Wash and Be Healed: the Water-Cure Movement

Speaker: Categories: Apr 13, 1991


[1hr, 12min, 26sec / 26min, 2sec]


Seventh-day Adventists have long been identified with a concern for good health and for "natural remedies" which might counter disease. Included among these "natural remedies" various types of water (hydrotherapy) treatments have had a very prominent part. Undoubtedly, some may even have had specialized training in the administration of such treatments.

As a youth growing up in a Seventh-day Adventist home, this writer can rather vividly recall soaking a seriously infected foot alternatingly in buckets of hot and then cold water - the hotter and the colder the better! And healing followed! A "heating compress" to the neck, along with hot salt and soda gargles (again, the hotter the better) , was standard treatment for a sore throat. And healing followed! Perhaps you have similar memories –

Was the knowledge of such simple treatments divinely transmitted? If so, were they the unique province of Seventh-day Adventists? Did Adventists of the late 1800' s have a "corner" on health care? How did Battle Creek Sanitarium fit into the picture?

According to our April speaker, 'The Water-cure Movement, or hydrotherapy, was one of several alternative healing sects [ emphasis supplied] that flourished in the 1840 - 1900 era. Their theory of cure was interventionist, but not harmful, as was the case with Allopathy (the traditional form of health care). Hydrotherapists emphasized drugless therapy, applications and ingestion of water, life-style renovations including: vegetarianism, anti-alcohol and tobacco commitment, the use of reform (unrestrictive) dress, and moderation in all of one's appetites (sexual, digestive, and emotional).

This sect was particularly hospitable towards women as healers since neither its theory of disease origin nor socio-cultural explanations deemed women "ruled by their reproductive" organs (a popular and prevalent belief of the era). Hence, the Water-Cure Movement became a haven for women as both patients and practitioners and served at the hub of a national reform network."

Even from this very brief overview of our next Forum presentation, do you begin to see some interesting puzzle pieces about denominational history fitting together in ways perhaps not considered previously?


Susan Cayleff earned her Ph.D. degree from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, in 1983, with a major in American Civilization, Women's History. One of her minor fields was the History of Medicine and Medical Sociology.

She joined the Women's Studies Department at San Diego State University in 1987.

Dr. Cay1eff is a 1990-91 inductee to Who's Who in American Women; was a 1989 recipient of the CSU Award for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity; and also named as Most Influential University Professor, Department of Women's Studies, SDSU.

She has been published widely with more than twenty articles in academic journals and five chapters in various books. Her own book, which has the same title as her presentation for our April meeting, was published in 1987.

Presentations at professional meetings include a May 24, 1988, discussion of the hydrotherapy topic at Loma Linda University as a part of the William Frederick Norwood Lectures in History of the Health Science.

Parenthetically, it was quite by accident that this writer became aware of Dr. Cayleff and her work. While browsing through an Aztec Shops display of faculty publications at SDSU, the title ''Wash and Be Healed" caught my attention. A very hasty turning of pages and glancing at chapter headings heightened my interest. References were made to Ellen G. White and John Harvey Kellogg - people who were part of my religious heritage! A phone call to Susan Cayleff confirmed her willingness to speak to our San Diego Chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums.

You'll want to hear this presentation if for no other reason than to find out how a trained researcher deals with persons who have significantly shaped Adventism.

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