] may well have been spent outside of France learning from any number of professional or lay Protestant scholars. It seems likely that he was willing to suppress his religious inclinations in the interest of a lucrative relationship with a Catholic patron, which would provide him with the means to disseminate unorthodox medical and astrological beliefs behind a shield of respectability. Far from “a man of limited horizons,” Le Baillif would appear to be quite politically and intellectually proficient.

Thus, when placed into context, Roch Le Baillif’s astrological beliefs seem to be very much in line with those of the more respected men in fifteenth and sixteenth century astrology, theology, and medicine. His focus on Paracelsian astrology was not a sign of his vulgarity, but rather of the anxieties of the period and his religious and intellectual inheritance. To be sure, slightly later proponents of Paracelsianism would emphasize iatrochemistry and would eventually prove a great innovation in medicine, but that does not detract from what Le Baillif was doing, and it certainly should not define what it meant to be a sophisticated, critical adherent to Paracelsian ideals.

What, then, are we to make of his sound defeat by the Faculty of Medicine in his trial in the late 1570s? Didier Kahn has offered up a novel and drastically different interpretation of the events of the trial through a detailed reading of available sources (including trial and parliamentary records, pamphlets, and even epitaphs). He argues that the trial was not a victory for the Faculty and that Le Baillif was not banished from the city at all, but rather left on his own accord, along with most others who could afford to do so, when plague struck in 1580. Kahn describes how a temporary interdict forbidding Le Baillif to practice or lecture during the examination period of the trial has been misinterpreted for centuries as a formal judgement, in no small part due to the Faculty’s frenzied attempts to keep Paracelsian physicians at bay. This perceived threat, he argues, was indicative of the rising tide of Paracelsianism without and within the university itself.[35]

Not even the most integral part of Roch Le Baillif’s life for historians of French Paracelsianism — his banishment from Paris by the Faculty of Medicine after a laughable attempt at defending himself — holds up to a detailed reading of extant documents. In attempting to write a history of what has long been held to be Paracelsus’s most important contribution to medical science — his iatrochemistry — historians have narrowed the scope of what being a Paracelsian means, and in doing so, they have read and analyzed the work of his disciples injudiciously. In the case of Roch Le Baillif, they have missed a valuable opportunity to gaze into the unique atmosphere that was France in the mid-sixteenth century, to tease apart the complicated process of constructing a post-Aristotelian cosmology, to understand the intersections of religion, patronage, and universities, and to trace the motivations and influence of Huguenot scholarship in France. Although I have done none of these lofty tasks in full, this study hopefully encourages a less anachronistic approach to Paracelsian figures and a broadening of the view of what being a respectable Paracelsian worthy of study looks like.





Le Baillif, Roch. Brief discours sur la signification veridique du comette apparu en occident au signe du sagittaire, le 10. de nouembre 1577. Rennes: Julian du Clos, 1577.

Le Baillif, Roche. Le Demosterion. Rennes: Pierre le Bret, 1578.

Chapman, Allan. “Astrological Medicine.” In Health, medicine and mortality in the sixteenth century, 275-300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Debus, Allen G. The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1977.

Debus, Allen G. The French Paracelsians: the chemical challenge to medical and scientific tradition in early modern France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Dixon, C. Scott. “Popular Astrology and Lutheran Propaganda.” History 84, No. 275 (July 1999): 403-418.

Hartmann, Franz. The Life of Philippus Theophrastus Bombast of Hohenheim, Known by the Name of Paracelsus and the Substance of His Teachings. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co. Ltd., 1896.

Jevons, F. R. “Paracelsus’s Two-Way Astrology. II. Man’s Relation to the Stars.” The British Journal for the History of Science 2, no. 2 (1964): 148-155.

Jevons, F. R. “Paracelsus’s Two-Way Astrology. I. What Paracelsus Meant by ‘Stars.’” The British Journal for the History of Science 2, no. 2 (1964): 139-147.

Kahn, Didier. “Paracelsus’ Ideas on the Heavens, Stars and Comets.” In Unifying heaven and earth: essays in the history of early modern cosmology, edited by Miguel Á. Granada, Patrick J. Boner & Dario Tessicini, 59-116. Barcelona: Publicacions i Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona, 2016.

Kahn, Didier. “Un échec de la Faculte de Medecine de Paris: Enjeux et dénouement du procès de Roche Le Baillif.” In Paracelsus und seine internationale Rezeption in der frühen Neuzeit: Beiträge zur Geschichte des Paracelsismus, edited by Ilana Zinguer and Heinz Schott, 146-221. Leiden, Boston, Koln: Brill, 1998.

Moran, Bruce. The Alchemical World of the German Court: Occult Philosophy and Chemical Medicine in the Circle of Mortiz of Hessen (1572-1632). Studhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 1991.

Mosely, Adam. “Past portents predict: cometary historiae and catalogues in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” Galilaeana: Journal of Galilean Studies III (2013): 1-32.

Pagel, Walter. Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance. Basel: S. Karger, 1958.

“Paracelsianism.” In The Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, edited by Wouter J. Hanegraaff, 915-922. Leiden: Brill, 2006.

Philipot, Emmanuel. La vie et l’oeuvre littéraire de Noël du Fail, gentilhomme breton. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1914.

Shakelford, Jole. “Paracelsianism and Patronage in Early Modern Denmark.” In Patronage and Institutions: Science, Technology and Medicine at the European Court, 1500-1750, 85-109. Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1991.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh.“The Paracelsian Movement.” In Renaissance Essays, 149-199. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh. “The sieur de la Rivière.” In Renaissance Essays, 200-222. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Vermij, Rienk. “A Science of Signs. Aristotelian Meteorology in Reformation Germany.” Early Science and Medicine 15, no. 6 (2010): 648-674.

Charles Webster, Paracelsus: Medicine, Magic and Mission at the End of Time. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.



[1] Emmanuel Philipot, La vie et l’oeuvre littéraire de Noël du Fail, gentilhomme breton (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1914), 357.

[2] Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The sieur de la Rivière,” in Renaissance Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 205.

[3] There are notable exceptions to this tendency, particularly in scholarship that seeks to elucidate Paracelsus’s own philosophy, though none of these authors consider Roch le Baillif. See Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel: S. Karger, 1958) and Charles Webster, Paracelsus: Medicine, Magic and Mission at the End of Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).


[4] Trevor-Roper claims, in “The sieur de la Rivière,” 205, that when Madame de Rohan, mother of Le Baillif’s then-patron, asked the professors at the university for confirmation of this claim, they denied he had acquired his doctorate. He cites no source for this claim, and I have been unable to substantiate it.

[5] Trevor-Roper, “The sieur de la Rivière,” 206.

[6] The duke was brother-in-law to the king and thus probably held some sway with the appointment of royal physicians when he so chose. See Trevor-Roper, “The sieur de la Rivière,” 206.

[7] “Paracelsianism,” in The Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 919. Although scholarship has touched on the role court patronage played in the dissemination of Paracelsian ideas, no historians have focused on France specifically. In-depth studies have been conducted for Denmark and Hessen-Kassel, however; see Jole Shakelford, “Paracelsianism and Patronage in Early Modern Denmark,” in Patronage and Institutions: Science, Technology and Medicine at the European Court, 1500-1750 (Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1991): 85-109, and Bruce Moran, The Alchemical World of the German Court: Occult Philosophy and Chemical Medicine in the Circle of Mortiz of Hessen (1572-1632) (Studhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 1991).

[8] Allen G. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, (New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1977), 147.

[9] Allen G. Debus, The French Paracelsians: the chemical challenge to medical and scientific tradition in early modern France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 40. His full description of Roch Le Baillif’s trial and works can be found on pages 37-40.

[10] Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The Paracelsian Movement,” in Renaissance Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 168.

[11] Trevor-Roper, “The Paracelsian Movement,” 205.

[12] Ibid., 209.

[13] Ibid., 210.

[14] Trevor-Roper, “The sieur de la Rivière,” 205.

[15] Ibid., 205.

[16] “…je ne puis autrement commencer, que obéissant au commandement que j’ai reçu de vous (Monsieur) rédigé par escripte le discours qu’il vous pleut entendre de moi, sur le Comette apparut, ce que j’ai fait, non prémédité, vous suppliant d’humilité le recevoir: & ne le nombrer avec les choses de contentement, pour être mal limé, mais de ce que deffaut, vous en prendre au peu de temps que me donnaites de ce fair, & à la perte de mes livres, voire même à votre désir si prompt.” Le Baillif, Dedication of Brief discours.

[17] Gohory gives a detailed account of this Paracelsian creation story in his Compendium. See Debus, The Chemical Philosophy, 147. Debus also offers a summary of Le Domesterion in which he discusses Le Baillif’s stated influences. See The Chemical Philosophy, 156.

[18] F. R. Jevons, “Paracelsus’s Two-Way Astrology. I. What Paracelsus Meant by ‘Stars,’” The British Journal for the History of Science 2, no. 2 (1964), 140.

[19] Franz Hartmann, The Life of Philippus Theophrastus Bombast of Hohenheim, Known by the Name of Paracelsus and the Substance of His Teachings (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co. Ltd., 1896), 217.

[20] Allan Chapman, “Astrological Medicine,” in Health, medicine and mortality in the sixteenth century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 283.

[21] F. R. Jevons, “Paracelsus’s Two-Way Astrology. II. Man’s Relation to the Stars,” The British Journal for the History of Science 2, no. 2 (1964), 148-151.

[22] “[N]otre Dieu pour représenter sa volonté devant son image lui fait apparoir par signes certains, le plus souvent attachez aux Ellements, et principalement en son siège qui est le firmament.” Roch Le Baillif, Brief discours sur la signification veridique du comette apparu en occident au signe du sagittaire, le 10. de nouembre 1577 (Rennes: Julian du Clos, 1577).

[23] C. Scott Dixon, “Popular Astrology and Lutheran Propaganda,” History 84, no. 275 (July 1999): 403-418.

[24] Didier Kahn, “Paracelsus’ Ideas on the Heavens, Stars and Comets,” in Unifying heaven and earth: essays in the history of early modern cosmology, eds. Miguel Á. Granada, Patrick J. Boner & Dario Tessicini, (Barcelona: Publicacions i Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona, 2016), 103-104.

[25] Ibid., 105.

[26] Adam Mosely, “Past portents predict: cometary historiae and catalogues in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” Galilaeana: Journal of Galilean Studies III (2013), 3.

[27] C. Scott Dixon, “Popular Astrology and Lutheran Propaganda,” History 84, No. 275 (July 1999), 406. See also Rienk Vermij, “A Science of Signs. Aristotelian Meteorology in Reformation Germany,” Early Science and Medicine 15, no. 6 (2010), 651.

[28] “Et qui pis est, infâmes espèces d’adultère, incests, et Sodomies régner…” Le Baillif, Brief discours.

[29] “Icelui comette est apparu en la fin de la troisième quarte du ciel, face seconde et dernière du Sagittaire joignant Mercure rétrograde du bout de sa chevelure, et la Lune de l’autre coté, mêmes encore regardé des rayons du Soleil: et en presque sextil aspect à Jupiter, Mars, et Venus…” Le Baillif, Brief discours.

[30] Paracelsus’s beliefs concerning astrology are complex and have been a source of contention in scholarship. It is clear, however, that he believed heavenly bodies had influence over human health and behavior. See F. R. Jevons (as cited earlier) and Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel: S. Karger, 1958).

[31] C. Scott Dixon, “Popular Astrology and Lutheran Propaganda,” 406.

[32] F. R. Jevons, “Paracelsus’s Two-Way Astrology. II. Man’s Relation to the Stars,” 154.

[33] Trevor-Roper, “The sieur de la Rivière,” 205.

[34] Some petty provincial universities fell under Protestant control during this period. See Trevor-Roper, “The Paracelsian Movement,” 167.

[35] Didier Kahn,“Un échec de la Faculte de Medecine de Paris: Enjeux et dénouement du procès de Roche Le Baillif,” in Paracelsus und seine internationale Rezeption in der frühen Neuzeit: Beiträge zur Geschichte des Paracelsismus, eds. Ilana Zinguer and Heinz Schott (Leiden, Boston, Koln: Brill, 1998), 151-152.

Hydropathic Highway to Health

Jane B. Donegan, “Hydropathic Highway to Health”: Women and Water-Cure in Antebellum America. Contributions in Medical Studies, Number 17. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Checked out through OU’s Library. 

As often seems to be the case, Hyropathic Highway to Health offers a history of hydrotherapy intertwined with one of women’s health. Jane Donegan looks — primarily through a case study of New York practitioners and patients — at how the water-cure movement affected women’s health, their place in the medical profession, and to some extent their position in mid-19th century society as a whole. She does this through concentrating on medical education and theory, the changing ideas surrounding childbirth, and dress reform, comparing the way that hydrotherapists and allopaths handled these issues during a time of national sanitary and health movements.

What I found particularly interesting (and useful) for my research came in the beginning and the end. She describes the rise of sectarian medicine in the first chapter, situating hydrotherapy within the context of the backlash against heroic allopathic medicine of the early 19th century. She mentions the Parisian anatomo-pathological school and the inefficacy (and increased acknowledgement thereof) of age-old therapies as contributing factors toward the public’s distrust of allopathic medicine and turn toward less invasive therapeutical schools. (9-10) Her second chapter offers the best introduction to American hydrotherapy that I have yet to find — Joel and Marie Louise Shew and Russell Thatcher Trall all played important roles in bringing the water-cure to America from the epicenter of its 19th century revival in Austria. Donegan dates its introduction to America as being in the 1840s (3). I do wonder just how constrained to New York her work, and thus her conclusions, are.

Also of interest is the author’s breakdown of the education of prominent hydrotherapists and their communication networks. Many of the initial players (Shew and Trall, for instance) were trained traditionally and converted to hydrotherapeutics after acquiring their MDs. A few of the female practitioners also earned medical degrees from allopathic schools, although this proved challenging because these institutions often did not grant degrees to women. Many others were trained at a hydrotherapy school established in New York by the Nichols’s called the American Hydropathic Institute. It was later taken over by Trall and renamed the New York Hygeio-Therapeutic College. Women were allowed and often counted for almost half of those attending. No mention is made of other schools. Throughout the book, Donegan cites the Water-Cure Journal, whose circulation is claimed to have been ~50,000 (191). I should probably read that, especially as a preliminary investigation has led me to believe it was published on into the ’70s.

Donegan’s detailed descriptions of the various therapies — focused though they are on childbirth — proved extremely helpful in understanding to what my sources from Eureka are referring when terms like “wrap” and “spitz bath” come up.

In the final chapter, Donegen states:

“Essentially unscientific and empirically based, hydropathy, in common with most of the irregular nineteenth-century medical sects, was unable to compete with orthodox medicine once the latter turned away from traditional theorizing about disease causation and began to move toward the clinical, scientific approach which would later characterize modern medicine.” (195)

I take issue with this and instead believe that hydrotherapy remained popular, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent, well into the 20th century. It adopted some changes along the way — emphasizing its more leisurely aspects, and most importantly for my work attempting to incorporate more scientific medicine into its theoretical bases. Perhaps, too, the location in which my study takes place has something to do with the continued interest in the water-cure. I wonder if the southern (or trans-Mississippi) United States experienced the fad later than the Northeast.


*The Water-Cure Journal (1845-1862) — (I think I’ve seen issues of this journal from a later date…)

Harriet N. Austin. Baths, and How to Take Them. Boston: B. Leverett Emerson, 1870.

Anita Clair Fellman and Michael Fellman. Making Sense of the Self: Medical Advice Literature in Late Nineteenth Century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

John S. Haller Jr. American Medicine in Transition: 1840-1910. Urbana, Chicago, London: University of Illinois Press, 1981.

Guenter B. Risse, Ronald L. Numbers, and Judith Walzer Leavitt, eds. Medicine Without Doctors: Home Health Care in American History. New York: Science History Publications, 1977.

Judith Walzer Leavitt and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., Sickness and Health in America: Readings in the History of Medicine and Public Health. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

Alex Berman. “The Heroic Approach in 19th-Century Therapeutics,” pp. 77-86 in ^

*Harry B. Weiss and Howard R. Kemble. The Great American Water-Cure Craze: A History of Hydrotherapy in the United States. Trenton: Past Times Press, 1967.

*Marhsall Scott Legan. “Hydropathy in America: A Nineteenth Century Panacea.” Journal of the History of Medicine 45 (May-June 1971): 267-280.



Thesis Question Brainstorm

There are a few different directions I could go with my thesis at this point, and I think one of the best ways for me to work through them is to write them down and read them later. Here’s to hoping one of these sounds doable when I reread this in a couple of weeks.

I’m studying with some great professors here at OU, but most of them focus on the history of science, not medicine (and the two are very different fields — believe me). I was a little upset by this at first, but I think that ultimately I can use this as an advantage in writing this thesis and in my overall intellectual development as an historian.

I revisited some of the primary sources I’d been looking at, and this time I noticed how, especially as we reach the late 19th century, the arguments presented for why the waters healed were largely formulated with an appeal to science. Numbers — in the form of data like charts, percentages, and statistics of other kinds — began to appear, and the experts behind their development were emphasized (professors at universities in St. Louis, physicians who trained at prominent medical schools). Did the inclusion of more scientific arguments for the efficacy of the waters reflect a growing trust in medical science? If so, what engendered this trust? What role did scientific medicine play in the choices vernacular audiences made in regards to their health decisions, and was this in a state of accelerated change at the end of the 19th century?

I can also see some major boundary-work going on in my primary source base. It seems that what was considered “medicine” and what wasn’t was in a state of heightened ambivalence at the end of the 19th century and on into the 20th. The backlash initiated by the realization that age-old “heroic” therapeutics — based largely around violent purgatives and emetics — were not effective rendered medical authority questionable. Could the rise of hydrotherapy be indicative of the uncertainty that surrounded the therapeutics of the era? Is it evidence that…? Is it also a reaction against the lack of agency patients were beginning to see in the more cold, clinical doctor-patient relationship that was characteristic of the “new” medicine, based as it was on the numerical analysis of disease and cure?

I keep coming back to the role that statistics and numbers seem to have played in the changing location of trust in medicine. Without statistical evidence to the contrary, patients placed their full trust in their doctor and the immediate effects of his treatment. As statistical methods made their way into medicine, however, patients had to decide where to place their faith — with the family doctor, who often gave them more agency in their own medical decisions, or with a new and increasingly numerous class of physicians that, backed by the authority of science, advocated new methods, new characterizations of disease, and espoused new therapeutical strategies. Personal experience and agency vs. scientific expertise and delegation of medical responsibility.

I’m considering dropping the micro-historical approach and instead focusing on a few different spa towns. Is that a stupid idea for something as short as a masters thesis? Hm.

I tried to come up with a witty, history-sounding title for this post and failed, which is further evidence that I’m far, far too broad in my research interests here. Sigh.