Friday, August 31, 2012

"A Bogus Affair": New York Medical University - Part I - 1868 Letter

This post begins a series of three posts on the "University Medicines" touted by the so-called "New York Medical University" headed by (the equally so-called) Dr. J. Walter Scott.

1868 letter from New York Medical University - James M. Schmidt Collection
This first post features an 1868 letter and cover in my collection as well as some introductory information on Scott and the "University"; the second post will feature an 1869 almanac in my collection; the third posts will feature items that other collectors have kindly shared, including a rare University Medicines revenue stamp essay and a rare labeled University Medicines cure bottle!

As the historian James Harvey Young declared in his excellent book Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America Before Federal Regulation (Princeton University Press, 1961):

By many ruses have quacks sought to convince the public of their medical respectability. "The common method of supporting barefaced imposture at the present day. . . ," wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1840's, "consists in trumping up 'Dispensaries,' 'Colleges of Health,' and other advertising charitable clap-traps, which use the poor as decoy-ducks for the rich." James Morison, in selling his Vegetable Universal Medicines in America, boasted of his British College of Health. Even if no son of Uncle Sam could equal the London grocer who swore in court that he had taken 18,000 of Morison's pills, still the American market was flourishing. American nostrum makers, imitating Morison, institutionalized themselves into medical dignity. In Philadelphia William Wright had a North American College of Health, and in Cleveland W. H. Libby had an Indian Medical Infirmary.

You can add Dr. Scott's "New York Medical University" to that list.  The excellent An Annotated Catalogue of the Edward C. Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine and Health Reform (Volume 3) indicates that Scott was listed in New York city directories from 1863 to 1875 at various addresses.

An article in the New York Times (April 22, 1869) gives some indication as to the verity of Dr. Scott and his practice:

"As previously stated in the Times, several complaints have been made at the Mayor's office against the proprietor of the "New York Medical University" in Union Square (Dr. J. Walter Scott), charging that the institution is a "bogus" affair, and that the staff of medical men, said to be employed by Dr. Scott, esists only in the doctor's imagination; also that his diploma as an M.D. is not a regular one, but that Scott's name has been inserted therein surreptitiously.  These affidavits are made by a person formerly in Dr. Scott's employment."

I'll have more period newspaper reports in the future installments.

The letter includes a great cover, letterhead, and details on consultation prices; it seems to be correspondence with a patient suffering from what would have been called "catarrh."

Cover - 1868 - James M. Schmidt Collection

1868 letter - page 2 - James M. Schmidt Collection
1868 New York Medical University Letterhead (reverse) - James M. Schmidt Collection

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