|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GREAT WAR AND THE INTERWAR PERIOD
[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]
MEDICINE AND NATURE CURE
The interwar years saw the continuation of the institutional trends of the late-nineteenth century, and the medical profession, aided by the great expansion of research and in particular by the advances of bacteriology, was increasingly confident in the basis of its knowledge. In response to this growing entrenchment, alternative medicine began to take on a more distinctive aspect. The antagonism between the orthodox medical profession and the alternative practitioners continued, and even grew. Health and Efficiency through the 1920s was continually attacking the BMA for being obscurantist in its refusal to look at therapies outside orthodoxy, and heresy-hunting in its hostility to those involved in them. The vegetarian magazines tended to be more circumspect, though they too referred to notorious cases such as that of Axham, the anaesthetist who had been struck off for working with Herbert Barker, the famous 'bonesetter'. (Barker was made a knight in 1922 much to the chagrin of many in the medical hierarchy). (1) Bertrand Allinson continued the earlier criticisms of surgery in particular, attacking the profession's penchant for unnecessary operations that, despite their dramatic quality, yielded, he believed, little benefit to the patient. (2)
Against this growing professionalisation in health care, the natural therapists of the period attempted to keep alive the sense of health as primarily the responsibility of the individual; thus although professional bodies did develop paralleling those found in orthodox medicine, the self-help theme remained strong.
A number of therapies established themselves at this time. Osteopathy, and to a lesser degree chiropractice, made considerable headway. (3) The water cure continued, though in much reduced scope, and often as a home treatment. Radiesthesia arrived from France in the late twenties; it was originally a diagnostic technique - the dowsing pendulum being used to trace diseased organs - though it came also to be used as a guide in prescriptions, usually homeopathic. Abrams 'black box' was another version of this. (4) Dr Bach and his flower remedies also had a vogue in the period, (5) as did the Alexander technique.
One particular treatment, however, occupied a special and central place this was nature cure. Naturopathy is a particular approach in itself, but it is also the uniting principle behind most alternative therapies: all to some degree draw on its basic concepts. In the development of nature cure in the period, the founding of the Nature Cure Clinic in 1928 has a special place. As we have seen, there had been nature-cure practitioners in the nineteenth-century - most notably in the vegetarian context, Dr T.R. Allinson and the Wallaces - and even some small hospitals, and there had been significant influences from the German tradition; but as yet there was no institution to provide a focus. The intention behind the clinic, whose moving spirit was Nina Hosali, was to provide a centre for nature-cure treatments, particularly for those of limited means. The clinic was also marked by its commitment to vegetarianism and to animal causes like anti-vivisection: Miss Hosali was herself a notable campaigner for animal welfare. (6) Treatment was provided by nature-cure doctors - the best known of whom were Dr Bertrand Allinson, Major Austin and Dr Valentine Knaggs - with ancillary help from osteopaths, masseuses etc. There were difficulties in the early years between these groups - the unregistered practitioners being reluctant to accept the clinic's policy of supervision by the medically qualified; and the General Medical Council put pressure on the doctors not to work with unqualified practitioners.
The interwar period also saw the founding of Stanley Leif's Champneys which followed the original naturopathic regime of Father Kneippe. Such institutions were at that time committed to nature cure, and had not yet become the health farms and slimming clinics they are largely today. To some extent these institutions in the twenties inherited the tradition of the hydros, after these had largely become hotels.
The fundamental principle behind nature cure is the ancient one of the vis medicatrix naturae – the healing power of nature. Nature cure's central concern is to co-operate with this underlying tendency and to help the body to make itself well. A second important concept is that the natural state of the body is one of abundant health; illness is an unnatural state; it results from unnatural living, from a bad way of life, from the neglect of nature's laws. Cure ultimately aims to change the patient's life so as to eradicate the underlying cause or distortion that has made him or her ill. Naturopathy properly is concerned not with treatment but with living a life that pre-empts the need for medical attention. Lastly, nature cure treats the person as a whole: a whole encompassing emotional, spiritual and social aspects as well as the more narrowly bodily. None of these concepts are ultimately alien to the traditions of orthodox medicine, though nature-cure practitioners argue that, especially during the twentieth century, their central importance has been obliterated by the rise of a range of distracting and interventionist techniques.
Subsequent to these central concepts are certain recurring subsidiary ones. The manifestations of illness tend – following the homeopathic and not the allopathic model - to be regarded, not as symptoms but as natural processes, as evidence of the body's attempt to cure itself; and the aim therefore is to stimulate and co-operate with this reaction, often termed the 'healing crisis'. Orthodox medicine by contrast regards these symptoms as diseased and aims at their eradication, and thus, according to nature cure, both suppresses the body's natural healing powers and masks the underlying cause.
A second recurring theme is that illness results from the accumulation of toxins or waste material in the body. Many forms of treatment aim at the encouragement of their elimination, whether through compresses to draw the toxins to the surface, through drinking distilled or spa water to flush out the system, or through the encouragement of sweating; and a vegetarian, frequently raw, diet is often recommended, since this was believed to both avoid the toxins found in meat (and later in processed food) and to encourage elimination generally. Pasting is also used as a means of releasing toxins or waste otherwise 'locked' in the tissues or left in the gut.
A third recurring theme is the use of the state of the blood stream as an emblem of the state of the body - and indeed of the person - generally; thus Milton Powell spoke of cancer having its roots in 'every drop of blood of the cancer sufferer'. (7)
Nature cure also stresses exercise, fresh air and relaxation in contact with nature.
Two issues of the earlier period continued to exercise those in these circles: anti-vaccination and germ theory. Though the agitation of the nineteenth-century had declined, vaccination was still to some degree an issue. In 1924 there was a celebrated case concerning Dr Hadwen of Gloucester. (10) Hadwen was a vegetarian anti-vivisectionist and old opponent of vaccination, and under his influence as councillor and magistrate, Gloucester had been a no-vaccination city. In 1923 there was a smallpox outbreak, and in 1924 an attempt was made to have Hadwen removed from the medical register through a charge of professional neglect, though Hadwen was found not guilty. (11) Other vegetarians like Forward and Arthur Brayshaw of the Friend's Vegetarian Society kept the issue alive. (12) The Vaccination Acts were eventually repealed by the Labour Government in 1948. (13) In general, it may be said that though the anti-vaccinators were 'wrong' in their denial of the scientific effectiveness of vaccination, they were 'right' in their continual emphasis on the importance of public health, housing conditions and diet, social historians now tend to see these, rather than any medical advances, as the true cause of the decline in infectious diseases.
Germ theory continued to be viewed with disfavour in nature-cure circles. Some still rejected the theory wholesale, while others, accepting the presence of germs, argued they were but scavengers in the body and not the true cause of illness. There had earlier been acceptable medical reasons for doubt, though by now, especially for those medically qualified these were weak, and the continued opposition of nature cure to the theory in the period gave it a rather old fashioned and at times obscurantist tone. (14)
As with so much of this progressivist milieu between the wars, there is a scrubbed clean, 'healthy minded', slightly eugenicist tone to its approach - one already noted in the context of naturism, and carried through in the expressive aspects of its architecture. The centre was housed in a consciously modern building, which with its open, high visibility plan, its walls of glass so that it merges with the open air, and its ample sunbathing facilities epitomised many of the values of the inter-war modern movement in architecture. (18) Charles Holden, one of the pioneers of the introduction of the modern movement into Britain, was himself a vegetarian; (19) and Itten at the Bauhaus was
a follower of the mystical health cult of Mazdaznan and spread its influence among the students. (20) Katherine Gilbert's analysis of the use of metaphors of cleanliness and hygiene in the language of the modern movement further underlines these interconnections within progressivism between the wars. (21)
Cancer is significantly the one illness to be consistently named and singled out in the vegetarian medical context, and it illustrates some of the ways in which vegetarianism viewed things differently from othodoxy. Central was the belief that factors of life style held the key. T.R. Allinson and other late-nineteenth-century vegetarians had believed that meat, alcohol and tobacco were implicated, and his son Bertrand Allinson noted that cancer was rare among vegetarians and simple lifers, and saw it as a disease whose seeds were laid early in life. He recommended a raw food diet, if not always as a cure, at least as an ameliorative, and he believed that diet reform, particularly the use of brown bread, was central in prevention.
The second theme in the nature-cure approach was that of the role of emotional and mental aspects, particularly wrong habits of thought and feeling. (23) Cancer was in this period regarded as a purely physical disease, and the vegetarians in pointing to emotional factors were very much out of tune with the predominating view. It was not until the 1960s that orthodox medicine was to look seriously at these factors. When it came to do so, and when the idea of the 'cancer personality' and of the psychological genesis of the illness gained a certain popular following, there were shared ideas with these earlier nature-cure perceptions in the link with unhappiness or of psychological disharmony, but there were also important differences, in particular the new emphasis on thwarted anger and the failure to express negative feelings. In some sense, the personality recommended by someone like Mrs Goddard with its emphasis on rising above bad thoughts, represents just the kind now thought to produce problems. (24) Both models clearly bear a heavy imprint of the social, and in both cancer is perceived as the result of having failed to realise the prescribed form of personality.
Finally, vegetarianism in this period found an ally in Sir William Arbuthnot Lane and his New Health Society. (25) Lane had made his name in the late nineteenth century for the brilliance of his surgical technique. Like some others of that period, he believed that the colon and its contents were a source of disease, and he developed techniques for the surgical removal of large parts of the intestine as a preventative measure. He thus originally represented just that kind of heroic surgery that nature cure attacked. However, in the years before the First World War, under the influence of Metchnikoff, the populariser of yoghurt, Lane changed his mind radically. Intestinal stasis and alimentary toxaemia, he argued, were indeed linked with all sorts of illness, most notably cancer, but the answer lay in diet, and in 1926 he founded the New Health Society whereby he hoped to educate the public into a better diet, especially one using more brown bread, vegetables and fruit. Lane's society was not well received by orthodox medical opinion; and his views were largely dismissed. (26) At its height however, it had a popular drawing power; three thousand turned up in Oldham to hear an address. (27)