Water Cures and Science

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

George Weisz, “Water Cures and Science: The french Academy of Medicine and Mineral Waters in the Nineteenth Century,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 64, no. 3 (1990): 393-416.

In this piece, Weisz discusses institutional and individual attempts in nineteenth century France to place mineral waters and the therapies that involved them on a biomedical, statistical, and chemical foundation of therapeutic efficacy. He argues that the different way in which spa therapies are understood, utilized, and supported in Europe versus in North America is due to the medical and scientific fields’ support of hydrotherapy in the former, where it is largely absent in the latter.

“An adept in medicine”

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

M. D. Eddy, “‘An adept in medicine’: the Reverend Dr William Laing, nervous complaints and the commodification of spa water,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39 (2008): 1-13.

Dr. Laing (1742-1812) wrote two works on a town with mineral waters — Peterhead, Scotland — and used his knowledge of medical chemistry (along with testimonials) to explain the therapeutic powers of the waters. Eddy employs this as a case study through which to acquire a better understanding of the development and deployment of medico-scientific knowledge in explaining the therapeutic powers of spa water and its relationship to therapeutic commodification.

This study is outside of the timeline and geographic constraints of my work, but it provides a good historical perspective, and Eddy’s approach and the language he uses to describe some of the things I’m seeing in Eureka Springs are very helpful.

Transactions of 4th Meeting of AR State Medical Society (1879)

Notes, Primary Sources, Thesis Research

Transactions of the State Medical Society of Arkansas at its Fourth Annual Session (Little Rock: Blocher & Mitchell, 1879).

Much discussion about standardizing stuff for the purpose of professional cohesion (should by-laws of county medical societies all be the same?).

List of transactions from medical societies received by the librarian; NJ, VA, MA, KS, IO, MN, NC, CO, RI, PA, FL, WI, GA, CA, ME, NH, DC, MI (Board of Health), Rochester NY (health officer), WI (Board of Health), & GA (Board of Health). (19)

Expresses anxieties about the lack of government legislation concerning the health of AR’s population, specifically the absence of a legal designation between licensed doctor and quack/charlatan. Because states around have enacted these types of laws, many quacks flock to AR. (34)

“Our state… occupying, as it does, one of the most favored localities of any of the states, so far as climate and natural advantages…” is still behind most of her surrounding “sister-states.”
Many rivers make the state well-drained, and the NW portion is elevated, having “all the advantages that “…any upland and mountainous country can possess; the finest springs and small streams… They have here the health generally found in the most elevated and mountainous district of the earth.”(38)

“None of the scientific communications were included in the minutes, for the simple reason that there was not sufficient money in the hands of the Treasurer to pay for the publication.” (41) Dammit.


Dr. Lincithum, of the committee on State Board of Health

Seems very disillusioned with the lack of success the profession has had in getting any sort of medical legislation passed. Blames the infighting and lack of unity within the profession.

“State medicine in Arkansas as a result [of inter-professional conflict], is at a low ebb with the medical profession abroad; looked upon with distrust, as narrow minded, and losing sight of the public good, in our individual efforts at aggrandizement.” (45)


Report of the Committee on Vital Statistics

A mild winter never quite cleansed the air of the summer’s miasmas, which may have contributed to the outbreak.

Discussion of quarantine measures taken against Memphis and New Orleans in the 1878 Yellow Fever outbreak. No state Board of Health meant that individual city health boards had to coordinate — which they did.

Relatively detailed tables of deaths in Little Rock; divided up by cause of death, gender, race (colored and white), and age.

“It will also be manifest by an examination of the table that there was an increased mortality among the colored people in the Winter and Spring months. This is attributed to their careless exposure of person in all conditions of weather, and their idle, thriftless habits in not providing themselves prior to inclement winter months.” (55) “The number of still-born reported among the colored population is mainly due to the ignorance of their midwifes [sic].”


Clinical Study in Etiology of Pneumonia by J. S. Shibley, M.D. (Roseville, Logan County)

Good example of a changing emphasis on preventative over heroic medicine. Author takes all of the cases of pneumonia he and another practitioner have seen in the past six years and breaks them down by sex, age, race, occupation, shelter, clothing, food, month, previous health, and result (57-58).

Mentions climate a lot, asserting that pneumonia is a much bigger problem in the south.

Therapeutic nihilism: “I doubt not that much of the mortality of Pneumonia, as I have seen it, has been due to the influence which this false theory still exerts over the minds of physicians and patients, leading the former to adopt spoliative [to take away, ie., purgatives, bloodletting, etc.!] measures with a view of combatting the inflammatory process, and preventing the latter from taking food for fear of increasing it. May we not hope that the time is close at hand, when physicians will cast away their theories and conform their reasoning to facts, and thus place the treatment of the sick on a rational and scientific basis?” (61-62)

Asserts that it may arise in combination with malaria. How to prevent it? “…the removal or avoidance of its causes.” (62)


“A Few Suggestion on Preventative Medicine and the Germ Theory of the Causation of Disease,” by E. Bentley, M.D., United States Army

“The earth calls aloud for preventative medicine…”(69)

Makes reference to “the progressive men of our profession in Europe,” Pasteur, Lemar, Lister (antiseptic treatment), J. Burden Sanderson,

“In the light of present discoveries, no one can doubt that in the chemistry and microscopy of the air and water, will be found the development of marvelous agencies that sweep with appalling fury among all classes and races of men… This field is so wide and inviting, that I invoke the special attention of the faculty of the State everywhere, to spend each leisure moment in the investigation of that branch of preventative medicine that pertains to air and water.” (71)


List of Members of State Medical Society of Arkansas

Breakdown of training by state:
NE Coast –
Maryland (10); New York (11); Pennsylvania (27); Maine (2)

SE Coast –
South Carolina (5); Virginia (6); Florida (1)

South –
Louisiana (30); Georgia (5)

Upper Midwest –
Michigan (4); Ohio (9); Iowa (2); Indiana (1); Kentucky (49)

Lower Midwest –
Missouri (23); Tennessee (25)

Canada (1)
L. I. H. Medical College (2)

Total = 213 members/none practicing in Carroll County, Eureka Springs