Self-culture : health reform and society in Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States

Smith, Michael Joan (1992) Self-culture : health reform and society in Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

In the last half of the 19th century the quest for health was paramount for North Americans. This dissertation will examine the work of health reformers from 1860 to 1900. Attention will be paid to phrenologists, hydropaths, and physical culture specialists. These reformers believed that the healthy body was symmetrical, that good health was a natural condition for both men and women, and that the best prescriptions were based on nature’s laws. Reformers condemned the heroic treatments of medical practitioners, and claimed that their medicines were harmful. Along with their health regimens which stressed knowledge of oneself, proper diet, pure air and water, and exercise, health reformers were prominent in the various reform movements of the day, such as dress reform, communitarianism, women's rights, abolition of slavery, and spiritualism. -- Just as health reformers attacked allopathic medicine, so regular doctors denigrated health reform as unscientific. Yet physicians knew that their own therapeutic abilities were limited. As a result they co-opted the health reform regimens claiming them for their own, and at the same time they ignored the ideology that was central to the alternative ideology. The work of the reformers was based on their belief in a tripartite equilibrium of physical, mental, and social health. They felt that the condition of the human body was symbolic of the state of society. They felt that if just one person could gain physical health, then that would benefit social health. This belief in an equilibrium was representative of an emergent middle-class in Victorian North America. Unfortunately for health reformers, by the turn of the century their ideas had been either denigrated or co-opted by the allopathic opposition; their ideology had become meaningless in the face of early 20th century capitalism; and their contributions to health and society forgotten.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/1326
Item ID: 1326
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [482]-555
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 1992
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada; United States
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Health attitudes; Health reformers; Canada--Social conditions--19th century; United States--Social conditions--1865-1918

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