The Great American Water-Cure Craze

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

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.

 

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.

 

 

“…these places [spa locations] became sacred to healthseekers; “taking the waters” embodied a basic and important but fleeting relationship with the natural environment. People searched for the healing powers of nature and found them in mineral springs. They sought companionship, leisure, and alleviation of bodily pain in an inspiring and comfortable environment.”

— Janet Valenza in Taking the Waters in Texas (2000)

Thesis Research

Health & Water in the Middle Ages

Papers

Health and Water in the Middle Ages: A Historiographical Survey

            As a requirement for life, water has enjoyed an interactive relationship with humanity through the ages, and this is no less true of the medieval era this survey will cover from about the ninth-century to the fifteenth AD. Because of its cleansing properties, symbolic associations, and the importance it is given in the Hippocratic and Galenic corpus, water has also often been associated with health — both as a healing agent itself and as a factor in the maintenance of the all-important equilibrium of the living body. It should come as a surprise, then, that the Anglophonic scholarship surrounding water and its role in medieval health can be best characterized as embryonic and fragmented, and certainly as lacking a developed methodological discourse or unity of approach.[1] Although calls have been made since the early twentieth-century for a more systematic analysis of medieval cleanliness, usage of and beliefs about water, and relationship with bathing and bathhouses, most scholars continue to focus on the early modern and modern periods.[2]