Taking the Waters in Texas

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

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:

Primary:

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.

Secondary:

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.

 

 

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