HOW MUCH MORE COULD THEY BEAR?
"With little prudence, any man Can soon get rich in Mich-i-gan."
In the 1830s the words and catchy tune of this popular ballad infected many young people, and John Preston Kellogg, living on the banks of the Connecticut River across from Northampton, Massachusetts, was no exception. His ancestors had lived there since 1661, but he was tempted to move "out west" to Michigan. Kellogg's friend Lansing Dickinson, already in Michigan, wrote glowing reports. A public notice at the Northampton trading center caught Kellogg's eye. It described lush Michigan property for sale at $1.25 per acre.
In July 1834, Kellogg loaded his wife, Mary, their two sons, Merritt and Smith Moses, and their household possessions onto a carriage and headed for the Erie Canal at Albany, New York, where they boarded a horse-drawn barge. Opened in 1825, the canal connected New York communities with the Great Lakes. Stopping at a Michigan trading post--Detroit, population 5,000--Kellogg bought another horse-drawn carriage and headed for Dickinson's Settlement, near today's Flint, Michigan.
Kellogg declined to pay $2,000 for 80 acres of recommended land that was to become downtown Flint. Instead, he bought 320 acres two miles away from the hamlet for $400. At the time, only 14 white families lived within the entire region. Chippewa Indians insisted on camping on the property. Kellogg established his family in an abandoned one-room log cabin about a mile south of his friend Dickinson's home. Somehow the Kelloggs survived their first Michigan winter; and, when weather and health permitted, they cleared the forest to provide cropland and built a two-story 18-x-24-foot log cabin.
But the Kelloggs were usually in poor health. Mary had tuberculosis, then called consumption. The frontier doctor's prescription? Periodic bleeding and the inhalation of resin fumes sprinkled over a shovelful of live coals. When sick, the Kellogg children were purged, "vomited," bled, and blistered--the popular medical procedures of the day. Once, the frontier doctor prescribed a wasp sting to the back of Kellogg's neck "to draw out the blood" from an inflammation in Kellogg's eyes.
Because of Mary's consumption, Kellogg hired Ann Stanley, a nearby blacksmith's daughter, to help with the household duties. Mary liked Ann. She told Kellogg, "If I should die, ask Ann to continue caring for our home and family." Mary died after the birth of their fifth child. Now, bereaved, almost hopelessly in debt because of a bad investment, and frequently sick, Kellogg struggled to rear five children (one a newborn) and operate a good-sized farm. Overwhelmed, he tried to persuade Ann, who was then teaching school in nearby Threadville, to babysit. But, to her, teaching was more important than babysitting, and she said no. He pleaded with her many times. She steadfastly refused. In desperation, Kellogg asked Ann to marry him. This time she accepted.
Ann was a good wife and mother, and she also knew something about farming. She persuaded John to keep sheep--to provide wool for the children's clothing--and to grow clover instead of swamp grass. By selling the clover seed at five dollars a bushel they were able to pay off their debt, build a large addition to their home, and buy a two-seated, light-spring wagon.
In 1849 they moved westward for the third time, settling in Tyrone Township near Battle Creek, Michigan. That summer their two-year-old daughter, Emma contracted what Ann thought was a lung inflammation. But a frontier doctor from Hartland Center treated little Emma for worms instead. After a "purging" she died in convulsions. Ann insisted on an autopsy, which revealed inflamed lungs and no worms. Considering what American medicine had done to them, it was little wonder the Kelloggs grew bitter.
Seventeen years later Kellogg would help finance a worldwide health reform movement in response to his frustration. And eventually two of his sons would make Battle Creek and a new kind of healthcare center internationally famous.
A Confusing Picture
Early American medicine presented an often confusing and conflicting picture. In New England, for example, three leading physicians--Drs. Gallup, Tulley, and Miner--actively supported two completely different schools of thought. Dr. Gallup, believing that too much blood caused inflammation and fever, removed blood ounce after ounce; usually his patient's temperature would drop. Often it continued to drop. Many, including George Washington, were thus bled to death. After more than 32 ounces of Washington's blood had been drawn without the slightest improvement in his condition, he begged his physicians to leave him alone and let him die without further interruption. The physicians published details of the methods employed for his relief to give assurance that he had received the best of care and that his untimely death (from acute laryngitis) occurred in spite of all that human knowledge and skill could do.
Physicians of this school of thought believed that a man with a fever had too much vitality--too much life. So they bled him to take away the "excess" vitality, thus, in fact (as one 19th-century writer said), "killing him a little." Or completely. Such bleeding had been common for centuries. Indeed, in medieval England the craft of medicine was called "laece-craeft," or leech craft, after the blood-sucking worms the physicians carried about with them. Even in the mid-1800s pharmacies had pots of leeches on their shelves.1
Drs. Tulley and Miner, however, promoted treating the sick with strong drugs. They believed that as the body overcame the drugging, it would automatically overcome the causes of the original sickness. In 1858 Dr. Jacob Bigelow, recalling conditions within his lifetime, wrote: "Confinement by disease, which might have terminated in a few days, was protracted to weeks and months, because the importance of the case, as it was thought, required that the patient should be artificially Ôtaken down,' and then artificially Ôbuilt up'.... The question raised was not how much the patient had profited under this active treatment, but how much more of the same he could bear.... If diseases proved fatal...the misfortune was attributed to the circumstances of the remedies not being sufficiently active, or of the physician not being called in season."2 Physicians of the drugging school used calomel, opium, heroin, blue mass, lunar caustic, prussic acid, antimony--even mercury, arsenic, and strychnine. Rigor mortis was a frequent complication in the practice of medicine.
J. N. Loughborough, a Protestant minister, remembered that in 1840 as an eight-year-old child he had watched while his father, ill with typhoid fever, was denied fresh air or cool water and was faithfully, lovingly given poisonous drugs until he died. The French artist-cartoonist Honoré Daumier depicted a 19th-century physician wondering, "Why the devil does it happen that all my patients succumb? I bleed them well, drug them, purge them. I simply can't understand." One physician, ill with typhus fever, prescribed for himself the usual remedies: "a gentle vomit," then a "decoction of Tamarinds [a laxative fruit drink], and at bedtime, an opiate, joined with antimonial wine." And after having taken a "drachm of Peruvian bark...every hour for six hours successively" with an occasional glass of port wine, he was perplexed that by evening he felt no better.3
According to an essay published in 1857 by Worthington Hooker, M.D., until the latter part of the 16th century some medicines were compounded from 20, 50, or even 100 remedies, including frogs' eggs, powder of crabs' claws, the flesh of vipers, and dried toads.4 Dr. Hooker denounced homeopathy and quackery and the medicines of the late 16th century, but he said with all sincerity, "Mercury is a remedy of great value in the treatment of many chronic diseases...." He acknowledged that it had once been used with little discrimination and with disastrous results, and he condemned the use of mercury in cases where it was not necessary. He observed that it was now being "used with much less freedom." He said, however, "...there are some cases in which its introduction into the system [should be] effected as rapidly as possible and cases occasionally occur in which there is some reason to think that it is proper to use it in exceedingly large doses."5 He continued, "Opium...is the most important of all drugs that are employed in the treatment of disease."6
As to the future, Hooker philosophized, "Some have indulged the hope that specifics [remedies] of different kinds will be discovered for the cure of disease.... But, strictly speaking, there are no specific remedies.... There may be some yet to be discovered: but we have no reason to expect this from our past experience; [we have no] reason to anticipate very much in the discovery of new remedies of any kind."7 A popular "compendium of medical knowledge" published in the early 1800s claimed to take the place of formal training in a medical school. After mastering the book's contents the reader would be qualified to be a practicing physician. The author, himself a physician, having transmitted the sum of significant medical knowledge, found it necessary to throw in short courses in beekeeping and blacksmithing to pad the book to salable size.
The patent medicine era flourished under the axiom melius anceps remedium quam nullam--"a doubtful remedy is better than none." Most advertising contained testimonials by people who had since died of the disease the drug was supposed to have cured. Since there were no government controls on drugs, even in the early 1900s, Americans were at the mercy of an unscientific drug industry. "Until early in [the 20th] century, any drug, no matter how worthless or outrageously adulterated, could be placed on the market; any statement, no matter how fantastic, could be made about it; and any ingredient, no matter how habit-forming or lethal, could be put in it with no mention made on the label. In 1906, the first Pure Food and Drug Act required that narcotics (but not poisons) be listed on labels, but even then, little was done to prevent the sale of such products."8 The most successful ads often included the phrase "Secret Indian Remedy." Most tonics used alcohol or opium for their soothing effects.
Medicines tasted horrible, stung the throat, and gagged the patient. Many a patient was "cured" after one dose simply out of fear of being given a second. Occasionally, provided the patient had a strong constitution, he would survive a serious illness and the medication.
During this era the common man was the expert, and the spirit of Jacksonian democracy ruled Congress. So the American Medical Association (organized in 1847) was powerless to regulate medical practice and medical education. Freedom prevailed. Anyone with an assortment of drugs or an interest in healing could practice medicine. At one time a person could get an M.D. degree in only six months.
"Home Health Guides"
Many who did not have access to one of these six-month "physicians" purchased such home health guides as: The Indian Doctor's Dispensatory, (1813); The Family Medicine Chest Dispensatory, (1835); and The Family Medical Advisor, (1845).
In the Advisor, Dr. J. Boyd instructed parents of a child suffering from croup: "Let the little patient be bled very freely at the commencement of the case. Then give to the child of three years old or upwards a teaspoonful of antimonial wine [made by dissolving a scruple of emetic tartar in a pint of sherry wine to make him vomit] and repeat it, if necessary, in half an hour."9
The Family Medicine-Chest Dispensatory, costing about $100, included drugs and instructions on how to use them. For example: prussic acid, "administered with advantage in consumption for allaying the cough"; asafoetida, "a medicine very serviceable in those hysterical affections to which delicate females are liable"; calomel, recommended as a cathartic, "children requiring larger doses in proportion than adults"; lunar caustic, "employed internally in epilepsy and externally for lotions"; ipecacuanha, to produce perspiration in colds, no medicine "more useful in the family than this"; laudanum, "for procuring sleep"; and nux vomica, "administered to excite the nervous system, especially in palsy."
Tobacco was recommended for any lung problem, "the vapor to be produced by smoking a cigar.... The patient should frequently draw in the breath freely, so that the internal surface of the air vessels may be exposed to the action of the vapor.''10
Medicines of the 1800s included: Merchant's Gargling Oil, Hood's Sarsaparilla Cures, Kickapoo Indian Remedies, Dr. Fenner's Golden Relief, Morse Yellow Dock Root Syrup, Dr. Cooper's Scalp Food, Pozzoni's Complexion Powder, Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, Dr. Foote's Magnetic Ointment, Hamlin's Wizard Oil, Richardson's Liver Tonic, Dr. Ross's Kidney and Bladder Cure, Dr. White's Chill Tonic, Kirk's Nerve and Bone Liniment, Eckels' Blood Tonic, Dr. Walter's Catarrh Snuff and Digestive Elixir, White Star Secret Liquor Cure, Green's Electric Oil, La Dore's Bust Food, Dr. Chase's Eye Water and Good Samaritan Liniment, and Dr. Killmer's Swamp Root. The sick were advised to repeat any medicine about a week later to prevent a relapse.
Some products contained more alliteration than medication: Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets, Dr. Bowker's Birch Beer, and Dr. William's Pink Pills for Pale People. Professor Anderson's Dermadore, "good for man or beast," treated everything from diphtheria, broken breast, rheumatism, sore throat, piles, and bee stings to horse distemper, cracked heels, ring bone, pole evil, wind galls, mange, and bad breath.
Among the imported drugs were Greenough's Tincture for the Gums and Teeth, James's Fever Powder, Turlington's Balsam, Anodyne Necklaces, and Durham's Flower of Mustard. Some claimed to cure over 50 different ailments, each of which was listed on the wrapper.
In 1900, Sears mail order house offered a savings of one-half in the filling of prescriptions whether they were written by a physician or not. "If you will send your doctor's prescription or any other prescription to us, you can rest assured it will be given professional care.''11 The Sears catalogue also advertised Dr. Rose's Obesity Powders "for fat folks." The powders were said to "reduce corpulency in a safe and agreeable manner.''12
To sell their products, advertisers pandered to the psychological needs or the psychosomatic symptoms of the hypochondriac. An ad for Dr. Wilden's Quick Cure for Indigestion and Dyspepsia --The Great Stomach Remedy--urged, "Very likely you are suffering with Dyspepsia and Indigestion and do not know it."13 Dr. Hammond's Nerve and Brain Pills were guaranteed ("No matter what the cause...or how severe your trouble") to cure those who "feel generally miserable or suffer with a thousand and one indescribable bad feelings," among them a "sense of goneness," and "a constant feeling of dread, as if something awful was going to happen.''14
And Dr. Worden's Female Pills were guaranteed to cure "ALL FORMS OF FEMALE WEAKNESS," including "lack of ambition,...coldness of hands and feet,...dizziness, loss of memory, ...ringing in the ears,...hysteria," "rickets, hip joint disease, [and] hunchback,..." One box would "furnish great relief." Six boxes would "cure ordinary cases." Twelve boxes were "guaranteed to cure any case."15
Sometimes the magic panaceas were mechanical devices. The famous Heidelberg Alternating Current Belt was "to help in shucking the blues." And the Electric Ring for the treatment of rheumatism was accompanied by a warning against imitations.
Those who did not have access to one of these home health guides resorted to folk remedies to cure everything from Saint Vitus's dance (a nervous disorder) to "brain fag."
To treat an earache: blow smoke of tobacco strongly into the affected ear.
To treat a headache: "set a dish or platter of tynne [tin] upon the bare head filled with water. Put an ounce or an ounce and one-half of molten lead therein while he hath it upon his head."
To treat a skin itch: apply water and soap with a corncob; follow with a lotion composed of lard and sulphur or gunpowder.
For deafness or ringing in the ears: take the juice of sowthistle and heat it with a little oil of bitter almonds in the shell of a pomegranate. Use as eardrops.
To stop a nosebleed: patient must chew a newspaper. Or hold a dime on the roof of the mouth with the tongue for a few minutes. Or wrap the little finger with thread.
To cure baldness: rub the head morning and evening, first with onions "till it is red" and then with honey.
To treat a chill: patient must take six middling pills of cobwebs--one before the first chill, two before the next, and three "if need be" before the third.
To treat "raging madness": set the patient with his head under a great waterfall for as long as his strength will bear.
To cure rheumatism: patient should carry three potatoes in his pants pockets. Or put a copper penny into his shoe. Or wear a brass ring. Or sleep with his feet against a cat (rheumatism will go into the cat).
To prevent rheumatism: do not discard water in which patient washed his feet at night until morning. Or, by all means throw out water in which the feet were washed. Or patient should carry a coffin nail. Or wear rattlesnake rattles in his hatband. Or carry an Indian turnip in his pocket.
To treat worms: patient should take a tablespoonful of molasses mixed with a teaspoonful of tin rust.
For sore eyes: mix a teaspoonful of lead and a teaspoonful of white vitriol (zinc sulfate) with two ounces of gunpowder in a quart of soft water. Patient should use as eyewash three times a day for one week.
To treat whooping cough: patient should put nine worms in a bottle and hide it. Or drink stolen milk. Or suspend from his neck a spider tied inside a thimble, or a wood louse in a bag, or a lock of hair taken from the head of someone who never saw his father.
To cure the common cold: mix together 1 teaspoon each of sugar, mineral oil, sulphur, and ginger; the juice of 1 lemon; and 2 ounces of 100-proof whiskey. Top off with boiling water to make an 8-ounce drink. Patient should drink concoction, then go to bed immediately. Rubber sheet on bed is good. Patient will sweat profusely. More than likely, remedy will cure the cold. Double the sulphur, patient will quit smoking. Double the mineral oil, patient will be afraid to cough.
What Health Standards?
Today, scientific and governmental standards that regulate the practice of medicine and the promotion of public health are taken for granted. But in the 1800s the United States government, universities, and physicians did not agree on--much less enforce --any such standards. Few government or private programs in health education existed. Little was known of nutrition. At one period during this era, it was even illegal to sell fresh vegetables in New York, because some were considered poisonous. On one occasion in New England a Colonel Robert Johnson defied his physician and ate three tomatoes in public. Those who watched thought he was committing suicide.
One young man who followed the advice, "Go West, young man, go West," remarked in a letter to his family, who still lived in the East, "Indigestion is all the fashion of the Great West." Little wonder, considering the fiery irritants routinely introduced into the stomach, especially in the spring. In December of 1899, J. N. Loughborough, remembering his childhood, reported in Medical Missionary (a Battle Creek, Michigan, journal), "If in the spring of the year we felt languor (really the result of consuming so much fat and flesh meats during the winter), we resorted to sharp pickles, horse-radish, mustard, pepper, and the like [mistakenly supposing that these would]...Ôsharpen the appetite' and tone up the system."
In the mid-1800s, because night air generally was considered dangerous, the sick room was closed up tight and soon reeked of stale, germ-laden air.16 Sunshine was shunned. Its antiseptic properties were largely unrecognized. Ruffles on women's dresses covered the backs of the hands and hid the neck and legs. The dresses swept the streets. And women carried parasols to protect themselves from the slightest exposure to the sun's harmful rays (harmful in excess, essential in moderation).
Women of fashion wore the cruelly tight "wasp waist," a style created by pulling the corset strings into a 20-inch waist (or less). After having helped his wife into the corset, a husband could often encircle her waist with his hands. An autopsy of one woman revealed that her liver (the body's largest internal organ, normally plump), now dumbbell-shaped, had been nearly bisected by her corset. Some 19th-century dresses, including hoop skirts and undergarments, weighed as much as 90 pounds and thus hindered the circulation of the blood.
Men chewed tobacco, spitting constantly everywhere. Women's long dresses dragged the streets, through mud, across floors, absorbing and harboring multitudes of germs. Babies were in peril as they clung to their mothers' skirts or crawled the germ-laden floors, popping things into their mouths as babies do. In 2001 the infant mortality rate in the United States was only seven per 1,000 live births. But in 1875 nearly one in every six babies--almost 17 percent--died before reaching one year of age. Today the average American lives to a ripe 77.2 years of age. But in 1850 the average American died at 39.4 years of age.
The simple greeting How are you? was in that era considered a serious inquiry into the state of one's health. It was an era crying for reforms in health and medical practices.
In the turbulent 1830s-1850s health-reform movements mushroomed. One reformer, Dr. Larkin B. Coles, advocated healthful dress; a proper diet, which he and many other reformers17 felt should exclude animal flesh; regular hours for meals; and habits of thought that would promote mental and physical health. He opposed the use of tobacco and all narcotics.18 He wrote that obedience to natural law was as important as obedience to moral law.19 Others spoke against all drug medications, alcohol, tea, coffee; and they promoted proper habits of sleeping, dressing, exercise, self-control, and bathing.20 Still others advocated quite extreme reforms, such as the elimination of all salt from the diet.21
Although by the 1830s physicians in Paris and Vienna had shown the futility of bleeding and purging and were discontinuing the heavy use of drugs, and although some American and European medical schools were rising a notch or more above the practice of folk medicine and quackery, the practice of medicine was beginning to be considered respectable. Still, American physicians did not widely accept the European medical reforms for several decades. Neither did most physicians welcome the views of the "health reformers." Therefore, through the 1830s-1850s, a fair segment of the American public, weary and wary of the old "proven remedies" of the physicians, listened eagerly to the voices of the reformers.
One popular reform was the "water cure." Numerous health institutions called "water cures" sprang up. The most prominent of these was established in 1858 in Dansville, New York, by one of the health reformers, James C. Jackson, a progressive physician. Instead of using drugs, Dr. Jackson prescribed water treatments (fomentations, hot and cold showers, etc.), dress reform, and such natural remedies as a plain, wholesome diet, simple exercises, an abundance of fresh air and sunlight, and adequate sleep. In 1868 he wrote that he had never prescribed drugs, not even as much as if a drug were diluted to one part per seven million, dissolved in Lake Superior, and then water from the lake given to the patient.22
Emerging from this era, in 1863 a group of 3,500 Sabbath-keeping Adventist Christians officially organized a Protestant denomination. (Earlier, in 1860, they had unofficially adopted the name "Seventh-day Adventists.") In 1866 the three-year-old church opened the doors of its first healthcare institution, the Western Health Reform Institute, on the edge of Battle Creek, Michigan.
A Distinctive, Rational Approach
The founders of the church wanted an institute that, unlike any then existing, would combine all the best reforms--an institute that would use the best simple, natural remedies and the best professional surgical and medical procedures of the day, rather than the era's poisonous drugs; an institute in which the spiritual well-being of the patient would be the object of as much concern as the physical well-being. In fact, they saw spiritual, mental, and physical health as vitally interdependent, and they considered healthcare incomplete if the spiritual atmosphere of an institution did not contribute to the patient's health. (This lack had been evident to church leaders in their visits to other institutions.) They noted that Christ often combined His work of teaching and preaching with healing the sick. The institute was to be a place where His compassion for the suffering would be revealed, where His Spirit would bring peace and rest.
Besides rational treatment of disease, the institute also would emphasize prevention--teaching people how to avoid many illnesses by reforming--"re-forming"--harmful health practices and obeying the laws of health. The institute later was to become eminently successful, not only as a hospital but also in its emphasis on disease prevention.
Who was to decide what combination of the wide variety of reforms current in the 1830s-1850s was best, and what was, after all, useless, or even harmful? And how could they have known, in the last third of the 19th century, which reforms would stand the test of time and still be valid by the standards of modern medicine? For guidance in the choice of what has proved to be a sound philosophy of health, the founders followed the counsels of a young Battle Creek housewife, Ellen G. White. Though she had no medical training, it was she who had persuaded them to found the Western Health Reform Institute. They were persuaded because they believed she was a messenger of God.