Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Clara Barton is Diagnosed by a 1700 Year Old Spirit!

"Miss Barton - Enclosed find a spirit photo - the spirit is Dr. Galen - he is one of the three leaders of Mrs. Morrison's "Medical Band" - has been out of the physical about 1700 years.  Mrs. M. sees and talks to him as readily as we do with one another." - Letter to Clara Barton, 1874

Letter to Clara Barton - June 1875 - Sophia Smith Collection

Just about a year ago at this time I wrote a blog post (here) about a fascinating c.1870s business card (below) I had added to my collection: it was for Mrs, C. M. Morrison, a blind clairvoyant healer who provided diagnoses and a recommended treatment fora dollar and a lock of the patient's hair.  She was aided in her mission by her "Medical Band of Spirits."

Mrs. Morrison Business Card - c. 1875 - Collection of James M. Schmidt

Mrs. Morrison Business Card - c. 1875 - Collection of James M. Schmidt
That description - and some other information I had gathered for the post - as enough to make it interesting...

...but I wanted to know more! 

A little more searching and - as always - the kind and enthusiastic cooperation of an archivist, have indeed added more to the story!

I share some of that story you'll see, I'm constrained a bit in sharing too much of the archival material here on the blog, presently, but I'm hoping to gain permission to quote more in a future article for publication.

Even so, I'm hoping you'll share my enjoyment in the thrill of the search...and in the treasure that was found!


Part the First - The Search! 

Several things intrigued me about my original search for information - one was who were the spirits in her "Medical Band"; the other was whether any records existed for her customers, as she was reported to have "diagnosed over twelve hundred cases of disease from locks of hair, sent to her by letter, the result of the prescription in many cases being a permanent cure."

So I did some Googling ("Oh, they have the internet on computers now!" - Homer Simpson) and struck gold: It turns out that Mrs. Morrison had at least one very famous customer: Clara Barton, Civil War nurse, founder and president of the American National Red Cross, and much more!

Clara Barton c. 1860s - LOC
Even better, there were copies of correspondence from Morrison to Barton in the Clara Barton Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College in Northampton, MA.  One of the collection descriptions indicated:

In 1874-75 Barton corresponded with doctors and clairvoyants in search of medical advice. Of interest are letters from Dr. Edward B. Foote (1875), Dr. S.W. Hewett (1875), Dr. Charles Main (1874-75), Mrs. C.W. [sic] Morrison (1874-75), and Dr. H.B. Storer (1875) which, along with notes located in SERIES III which Barton made during her illnesses, not only provide information on Barton's health, but also interesting insights into late nineteenth century medicine and spiritualism.

Exactly what I was looking for! Yay! After a quick e-mail to the archivist and the payment of a very reasonable reproduction fee (just a few dollars), I soon had a PDF in my inbox of some great material and answer to some questions!

Part the Second - The Letters! 

The PDF includes about 20 pages of handwritten correspondence, more than half of which is from Mrs. Morrison (the other half? just as interesting as you'll see in part III below).

There are restrictions that prevent me from reproducing the images - or the transcriptions - wholesale, but I did want to share a few really interesting items:

1) There is a copy of the very same business card in the papers as I have in my collection, so - if there was any doubt - we are definitely dealing with the same Mrs. Morrison

2) The letterhead (provided at the top of the blog post) is especially great as it gives us some sense of Mrs. Morrison's appearance.

3) The letters are actually written by Mrs. Morrison's "secretary" - Mr. H. B. Wilcox...a quick internet search shows that he was also involved in the 19th century Spiritualist movement and - indeed - after her "transition" (passing) he picked up the reins of her practice.

4) One of the great finds in the letters is that Mr. Wilcox names at least one of the members of her "Medical Band of Spirits": Galen, a prominent physician and philosopher who died ~200 A.D., nearly 1700 years before he joined Mrs. Morrison!

5) And there are multiple letters that give diagnoses and recommendations for treatment for what was ailing Clara Barton.

Letter to Clara Barton - Nov 1874 - Sophia Smith Collection
Clara Barton's diaries are held by the Library of Congress; there is a wonderful finding aid here with links to a lot of digitized material here...Barton often made notes about correspondence written and received and it would have been GREAT to find mentions of Mrs. Morrison in her diaries.  Unfortunately, the two years encompassed by the letters in the Smith collection - 1874-75 - are two years where her diaries are either missing or there was a lapse in her dedication to maintaining them.

Part the Third - There's More!

As noted in the collection description above, Clara Barton's correspondence with clairvoyant healers was not limited to Mrs. Morrison. In late 1875, she wrote the offices of the Banner of Light, one of the nation's leading Spiritualist periodicals for advice on other reliable clairvoyant physicians...perhaps she was not satisfied with Mrs. Morrison?

In any case, there are a few more pages of correspondence, including from Dr. H. B. Storer and Mrs. M. G. Folsom.  Here's their advertisement in the January 2, 1875, issue of Banner of Light:

But they were by no mean the only clairvoyant healers advertising...there's a whole column of Mediums and the better part of those offered healing services:

This bit of research was great fun:

1) It brought an item in my collection more to life
2) I became acquainted with more archival collections
3) It further increased my interest in the intersection of 19th century medicine and the 19th century Spiritualist movement
4) It's opened up additional avenues of research
5) It's provided a possible writing opportunity

What's not to like?!?!  Hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.


Unknown said...

Great read! Always interesting to take a small part of ones collection, research it further and see what turns up.

Mark said...

It's fascinating how these spiritualists became popular during and after the war, especially since so many people lost loved ones in the conflict.