Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"New Age" Healing in 1927: Letter from a Clairvoyant and Magnetic Physician

In today's blog post I share a 1927 letter in my collection from Dr. F. E. Burgess, "Clairvoyant and Magnetic Physician."

First the letter (scans of the letter and cover can be found at the end of this post)...then some biographical details on Dr. Burgess...and then some brief history on "magnetic healing."

Dr. F. E. Burgess
Clairvoyant and Magnetic Physician
379 Main St.
Dexter, ME.

Dexter, Maine

March 4, 1927

Mrs. Minnie A. Packard
Wilton, Me.

Dear Lady -

Your letter of yesterday received and noted and I will send a bottle of the medicine for you by P.P, this P.M. and charge $1.00 for it.

You know what sufferin is after having had a rheumatic fever all right and I am glad to hear that you are coming out of it all right and I am glad to hear that your mother and husband are very well.

My wife is just as bad off I think as any one can be mentally not being able to realize that she is at home an hasn't for a year and a half and is bewildered all of the time but talks nearly all of the time while she is awake.  She walks around the house some but has to be taken care of as much as a child does.

Generally speaking I am very well.

It surely will be fine when the birds arrive and we can get out and around among them.

Very Truly,

Dr. F. E. Burgess

Well, this is a tragic letter, especially as far as his wife's health - especially mental health, it seems - is concerned.

I did find some biographical material on Dr. Burgess, from a 1938 obituary in the Eastern Gazette (27 October 1938)...it seems that, at least in Maine, the professionalization of medicine and medical education was not quite complete and that an aspiring physician could still obtain credentials by studying under the tutelage of another doctor:

Dr.  Frank E. Burgess 

The funeral of Dr. Frank E. Burgess widely known. clairvoyant physician, who died at his home on Pleasant street Sunday  morning after a three weeks' illness, was held at the home Tuesday afternoon at 2 o'clock conducted by Mary Drake Jenne of Camp Etna.  Honorary bearers were Harry E. Hale, Nathan Daggett, A. L. Davis and W. E. Brewster, Carroll Hugh and Lauris Burgess, John and Dwight Demeritt, Frank and Harold Bailey, all nephews of the deceased served as active bearers. Floral tributes were in profusion.  Burial was in the family lot at Mount Pleasant cemetery.

Dr. Burgess had been a practicing physician in Dexter for forty-six years.  Born in Dover, Maine, January 15, 1857, son of John O. and Betsy Merrill Burgess, he attended the public schools of Dover, becoming a teacher in the schools in this vicinity. He later studied the machinist trade and followed that occupation in Dexter and Hyde Park, Mass. until 1892 when he returned to Dexter and entered the office of Dr. H. E. Field. Four years later he opened an office of his own and has continued the practice ever since. For several years he carried on an office both in Dexter and Guilford

In 1889 he married Mary Haseltine Young of this town who died in January 1930.  He was a trustee of the Camp Etna Spiritualist association and a member of the Piscataquis Spiritualist association.

Surviving are two sisters, Mrs. Mary L. Demeritt of Orono and Mrs. Minnie Bailey of Sangerville; a brother, Walter H. Burgess of Dover-Foxcroft; a step-grandson, Reynold F. Thompson, and two step-great grandsons, Robert and Dean Thompson of Dexter, also several nieces and nephews.

The kind of medical care that Dr. Burgess administered as a "clairvoyant" and "magnetic physician" can be traced at least as far back as Franz Mesmer who theorized the principle of "animal magnetism" or "Mesmerism" - a "life energy" or "fluid" or "ethereal medium" that he believed resided in the bodies of animate beings.  The theory became the basis of a medical treatment that became very popular in the 1800s through the time of the letter above. The movement was closely tied to the Spiritualist movement (a great historical interest of mine) and it is no coincidence that Burgess' obituary above notes that he was active in local Spiritualist circles.   Some of the therapies used included gazes, movement of the hands near the body, mental elements such as will and intention of the healer and/or patient, and sometimes "laying on of hands."  The practices remain popular today in the "New Age" movement which traces its roots to Mesmer, Swedenborg, Spiritualism, and other people and movements.

There were several influential texts on magnetic healing in the mid- to late 1800s; probably the most popular of these was Vital Magnetic Cure, which appears to go through several editions from the 1850s through 1890; credited to an anonymous "Magnetic Physician," it was in fact authored by Aaron S. Hayward, who penned several other Spiritualist pamphlets:

Cover for 1927 Burgess letter - Schmidt Collection

1927 Clairvoyant Letter - Schmidt Collection

1927 Clairvoyant Letter - Schmidt Collection


Mark said...

Makes you wonder how these letters were received by the public at large during the time. But it always adds a certain flavor to the time period:)

Jim Schmidt said...

Mark - Thanks for stopping by! It's hard to gauge public reaction to a private letter like this, but healing clairvoyants and "magnetic physicians" advertised in newspapers and journals.

For me the really interesting connections are with the Spiritualist movement and also the fact that so many "doctors" were grandfathered-in to old licensing requirements and were able to practice medicine with such little formal training.

vintageteacher said...

Wow! This was amazing to 'stumble' onto. John O. Burgess (Frank's father) is my g-g-grandfather. Thanks for sharing.