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Modern Medical Practices come from 19th Century Quackery and Your Mother


Mom is the first person many of us turn to when we are sick. She has that certain magic touch and knows what we need in order to feel better.

Moms have taken on the role of house doctor for centuries. They had to learn medical practices from their own mothers and other females because they were not allowed into traditional medical schools. But there were alternate medical practices that invited women to participate.

Mainstream doctors of the time gave these practices a "scientific" name: quackery.

Practitioners in these alternate medical fields saw that women were not receiving the health care they needed and welcomed both men and women to study and to participate in their treatments.  Wisconsin writer Erika Janik describes some of these practices in her new book, Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine.

Mesmerism is a field that drew many women to study it - literally, as it involved a form of magnetic healing.  Janik says its links to women often made men question its powers. King Louis XVI of France formed a committee of French scientists and doctors as well as an American, Benjamin Franklin, to investigate the interaction between a mesmerist and a female patient. The committee went to great lengths to observe the mesmerist’s powers and to see if female patients were taken advantage of in their temporary state of vulnerability.

Meanwhile, the Reinhardt brothers took advantage of vulnerable men who felt they could not perform intimate moves. Relocated from the Twin Cities, the Reinhardt Brothers moved to Milwaukee to “cure private and secret diseases particular to men.” They interviewed male patients before giving them the treatment to determine how much the patient could spend on the treatment. The Wisconsin Medical Board finally caught the brothers and ran them out of town. The board was recognized and applauded in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Erika Janik will talk about and sign copies of her book, Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine, at Boswell Books on Tuesday  February 11th at 7 PM.

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