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Brattleboro Historical Society Podcast e98 - Robert Wesselhoeft's Water Cure

In 1840 Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft moved to Boston from Germany. He was publicly humiliated by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and driven from town. Wesselhoeft moved his family to Brattleboro and opened a "Water Cure"...here's the story...


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Great job bringing this

Great job bringing this moment to life!

Further background as to the underlying methods and philosophy can be viewed here. This is a memorial tribute to Wesselhoft's brother William, who had profound influence on Robert.

A few choice excerpts from the commemorative essay. Expect the kind of depth and eloquence found in erudite 19th century minds.

This was the time when Goethe was so much interested in meteorology ; and William Wesselhoeft very much enjoyed making observations on the clouds for him, at the Observatory of Jena. He did this constantly for a year, and, by making sketches of the clouds in watercolors, turned to account that skill in drawing to which his illustrious friend had given hit the first impulse in his early childhood.


Thus, among others, William Wesselhoeft, who was at the moment pursuing his studies in Berlin, was thrown into the Hausvogteiwhich is a prison for political offenders ; and Robert Wesselhoeft, into the fortress of Magdeburg. William Wesselhoeft, however, found means to escape, after a two months' imprisonment, and was for, a long time after concealed in his father's house at Jena.

Robert Wesselhoeft was, as has been said, a distinguished lawyer in Weimar, and officer of the government, when he was arrested, with other members of the Burschenschaften, and imprisoned at Magdeburg.

It was not carcere duralike that of the Italians in Spielburg ; but, during the seven years of his imprisonment, he had considerable intercourse, especially with the physicians of Magdeburg, and devoted himself to the study of natural sciences and medicine, and became interested in hydropathy.


Dr. William Wesselhoeft approved of water cure as an agent of hygiene ; but he succeeded in convincing his brother that it did not take the place entirely of medication by homoeopathic remedies ; and Robert was initiated by his brother into the materia medica, during his year's residence in Allentown.


Seeking a sphere for his medical practice

It was the opening sentences of this article that really caught my eye. “In 1840 Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft moved to Boston from Germany. He was publicly humiliated by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and driven from town. Wesselhoeft moved his family to Brattleboro and opened a "Water Cure.”

It turns out Holmes was not fond of homeopathic cures. His 1842 book “Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions” he considered anecdotal evidence, the basis of homeopathy, to be largely quackery. While modern medical science can consider anecdotal evidence in some case studies, that’s because case reports in medicine follow rigorous and verifiable scientific research methods, which homeopathy does not.

Dr Wesselhoeft was run out of town by the sophisticates of Boston and moved to the small town of Brattleboro to set up his practice. A smaller sphere would more likely pass with fewer challenges to prove himself.


It's just water

It was bunk then, it's bunk now. Worth the watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0-NalmRSl8


April 24

1905: Some boys who were either bent on mischief or did not know better piled some rubbish up against the watercure building on the north side of Elliot street one day this week and set fire to it, but fortunately they were seen in time to prevent what might have been a bad affair.


Much of the "cure" involved soaking in cold water baths, (then recovering from them in beds with blankets.) Vermont's waters were deemed especially pure and helpful.

In general, anything that got people out of cities in the 1800's was probably good for the health - some fresh air, sun, clean water, good food. We should remember that it was about this time that people learned to wash their hands, too.

And 50 years earlier or so, Ben Franklin used to like to take a morning air bath - sitting naked and letting the wind blow over him.


fleshing out the tale

Good comment, it sets context, which seems more and more these days in danger of slipping away. That was the gist of my addition too. Think what you will of the notion of a micro approach, or like treating likes, it's worthwhile to know the zeitgeist of the times.

Goethe and the Transcendentalists, particularly Thoreau, had impact and influence on the individuals in the WaterCure story. Both the patrons and the founders. These people and their movements brought reform as well as illumination worldwide.

Good of you to put changes in light of advances for the time in mind.


Fleshed tail

Context is one of the big reasons I enjoy history on this site. The old news from a century ago or so does provide some much needed context. We've both come a long way, and not really changed much at all. It should also caution us to take the gospel of today with a bit of salt. The certain facts of today may be considered myth someday.

It was known scientific fact in the 1860's that hats would cut off oxygen to the brain. Taught in anatomy and physiology books. It's true... it's science!

We're not so bright today. I still see a Purell antibiotic dispenser at the supermarket, and people seem to still use it, despite the fact that they don't work and are causing the evolution of resistance in everything they are trying to protect us from. The more it is used, the more adaptation and resistance is built up, and the worse off we all are.

Washing hands with water would be better. (And so we return to a water cure. : ) )


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