Photograph taken on the way from Poughkeepsie to New Paltz, along 9W, April 2011

Every day, people from other towns and regions pass through Poughkeepsie.  Today, this happens due to the heavily travelled trains that stop in the main station there.  Some of these travellers are heading for New York or Albany.  Others have some distant town in the Great Northwest as their destination. 

During the earliest years of travel along the Hudson River Valley, most of this travel occurred by wagon, stage coach or schooner.  Depending on where you stopped for the night, you could either have very rural experience staying at a large home or hotel with limited dinner and breakfast offerings, or you could be fortunate enough to make your way into some heavily populated town or city.  One such place was the rapidly growing town of Poughkeepsie, where a number of unique characters often made their stay hoping to earn a substantial income during their short stay.  

Once the post-war depression era was over in the Hudson Valley, a number of these individuals made their stay in Poughkeepsie on and off on a fairly regular basis.  There were those who migrated to this place in order to escape the grips of the epidemic striking the city of New York once again.  Then there were those who came to the city to market their unique skills to the local citizens and the temporary valetudinarians making their stay in this safe and healthy region. 

Then there were those who came to Poughkeepsie for a short while to provide some important service missing from this early town setting.  For example, there were people who had a fairly successful business in New York who would market their wares in Poughkeepsie, offer to provide their skills and services in music, foreign language and speaking, or provide a service normally lacking from the region that was considered essential to a healthy life, like the skills of a dentist, oculist or a new kind of surgery.   We find these specialties noted throughout the local paper during this time, and due to their very newly established nature, some became the most common occupations advertised as legitimate practices in medicine around 1800 in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Another unique speciality in medicine, one more traditional and yet in some ways better developed for the care of women, was that of the faith healer, female herbalist, and/or midwife.  The practice of spiritual or religious cure was not unique to the region.  In Poughkeepsie as well as the Hudson Valley, the belief system these healers adhered to was already strongly supported by the religious and cultural diversity of this area.  This particular form of trade that was so special it was normally practiced by someone who was considered more just an expert in her field than the average practitioner, especially the MD physician, she had to be a curee in the traditional Western European sense.  She was a practitioner with domestic training and life experience, with a devotion to spiritual and religious healing, and a personality that made regular physicians’ practices seem cold to the heart. Her interest in you as a patient, and her practice in medicine as a sensitive woman, surpassed any personal skills most physicians might have. Rather than be an insensitive man, she was a very empathetic woman, a primary reason for her claim to fame and success.  

As for those special patients, the ladies of the town, no single man who was a physician could serve a lady as well as another female healer.  Such a type of healer was very unique to a region, and often the older lady in your neighbor with some good, practical experience.  Other times, there were these women who would pass through the area selling their wares so to speak and that especially gifted woman healer, someone whose skills were hard to match or find a replacement for in the local communities. Mrs. Smith was one such example of a lady who could make her rounds to the city of Poughkeepsie and elsewhere, staying for a while in the hotel in Poughkeepsie, next to the Baptist church, offering up her services as a true healer and unique care giver.  She may have even first made her way into the town of Poughkeepsie years before, developing this reputation that she was someone who could care for any woman with special needs, providing needs and services that extend beyond those that one of the local physicians or reverends could provide.  The ladies could see her to receive the cure for whatever ailed their feminine spirits, that chance for the miscarriage linked to concerns about recent passionate encounters, or their own fidelity countered by a husband’s misguided virility. These abilities of Mrs. Smith to heal were God’s gifts, not the obligated services provided by the average physician residing in the community.


“AGUE CAKES”?  A pre-Sigmund version of the Freudian slip perhaps.  To the  typesetter, Mrs. Smith must have seemed like an ‘old church-going woman, simply trying to her cakes!’  [NOTE: It does say “CAKES” rather than CASES, see the next example]

This unique tale of the Mrs. Smith as a transient passing through Poughkeepsie every now and then is a local tale in medicine that has to be told again.  To put it into perspective with regard to the role she played in local communities, suffice it to say that Mrs. Smith filled a need that could not be met by the other practitioners in Dutchess County.  In the past, historians probably ignored Mrs. Smith’s services to her community due simply to a lack of understanding of these services.  Some past researchers and writers may have even simply visualized her as another “quack,” or a gifted person lacking any official medical skills, someone who serviced mostly the sickest, most desperate people in this local city setting.  But another more appropriate way to interpret Mrs. Smith’s presence in Poughkeepsie is as someone who met the needs of people that regular, accredited doctors could never  meet.   These more scientifically minded and very irreligious healers made natural philosophy their substitute for traditional religions, thereby offering to patients when it came to the religious needs of their patients.   

This large difference between Mrs. Smith and the doctors who lived in the Poughkeepsie area also had an impact on local culture that far surpassed the preachings of like-minded physicians and pharmacists.  Their efforts to sell their medicines made them appear at times to be the true “quacks” for this profession.  Unlike these regular doctors, Mrs. Smith wasn’t there just to sell everyone her wares, recipes, special formulas, or special services.   She was there to fill a gap in the health care of people that a regular physician could never provide adequate services for. 

 During the most recent years of its development, medicine had become a licensed profession, and its medicine the ever-present “truths” related to the lancet and the use of very strong mineral remedies and chemicals extracted from plants.  The alkaloid in opium latex was made popular during this time.  Strong mineral remedies were developed to serve as more effective “cures” than their herbal predecessors.  The abilities of salts and mineral springs to quite effectively purge the intestines, the ability of quinine to serve as a more effective substitute for its source, the cinchona bark, and the recent acceptance of the use of mercurials and even arsenic salts as medicines made many people more weary of anything to do with regular medicine.  This new breed of doctors seemed to focus too much on the biology and physiology of life and normal body functions, and too little on the needs of the patient and the likelihood the new medicines could in fact be very potent and overly toxic in its effects.

So who were her “competitors”?

Her competition practiced medicine according to tradition and culture.  Even though a regional medical society was established by this time, the members of this group of elitists were more like a mixture of self-defined “traditionalists” practicing their most commonly accepted notion of how medicine should be practiced.  To these alternative thinkers and practitioners of the medicine that Mrs. Smith was not practicing, Mrs. Smith was a “quack.”

For many of Smith’s followers, the term “quack” was not in the vocabulary.  If quackery was a term meant to refer to the uses of drugs, not all of Mrs. Smith’s beliefs and distinct forms of cure fit the physical “drug” concept.  She more than likely did not administer the mercury, opium, laudanum, and other mineral remedies so common to regular medicine.  She may have believed in inoculation, but probably did not practice it at all her self, believing more in the natural course of the infectious diseases for her time, even the highly fatal small pox perhaps.  But she also included in her discipline some other religiously minded respects.  Since Shadrach Ricketson, the practicing Quaker physician who recently published a book on health and disease prevention promoted inoculation–her more faithful followers may have turned to Shadrach for their inoculation if she so recommended this.  Still, not everything Ricketson paid heed to in medicine was appreciated by Smith or her followers.  In 1789, Ricketson published a very controversial article for the time–its main topic was his experience with opium.  In the years that followed, Ricketson’s recommendation that we develop a way to grow Papaver in the United States developed national and international fame (see my page on this).

But for the most part, we see Mrs. Smith practicing like any strongly devoted religious herbalist–her practice included the acceptance of faith, religion, prayer, and on occasion a recipe or two in order to attend to any malingering special personal needs.  She was the elder who served as a replacement for your family’s former great great aunt or great grandmother.  If you were a woman searching for good health, she was the only person who could provide you with the care you need regarding a delayed menses or those painful monthly torrents offered during your peak periods of potential hysteria onset.  Mrs Smith was the lady with the formulas for the creams you needed to turn you back into the young, pretty lady you once were.  She was your counselor, your substitute for the local church reverend, pastor or minister, and your best friend, someone to whom you could make those weekly confessions you might otherwise never admit to in the local church setting.   Most importantly, she was your only means to receive the care you might otherwise never receive being a member of a tight knit family, who would be kept up to date regarding any new avenues you had decided to take as a patient in need of specific forms of care.  Your secrets with Mrs. Smith would never be revealed to your husband.  To most of these kinds of followers and believers in Mrs. Smith’s skills, these services provided by an old lady, as noted in her advertisement, was blessed events for anyone and everyone with special needs to take advantage of.

 The exact identity of Mrs. Smith for now is uncertain.  It is possible she is a Quaker, one of many living down near Quaker Hill and Oswego Village where there is a road bearing the same name.  She might also be one of many of the British Smith family descendents who pronounced their surname as “Smythe” with the long ‘i” sound rather than as the softer, drawn out ‘i’ sound we now use for a name as common as Smith.  Another option is she is somehow connected to the local Puritan heritage the eastern part of the county possesses, much like the physician by the name of Arkalus Hooper (covered elsewhere) who would make his way to this part of the valley about 5 to 7 years later.

Subliminal symbolism? – – Mrs. Smith and the Bards’s Lost Sheep, “marked with a cross on one side”

Whatever the case, the advertisement she placed in the Poughkeepsie Journal beginning, which began the same day that she paid for it on December 22, 1813, suggests two unique things about Mrs. Smith, neither of which comes as a surprise.  First, she is a lady, an elder perhaps, one with wisdom as well as experience when it came to dealing with medical problems that only women could face.  Secondly, she considers herself a spiritual advisor, something a lady is very much in need of at times when career or life at home appear to be unstable. 

Chances are, Mrs. Smith came back to Poughkeepsie because she offered something like this that few others could offer in the immediate community.  It is either her personal wisdom and her charm as a female spiritual advisor who has a unique interpretation of God and life to give you that was perhaps her most important asset in the economy for the time.  She might also be someone who could offer her “patients” a medical skill that few doctors could adequately provide to a much needy patient population–women.  The “skill: could be as simple as the dispensing of a female patent remedy, the sale of some magical herbal medicine blend, or the skills use of “a laying on of the hands” for more than just simple prayer.

For the public, the practice of medicine during this time was mostly a man’s skill.  But there were women out there filling the needs of the sick that a physician couldn’t provide the most appropriate services for.  The traditional image we have of these early female healers is as a herbalist and as some sort of domestically raised and trained healer.  She may have learned her skills from her mother, and/or her grandmother, and she may have received additional training on the side from her neighbors’ family matrons, and their matron elders.  She may have even had the opportunity to work alongside a fairly low-key female healer like a midwife, one who primarily is involved with birthing, before and after, and at times with the cleansing of the innermost problems a lady might have, in particular the “delayed menstrual period” and related “weight gain”.  

Mrs. Smith may have for a short while even been a midwife.  But in this new age of medicine for the Hudson Valley, with the establishment of State laws regarding the practicing of medicine in 1797, her previous skills may have become somewhat limited except in the most rural of settings.   In the upcoming months and years, still more chatter was being made about how to further control the practice of medicine, by those who were already pretty much in control of most of its activities, political support, and financing, the older men in charge of this profession and whether or not another young men could obtain his own licensure and acceptance into the profession.   

In contrast with Dr. James L Van Kleeck, the apothecarian physician of Poughkeepsie who offered his place for apprenticeships and such, Mrs. Smith had no chemicals or botanicals to openly offer her patients, except those that she talked about or prepared and sold to her patients behind the closed doors of her practice.  

There is a certain domestic nature of Mrs. Smith’s possible practice that is well covered in some of the writings for the time.  In particular there is the book by a Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, whose name bears the feminine spirit and cultural meaning as an earlier Puritan and feminist of the century before in Massachusetts.  Could Mrs. Smith be similar to this later example of an Anne Hutchinson?

Mrs. Smith seems like she was also more of a sensitive human being than the local physicians.  She didn’t let her belief in God and religion get in the way of her practice.  It was in fact an integral part of her practice, and probably played a major role in how and why she so successfully healed some of her clients.  But what kind of spiritual healing did she engage in?  Was it simply a passive, indirect form of prayer that she performed for and with her patient?  Did she practice the laying on of hands so typical of other local healers like the Huguenot girls of the Parmentier family? Did she just sit there with a Bible on her lap, and with her hand clasping the hand of her patient, lie both upon the Bible and ask for forgiveness, approval, betterment regardeing whatever the reason this patient was visiting her?

She hints to us what types of services she provides with her Poughkeepsie announcement, or advertisement about her plans to stay in the Hotel downtown for a brief while, like she did several years before.

Now Smith is really a common name unfortunately, and there is no evidence linking Mrs. Smith to the next family of Smiths to come to the town of Poughkeepsie, generations later, and totally transform the now largely urban setting into a place to take a boat trip to from New York City, have a fancy meal, and wander about the city proper in between the time you spend riding horses, attending the races up in Rhinebeck, gallivanting about the woods and parklands, having your lunch next to some waterfalls and mill, or along the edge of a clear lake fed by the pristine waters of  glacially-fed mountain springs, or visiting the local farming and livestock communities, consuming much healthier food than city life could ever provide you with (or so you thought, since most of the raw products needed to produce this food did come from the Hudson Valley). 

The first of these stories is about Mrs. Smith, a lady, presumably past her midlife, who has been in Poughkeepsie before some time around 1802, offering her services as a healer of sorts–exactly what form of healing she engaged in is what this tale of her life is about. 

The second Smith family is that of the famous restaurant owners turned cough drop makers–the Smith Brothers.   Their story reached its peak period of importance more than 75 years after the first two Smiths made this name the popular gossip for the town if you were into medicine and the different kinds of doctors wandering about. 

A Woman’s Role

The first example of the role that woman played in health within the Dutch Colonial and Hudson Valley social setting was developed as early as  the 1630s.   Female midwives were already practicing their skills in New Amsterdam about this time.  IF we review the letters of a young girl residing in the main downtown part of this setting about 1645, we find that she even has a full understanding of the knowledge she would need to grow up with, to make her place in society as known to her as her mother’s and aunt’s roles were known to her.  When the Iroquois came into town, she would tell to her aunt in her letters, they would be marketing their sassafras pickings and woven baskets at the nearby farmer’s market.  Some very utilitarian items sold by the Indians were sold and purchased as pieces of art.  Their sassafras roots consumed in a drink or such rarity that back then its imbibation was a luxury for some, and a few decades later a necessity for others cursed by the fluor albes (white discharges due to yeast or gonorrhea) and its related lues venerea (syphilis).  

In the late 1600s, when Elizabeth Filipse came to New Amsterdam and claimed that land which would later be part of Putnam County, her spiritual nature and upbringing strengthened the role that women had in local society spiritually as well as intellectually and economically.   Her husband Frederick may have been one of the most famous boatbuilders for his time, but she was the reason for his entrepreneurial success.  She helped keep the records, engage in the communications that was needed for their business to success, and she was taught in several languages, perhaps 5 or more, a requirement for the kinds of international trade that these Dutch companies were then engaged in.

When Elizabeth came over, her spiritual mentor was at first living in the farming part of New Amsterdam, a little north of its downtown.  But he later removed to the Bethlehem area of Pennsylvania, as per the new Governor’s request.  During his dying days in Bethlehem, Elizabeth went to visit him, as she and he spoke about and wondered if there would ever be a second coming of Jesus like he, and her own spiritual leaders back in the Netherlands, and many others like to two of them felt could be the case.   In his dying bed they probably prayed together, and like the much later Mrs. Smith, engaged in that very practice most definitive of female healers set alongside their dying patients–the laying on of hands, praying to the “magic” you believed could come true due to the Bible.

By 1700, this traditional feminine role in society was now well established, and well known.  It need not even be published, or even mentioned in any written documents kept by a household, a merchantile business, or a local scrivener or courts record-keeper.  Att times, these women did appear as though they thought and behaved differently though, whenever they became so entranced by their own experiences and purposes that others lost that personal connection that was needed to keep women bound to the local society.  Such would have been the case for old maids and spinsters whom society defined as lunatics, or worst yet, as witches.  In the 1720s, one such lady suffered from this social prejudice according to Ulster County court papers.

Throughout the early 1700s, the woman remained an important assistant to the business leader (her husband), but like before she made many of the more important decisions.  When there were new servants in need of training, that was her role.  In fact, it may have even been her role to not only choose such assistants wisely, but also in some moral fashion.  In doing so, their cultural background and knowledge was exchanged with her own knowledge and forethoughts.  This meant that there was a way for other cultures and societies to influence the traditional thinkings  of Dutch, English and other Western European minds then guiding the way for many of the social movements to go during these 1700s.  It is probably via this route that some of the more transcendental philosophies came to be, a seemingly locally-born philosophy, grown from the seeds placed and sown by traditional East Indian, American Indian and African cultural people and their beliefs.

When we think about the use of herbal medicines in the domestic setting, the man developing this form of practice is who gets written about, but it is the woman learning and applying and then improving upon these practices and skills that is the reason such practices can often exist.  It was a Dutch garden that released the seeds for the first dandelion and chicory to make its way into the country of the New World, but it was the woman or her kids that probably planted these valuable plants in the family garden in the first place, and then later harvested their products, allowing the seeds to be spread.

A Photo from the typical Family Archives?

Lessons to Society

The funny thing is that as important historical events take place in the social setting in a rapidly growing town like Poughkeepsie, we don’t see much as historians as we read a little here and there about a particular person and his spouse, children, relatives, or neighbors.   But once we begin to get an idea of the total picture of what was happening during times in history when very little evidence exists as to what the social scene was like, a very amusing and often amazing photograph gets planted in us about what the local scene was like during this time in early post-colonial history.  Each one of these periods of time with regards to the influences of the Smiths on everyone else has some sort of cultural lesson that can be pulled from this part of the local history. 

These lessons are something like a story in themselves about medicine in the Hudson Valley during the early 1800s. 

Mrs. Smith became successful in maintaining the status quo with regard to the role of women in society, their value to others as psychological and spiritual healers, and at times, their uniqueness as women in providing special care for special medical problems, in such a way that neither a male priest nor physician could ever provide to someone, especially other women. 

For a woman to be a woman and practice medicine, she had to be this different type of individual and have a special “gift” .    Whereas a man was a doctor and physician, a woman was a herbalist and healer.  Whereas men ventured little into religion as a part of his professional life, women relied more heavily upon the important relationships many people felt existed between religion, spirituality and health.  Women who become popular in this field have that unique spiritual gift that a man socially is not allowed to have, or if he has it, express it in any way, shape or form related to his healing sect.  The male doctor could believe in such metaphysical idolatries as those preached by Swedenborgians, the Masons or the Knights of Columbus, but he couldn’t be an alchemist, card reader, publicly practicing astrologer, a palm reader, tea leaves analyst, or channeler of past family spirits.  For the spiritual seers, like Mrs. Smith, or her parallel to the field Ann Lee, being a women was the reason why your skills could be advertised.   Unlike Mrs. Smith’s knowledge and skills, the craftsmanship of yet another early version of a “Seer”–Rachel Baker– had to be assessed by the leader of both the very masculine field of medicine, as well as the scientific  and political fields–Dr. Samuel Mitchell. 


The other fascination at the time in Poughkeepsie was a young girl touring through the region.  She possessed this unique “power” as many people would refer to it today, but that then it was only described as some sort of variation on the disease notion.  It wasn’t really a disease in the traditional sense, being a physical manifestation principally of the body and such, but rather it was a manifestation of the persons spirit and mind, and perhaps even that which was felt to exist very close to the soul.  Her ailment, if we can call it that, was Divine somnambulance.  Her condition manifested itself in the form of a gift of prayer.

At the time, there was this ongoing dispute about the vital force in the body.  Even the same doctor would at times appear to go back and forth in his conclusion about the vital force in the body.  “Dr. Samuel Mitchell, M.D. and P.” of New York and the Medical Repository seemed to support the possibility that there was a cause for these behavior, although he was not willing to lay the blame on some unknown element–the basis for his phlogiston theory of disease, or the activities of the mind and brain in relation to the natural philosophy of life.  Mitchell did not say that God was the cause for this condition, but did state that there was some sort of natural force at play, one that could be reversed in a physician had to the know how on how to accomplish this, and the opportunity to make it happen.

In some ways, this “Divine” gift or skill was something straight out the Bible.  One could liken it to a speaking of tongues in some way, or to the ability of someone like Emmanuel Swedenborg to converse with angels.  Just what she was doing during her “Divine Trances”  (my term) is uncertain.  Was she fully conscious of who and what she was being?  Was she aware of what others saw when they were in her “Divine presence”?  

Her story sometimes reads like the tale of someone in a trance, or more importantly, someone who was somnambulant, what we refer to today as sleep-walking.  The modern impression of this state of consciousness is that the mind and brain are working, but that the consciousness and/or meaningfulness and reasoning behind what we are doing is lacking.  We perform our somnambulant events as if these activities were so habitual that they were programmed into the brain.  But they do involve a certain sense of knowledge, awareness and even cunningness at times, to such an extent that certain events engaged in during this state of being could be construed as actions taking place with full consciousness and intent involved.   With somnambulism, it is infrequent if nor unusual, if not even rare, for true and complete consciousness to be in charge of what we or our body does during a  sleep walk.  But there is some sense to that activity, and the actions taken.  It is not the reflexes of motor activity involving cerebellar activity, or the product of a completely awakened midbrain derived alert and conscious decision process.  The reason for this activity is taking place somewhere in that “twilight zone” of the brain, that place that we still have yet to find and fully understand, that part of the brain that requires only the dissection of animals or the morbid remains of a human brain to be able to draw a map of this part of the structure, hoping to make good “sense” of it, a “sense” that we really never will get to know.

Mrs. Divine Somnambulist has a long story attached to her psychology and natural philosophy (covered on another page “Divine Truths”).  The presence of a gifted skills gave Mrs. Smith and Rachel Baker a very unusual doorway into openly discussing God, the spirit and the body, without looking as though they were reverting back to old-fashioned church-born philosophies or someone into the newly developing realm of natural philosophy. 

March 22, 1815, Poughkeepsie Journal, excerpts from the main story about Rachel Baker.  (Full article to appear in next section on this site)

Local MDs as “Spiritual Leaders”

Leading this spiritual journey for the “regular” medical profession for the past decade was none other than Samuel Mitchell, the New York medical doctor and naturalist who liked to link every one of the natural studies to medicine in some way shape or form, as if medicine was really just a study of the consequences of our exposure to the physical and energetic worlds of nature.  But Dr. Mitchell did have his quirks, so to speak; he was getting old enough to be like Samuel Bard and others, who in their later retirement years walked away from the medical book and went back to their religious books.   To deal with the local controversies malingering about medical electricity and what it was to be pulled back from your grips with death, the regular medical profession made this the required dissertation topic for their next apprentices wishing to become licensed physicians.  In 1811, when the controversies around this topic were at a peak, the following advertisement was posted for the upcoming medical society meeting:

But just prior about this time (1802), Dr. Caleb Child initiated a local practice devoted completely to medical electricity, and soon after announced his opening of a new place to go and revitalize your spirit–the coffee house (Dr. Child will also be covered separately elsewhere).  This might even be linked to the popular belief still around that coffee revitalizes your body, and recaptures your normal state lost the night before due to excessive imbibing of alcohol “spirits.” Child’s philosophy of vital force and animation also made Quaker physician Shadrach Ricketson add a section on this topic into the appendix in his book.  Ricketson’s brief essay on “Electricity” is part of his book that also reviews those topics which moderns interpret as the first American writing on “natural healing” and more importantly exercise as the way to better health (Ricketson is reviewed extensively elsewhere).


Our First Coffee Addicts.  Dr. Caleb Child’s advertisements for Medical Electricity and the next social drug.  Child was possibly a Quaker removed from the same part of Dutchess and Columbia Counties where Puritanist Dr. Arkalus Hooper (also covered on another page) resided when he was not in Poughkeepsie. 

Dr. Mitchell and others weren’t necessarily as much tied to the church, religion or metaphysics as their colonial precedents were, nor were they perhaps in full agreement with some of the local of the Dutchess County area as well when it came to metaphysical beliefs and medicine.  The now very elderly Samuel Bard residing in Hyde Park was engaging in the spiritual practices often common to the older life, working with a local church as a member of a Bible reading group and engaging in services devoted to financially supporting poor.  Neither were Bard and Mitchell at all like most of the local precedents to spiritual medicine in the Hudson Valley, Dutchess County area, spiritual healers with the vital force concept in their philosophy like Dr. Osborn’s with his ens veneris and Borden recipes (1760s), Robert Thorne with his “Antient” mineral recipes (1790s), Quaker Davis and Mr. Todd with their ‘Metalic Pointers’ (1795-1800), Jedediah Tallman with his static electric generating vital force instruments (1799), Caleb Child with his “Medical Electricity” in all forms (1802-3), Arkalus Hooper with his new version of animal spirit guided psychology remedies for the insane or hysteric (1812-1815), or the up and coming beliefs of Thomas Lapham (1822 – ), promoter of a new philosophy known as Thomsonianism, with a little touch of trinity faith, natural philosophy, and religiosity added to his lancet-free practice of self-administered care. 

One might expect Mitchell to be so anti-theological when it comes to nature.  His takes of everything in the natural world are so obsessed with natural form and energy that one would think he has steered very far away from religion.  But by reviewing Mitchell’s study of the above gifted woman Rachel Baker, we learn that he was able to think and talk about God and the Universe.  This kind of talk was the opportunity that Mrs. Divine gave to Mitchell (the Rachel Baker story is covered on another page).

Other men who were doctors would also promote religion and religious belief as a part of their profession in the upcoming decades, even writing lengthy articles about it.  Few of these doctors would and could express it in writing as well as a women could and should.  The gender block in developing new traditions stopped when the seer Andrew Jackson Davis drew the attention of others.    Whereas in prior years it was women who started the spirit rapping craze, carrying it on from generation to generation, and the Fox sisters who made it famous up in Rochester, it was a man in Poughkeepsie who turned it into something that you could read about in great and lengthy essays and books.  Mrs. Smith was one of the steps American tradition and medical culture had to take in order for the masculinization of spiritual healing to become a fully bi-gendered tradition in medicine, be that medicine physical or metaphysical in nature. 

There is also the possibility of direction and role reversal in medicine spirituality and science.  Jane Colden’s story for example represents the early masculization of a woman’s behaviors and attitude regarding science and how to express these very personal interests (se her section).  She took a strongly male-dominant profession and tried it on her own, adding to it her personal touch as an artist that other would have never been present in this form of practicing science and scientific interpretation.   Her work, mimicking that of her father, took on the support of a profession consisting almost totally of male members and practitioners.


One could say that Mrs. Smith’s role in medicine is a “vital” part of local medical history.  Excusing the tongue in cheek ending for this story, the real message here is that even small day-to-day people like Mrs. Smith can play a role in the local setting and personal stories as much as the nearby salesman and doctor operating a unique store and meeting house, or two members of what became a fairly rich family for this than bustling mini-metropolis in upstate New York, halfway between New York City and Albany.

Exactly what Mrs. Smith identity, philosophy, religion, race, and cultural background were like is completely uncertain.  She could be just a member of the typical English speaking family of Smith we often think or today, or she could be one of those European families who referred to themselves as Smithes with the long ‘i’, a pronunciation as far from what the traditional spelling suggest, such as Du-Boys of “Doo-Boys” for Dubois [Du-bwah].

But Mrs. Smith’s story includes a look at that part of society we rarely read about or ask questions about.  In the past, one could say that medical historians have perhaps robbed us our history due to their tendency to typecast everyone but the licensed, accredited physician.  This is a kind of cultural prejudice medical historians tend to present, which has its own long roots in history that need to be re-evaluated, and retold in a more unbiased fashion.  Medical history is unfortunately full of examples of doctors whom we might never learn about due to the prejudices of medical historians.  Medical history is either a sociological study or it is an allopathic, anti-quackery study for the most part.  These historians unfortunately perpetuate past prejudices each time they use the term “quack” and demonstrate their social prejudice in doing so.  There is a naivite and laziness that is being expressed whenever historians write about past historians and their claims; there is this need to learn about you predecessors whenever you become a student in this field, not any expression about the need to ignore past writers, relearn the past on your own, and eliminate the stereotyping habits that all the others have had when describing past doctors, like Mrs. Smith, who most historians refuse to take the time to understand.  This prejudice on behalf of medical historians is also why the knowledge of Dr. Osborn’s Bordenism, ens veneris and Christian Alchemy profession was lost and forgotten for two centuries, why the mohel Isaac Marks was ignored, or the history of Puritan and first true psychologist Arkalus Hooper never realized, or why “Prince Quack Mannessah’s” tale was never retold for its cultural and historical value.  Medical historians are very much like historians supporting Columbus “important discoveries”, each historian forgot about the history of the Vikings, and retold their history to us and had textbooks published about it, retelling this history from their own points of view. 

The Poughkeepsie social setting as told by the Poughkeepsie Journal is unique due to its multicultural diversity.  Unlike what some of the past published history tells us, even the professional medical world was full of philosophical and psychological diversity during the first years of New York Medical History.  Scholars simply have not spent the time needed to learn about it.   We learn a lot when we spend enough time searching for these social lessons and messages.  Were it not for the war of 1812, this process of change in medicine into some multicultural form of practice might have proceeded along unchanged.  But the advent of war and the need for new physicians, in particular surgeons, changed the public’s focus just enough to reduce any attention being paid out there on spirituality and health.  Once again the skills of the surgeon and the need for epidemiological skills prevailed in the field of medicine and once again, this profession made its way back into the more scientific realms of such work. 

Like any well practiced tune, The social support and popularity of spirituality as a part of medicine has its crescendos and decrescendos, more of the latter than the former.    Even two hundred years ago in Poughkeepsie, we see people and professionals behaving much like they do today.  People still go to the church to get better, and for their fix on the next and newest cure for the psychological state that society has become.  Such a diversity in culture impacted medicine in Poughkeepsie, more than it did in New York City, Boston or Philadelphia.