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SEEKING HEALTH IN 1897 CALIFORNIA

I BOUGHT MY Two Health-Seekers in Southern California because it was particularly bright for a book published in 1897. Plus, who’s not to like seeking health in Southern California, even today. 

Two Health-Seekers in Southern California, by William A. Edwards, M.D., and Beatrice Harraden, J.B. Lippincott, 1897. 

By the way, the image here is of my 1897 edition. The link describes its Scholar Select modern reprint. 

A Caveat. Early on reading Two Health-Seekers, I sensed differences of opinion between William A. Edwards, M.D., and Beatrice Harraden, non-M.D. fin de siècle proto-feminist. 

A suggestion of this comes in Dr. Edwards’ Preface, which reads, “I have long felt that an impartial account of Southern California, devoid of the fulsome praise of guide-books and land-office advertisements, would be of interest and help to a large class of health-seekers…. Miss Harraden has kindly contributed the first and fourth chapters of this little book, in which she expresses her opinion formed after a residence of nearly two and a half years. The remaining chapters are my conclusions after a residence of eight years. Neither of us assumes responsibility for the statements of the others.”  

My italics, not the good doctor’s.

So Maybe Your Doctor Suggests Camping? Beatrice Harraden says, “But camping for frail folk is a mistake; and doctors, far away from these scenes, sitting comfortably in their arm-chairs, with all their needs luxuriously attended to, are apt to give out this order much too thoughtlessly. They have not themselves tried it perhaps, except under more favourable conditions than those which some of their patients might be able to command.”

Tradeoffs. “Southern California has to be known well before it can be loved,” Beatrice claims, “and even when thoroughly appreciated for its many delightful characteristics, there will often remain certain of its peculiarities which may perchance jar on the sensitiveness of those accustomed to the tender charms of a more caressing land.”

The title page. 

“Palms are there…,” Beatrice gives as an example, “but not growing at random,  as some of us may have feverishly fancied; man’s hand must plant and tend them, and water them unceasingly.”

“It is almost like a fairy-story” Beatrice continues, “to see what wonders may be wrought from the very onset, and to mark how soon the willing earth answers to an honest care. But she demands devoted and hard work,—not the mere scratching of the ground and the smoking of a cigarette…. for one has to be fairly strong to be a good botanist in Southern California.”

Beatrice on Driving. Of course, it’s 1897 and her “driving” is a pre-motoring term. “Nothing could be more enjoyable than starting out on a typical California day, with a nice little team and all the dogs scampering along joyously, and plenty of provisions and a fierce determination not to return until you feel inclined.”

Of Course, There is the Dust. Beatrice calls dust the bane of “any rancher who happens to be the unfortunate possessor of too many boulders…. One may drive for miles in some parts, and see nothing but stones and boulders and dried-up brush and shabby-looking cactus, and dust from beginning to end.”

“The dust in Southern California in summer-time after the dry winter is really quite overwhelming,” Beatrice admits. “It rises up into the buggy in great curling waves, thickly powdering every one from top to toe. Enthusiastic Californians pretend not to notice it, but it exists all the same, even although it is not mentioned in the guide-books!” 

It’s no wonder that early drivers wore “dusters.”

Image from fidmmuseum.org.

“Out-door Life for Women.” “Southern California,” Beatrice says, “is the very land for out-door life, and apart from riding and driving and bicycling and camping, there are many occupations and interests which come well within the scope of even delicate women.” 

And then, she offers the clincher: “In fact,” Beatrice writes, “a year of healthy country-life in Southern California would do far more to restore many ailing people to health than several seasons spent in sanitariums and cure-resorts. To begin with, one learns to do without hampering luxuries, and one learns to make the best of everything, and, above all, one is generally at a considerable distance from a doctor.” 

I’ve not completed Two Health-Seekers in Southern California, but thus far, apart from his Preface comment, Dr. Edwards hasn’t offered rebuttal, entertaining or otherwise. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022 

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