THE BLOOD DOCTOR
Digger Odell Publication ©2008
I first met Dr. Harmon K. Root 30 years ago. I can't remember exactly at which show I saw the bottle, but the embossing, "Consumption & Blood Doctor", caught my attention not only because it was a pontiled medicine, but also because the word ‘Blood’ appears on a very few bottles of that age. The next time I saw Doctor Root was in 1988 in the Sam Greer sale. Every time I saw the bottle it was too expensive for my budget but I never totally forgot about it. In 2000, as I worked on the Pontil Medicine Encyclopedia, my memory was jogged when I made an entry for Dr H. K. Root's The Blood Doctor. Despite thousands of hours spent researching newspapers, city directories, broadsides and other advertising media, I never found out anything about the bottle and did not think of it again until, October 2008 when Glassworks auctioned an example. I determined that I would own the bottle and put in what I thought was an outrageous bid and impatiently waited for the auction to end. Just out of curiosity, I used an electronic newspaper database to which I now had access to enter the words, "The Blood Doctor". Much to my surprise I got three hits. It was through that source that I learned about his book, The People’s Medical Lighthouse.
"FOR THE LIFE OF ALL FLESH IS THE BLOOD THEREOF."
-Leviticus chapter 17 verse 14.
Harmon Knox Root, if the testimonials are to be believed, began medical practice about 1848. His practice of medicine was deeply rooted in as he put it physiology, chemistry, Bible truth, and human reason. His philosophy of life and his practice of medicine were inextricably combined. The theory of the author was, that the "blood is the life." His concept of disease and the treatment of disease involved the renovating, purifying, and enriching the blood. And diseases were a result of a poisonous condition of this fluid. For Dr. Root, the notion of disease was bound up with his religious beliefs: Revelation first announced to man that the life-giving principle of the flesh is in the blood, and the rebuke of God to Cain for the murder of his brother Abel:-and the Lord said to Cain, what hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood cries up to me from the ground which hath opened her mouth to receive that brother's blood from thy hand. He offered up as proof Scriptural declarations that the blood contains the life-giving power and constituent elements of life in every part and parcel of man and animal and these declarations were supported by chemistry and by reason derived from observation and experience. It was through these eyes that Harmon Knox Root saw his purpose and applied his ideas in practice. For him the “blood is the life” had a dual meaning- one religious the other medical.
Doctor Root was a student of history he knew of the bloodletting practiced by medical men in the 1600s; and the introduction of chamomile or mercury as a medicine as early as 1493; and of how the introduction of Quicksilver (mercury), as a medicine evolved in to the name of quack for using quacksalver or Quicksilver - these he rejected as dangerous and poisonous to the health. He warned of the "mineral quacks" (allopaths) warning that minerals are most destructive to animal bodies.
Root also rejected Homeopathy, popular at the time, which he regarded as no better than Allopathy. Homeopathic doctrine was that "like cures like" and medicinal agents were more active and powerful in infinitesimally small quantities than in ordinary doses. He dismissed this is absurd and ridiculous saying, this would be like throwing a spoonful of tea into the Hudson at Albany and telling the ladies of New York that they are from they could dip up a cup of the excellent beverage at the entrance of the river into the ocean.
It was his belief that vegetable medicines were of God. Vegetables were given by God to man for both food and medicine and they'd been used for that purpose since the creation of Adam.
And God said, behold I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of the earth and every tree in which the fruit of a tree yielding seed to you it shall be for meat and to every beast of the earth, and every fowl of the air, and everything that creeps upon the earth, wherein there is life I have given every green herb for meat.
To Doctor Root, health was determined by the way people conducted themselves and lived their lives and right living together with vegetable medicines were cure for disease. His notion of disease was bound up in his Christian moral perspective as well. One of his base beliefs was that “disease is united to health and marriage”. His observations that the average life of a married woman was nearly twice as long as that of a single woman was strong proof that protracted celibacy was a violation of physical laws and hence a cause of disease. He was a great proponent of early marriage as a means to avoid the host of diseases brought on by celibacy, self pollution and excessive sexual intercourse - evils that sprang from the delay of marriage.
THE NATURAL REMEDY
His trust in vegetables as natural remedies was as great as his belief in the natural laws of God. Doctor Root shared this anecdote.
“A member of the allopathic fraternity, a son of one of the most wealthy and respectable merchants in the Western part of New York State attempted to put one over on the Doctress of high repute in his locality. It's well known that the allopathic physicians have made great exertions to put down those practicing in the vegetable or botanical school whether male or female; and the lady who was the object of attack in this instance having some fear your skill in the healing art and in the use of harmless and simple vegetable preparations, was an object of special dislike. This physician loved and sought after by all, had often to take down those young gents in her vicinity who were wiser than their mothers or the seven men spoken of in Scripture, and who wished to restrict a woman's usefulness and detract from her motherly guardian care. Our hero Dr. P.-, a doctor wanting practice, was greatly annoyed by Mrs. M.-, our lady physician. So with two or three other disciples of the healing art, similarly situated, he resolved to "run a saw" upon Mrs. M.-and then use it to laugh her out of the neighborhood. All things being rightly planned, the young M.Ds. started one evening to make Mrs. M- a call, resolved to shock the lady’s modesty and put her to the blush. Arriving, they knocked at her door; and were soon admitted by the lady herself, and requested to be seated, in her usual bland and good-natured way. After the usual compliments, she inquired, "Well, gentlemen, what can I do for either of you to render you more happy and comfortable in life?" Dr. P.-informed Mrs. M.-that his case was considered a very dangerous one; that as it was also a delicate one, it was exceedingly embarrassing to have to consult the lady; but as he knew his danger, and had been informed of their great skill, and that all confidence could be placed in her discretion, he felt compelled to seek her advice and prescriptions. Mrs. M.-assured the doctor that confidence might be placed in her in all delicate matters, and that his secret would be safe in her keeping; and expressed a wish to examine, that she might become fully acquainted with the nature of his complaint, and so be enabled to prescribe for him with greater certainty of success; at the same time offering a private room for the examination, which was declined.
Mrs. M.-went for her spectacles and a light, and the doctor exposed the noxious member, which, he informed the good old lady, was a source of great annoyance and trouble to him, both in and out of company; being subject to swellings and violent directions, so painful as to disturb his rest inflicting bodily and mentally day and night. As is usual in cases of this kind, Mrs. M-carefully examined the afflicted member in various ways, in order to the understanding of the complaint. A good old woman, having in the course of a long and useful life made mankind her study, soon became acquainted with the nature of his ailment, and with a sagacity peculiar to those who strive for natural effect by natural causes, prescribed the only thing that under the circumstances, could be of any avail; but first, calmly informed Dr. P.-that, though his was certainly a bad case, she had successfully prescribed for many worse ones in the patients had never failed to find relief under her directions; this disease soon passing off, and the afflicted part being reduced from its inflammatory state in a very short period.
The prescription was immediately ordered, and the price requested; when the benevolent lady informed her patient that in unusual delicate cases, affording room for an advance in knowledge for the relief of the sick and unfortunate, she made no charge for advice or medicine. Mrs. M.-received the thanks of the young bucks, and handed the following prescription, which she said might be legally obtained of any respectable parents in the neighborhood:-‘One virgin poultice-applied three times a day until the inflammation is completely reduced. To prevent a recurrence of the distressing symptoms, and occasional application should be continued. This is a never failing remedy.’ ”
Like other medical practitioners of his age he endorsed the importance of light, air, proper nutrition, exercise, comportment, abstention from alcohol, regular hours for eating, daily evacuation of the bowels proper rest, and avoidance of excessive heat in cold as the means to avoid disease - primarily consumption. He was against abortion and thought that music and dancing (practiced properly, and removed from the bad influences that have been thrown around it by the perversions of men) operated favorably upon the mind and body so as to prevent consumption, which to him took on many forms.
Consumption had as many causes as it had forms including: suppressed electric emissions, too frequent intercourse, abortion or miscarriage and even unhappiness in marriage like henpecked husbands or wives, were sources of the disease. For Doctor Root sexual love was a happiness and stimulator for mankind and wedded love a prevention for consumption.
Harmon K. Root was the seventh son, a fact of great significance. His ability in diagnosing and curing disease was a God given gift.
"The number seven has in all ages been considered as a remarkable number, and as containing great mystery and power; and those coming under its influence have been noted for remarkable possessions and natural gifts. Among the Jews, seven was a sacred number, and supposed to contain many mysteries.... The sacredness of the number seven may be traced throughout all Scripture. Besides the seventh day of creation, there was the seventh consecrated year of Jubilee, beasts were admitted into the ark by seven's and the seven years of wheat were in the dream of Pharaoh, the seven branches in the golden candlestick seven bucks and seven rams offered in sacrifices by seven priests with their trumpets encompassed Jericho 7 times 7 days, and prophetic language meaning seven years.
In the New Testament we read of the seven loaves with which Christ performed the miracle of feeding the multitude, seven baskets of fragments that were left. In revelations, there's mention of seven churches of Asia, seven spirits before the throne, seven stars, seven Kings, seven golden candlesticks, seven seals, seven thunders, seven trumpets, seven angels, seven mountains, seven golden vials, seven last plagues, the lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, the dragon with seven heads and seven crowns in the seven lamps of fire which are the seven spirits of God. It is remarkable that the power of the number seven seems displayed in the human form in the SEVENTH SON. King David was the seventh son, and one of the greatest men.... The late distinguished Henry Clay (the seventh child) is an example an illustration of this point. The seventh son is no doubt imbued by nature with peculiar powers and perceptions and for thousands of years it's been observed that the seventh son is a natural born physician.”
A DREAM FULFILLED
To DR. H. K. Root.
MY DEAR FRIEND: having been restored to a state of perfect health by the course of medicine obtained from you in February last, and by following your wholesome advice I wish to return my thanks also to communicate to you a truly strawberry dream which has in my queue were met with its entire fulfillment. Previous to last December, I had been thought in an incurable state of consumption. My physicians and friends had given up on me; I always entertained hopes of recovery. One night, the latter part of December, I dreamed of calling upon the physician, who told me my case was not incurable - told me to keep up good spirits, and comforted me with cheering words. I thought he had something in his office resembling a clock, splendidly ornamented. There seemed to be many in to see him; and as he turned to attend an emaciated invalid, I awoke! Oh, how sorry I felt that it was only a dream; and how I regret it that I did not sleep longer, so as to have dreams where I might find a doctor; for I firmly believed that my dream was to come to pass, and that at the hands of the physician I should be restored to health. I waited patiently for a week or two, till one evening my husband brought home a paper called the "Medical Advisor," in which I saw a picture exactly like the emaciated invalid in my dream, and a portrait of a physician I at once knew to be him I had dreamed of seeing. I immediately started for New York; there I found a doctor of my dream, and the clock in the Lung Barometer. Then I felt certain that I had found at the healing physician. I procured a course of medicine and returned home; and now, thanks be to Providence who directed me to you, I am restored to help. That you may live many years to come for the sick, is the wish of your grateful servant, Mrs. Amanda Briggs. PHILADELPHIA, March 8 1852
THE LUNG BAROMETER
Harmon K. Root was the inventor of the “Lung Barometer” which he described as a truly wonderful and useful invention. It was his opinion that no case of diseased lungs could be treated without the aid of the instrument which tested the strength of the lungs, measuring in cubic inches the air exhaled and giving the exact locality of the “disorganization” and pointing out the different kinds of consumption and whether or not there is also disease of the heart and liver. He claimed that he was able to save at least 80% of the consumptive cases given up by other physicians. He warned that numerous persons, since the invention of the Lung Barometer, had made repeated unsuccessful attempts to imitate the article. “As the value of the Barometer of Dr. Root has become widely known, and as the fact that $100,000 were offered the inventor for the patent right of it has transpired, it is not at all surprising that designing men should endeavor to imitate the invention, in order to make money….remember that the only Lung Barometers ever made are the three of dr. H. K. Root-that one of these is in the Patent Office and the others in the possession of the inventor.” (Evidence of any patent records was not found.)
WHAT IS LIFE?
A twisted yarn-a whirling flood-
a curious web of CIRCULATING BLOOD
Thus he introduced the first of his 16 vegetable blood remedies, " Dr. Root’s Blood Renovator”. All diseases have their origin in the blood, through the blood only can the cure be affected, and the science of life and the art of health understood. Dr. Root declares health and long life to be within the reach of all. Price for the blood renovator, $1, 00 per bottle. He also sold:
Dr. Root’s Anti-Bilious Pills, (boxed-1854);
Dr. Root’s Heart Regulator, (bottled);
Dr. Root’s Lung Corrector, (bottled);
Dr. Root's German Ointment, (bottled);
Dr. Root’s Catarrh Snuff, (bottled);
Dr. Root's Cancer Eradicator, (bottled);
Dr. Root's Female Wash, (packaged);
Dr. Root’s Water Regulator, (bottled);
Dr. Root’s Hair Producer, (bottled);
Dr. Root’s Eye Water, (bottled);
Dr. Root’s Ear Lotion, (bottled);
Dr. Root's Worm Killer, (bottled);
Dr. Root's Inhaling Fluid, (bottled);
Dr. Root's Dysentery Specific, (bottled);
Dr. Root's Nervine, (packaged);
Dr. Root Elixir of Life, (bottled)
THE FRENCH MALE SAFE
Dr. Root had both a medical and a moral cause. His People’s Medical Lighthouse not only discussed diseases, their nature and their cure but also was a marriage guide. Root was highly concerned that the delay of marriage was one of the causes of much evil. His guide dealt with highly sensitive subjects about which he spoke passionately.
THE PEOPLE'S MEDICAL LIGHTHOUSE
Onanism or self-pollution was treated as a disease. Root believed the verse in Psalms when “God cursed and slew Onan, for spilling his seed upon the ground.” He felt that Onanism lessened the desire for marriage in ‘men and girls.’ He felt it was a violation of the laws of nature, a sin against the body and was punished by severe afflictions such as insanity and idiocy, consumption and a host of other maladies. Yet he thought celibacy a source of disease too.
Prostitution, he believed, stemmed from the delay of marriage noting that many prostitutes were girls in the early to mid-teens, he recommended “Magdalen Asylums” where both body and soul could be attended. He stated that at one time one of every five women between the ages of fifteen and fifty was a harlot.
His answer was the French Male Safe, an indispensable assistant to be used by gentlemen in all cases where the wife is laboring under poisonous mucus discharges, “because the male being electrified by the female during the “act” he partakes sympathetically of her disease and is made sickly. The Male Safe should be used if either party is in a state of intoxication, since a child conceived in such a state would very likely be “foolish”. The Safe should be used in every case where the male has any disease of the genital organs, where the wife has a malformation which renders the production of off-spring dangerous to her health or in nursing mothers as to prevent disease passing through the milk.
As to the prevention of pregnancy, .he discussed the use of the sponge, withdrawal, quack prevention pills and powders, dousing with poisonous drugs but warned against these measures. For this Dr. Root recommended his “French Prevention Powders” which unlike others were not taken internally, but used without causing any irritation or ill effect – and was used only by the male. Dr. Root also mysteriously claimed of a new and superior prevention pregnancy method available on the receipt of $10 by letter full particulars and directions to be given.
DR. ROOT THE MAN HIMSELF
Dr. Root's office at 512 Broadway in New York City was a three-story brick building where he claimed to have examined over 23,000 invalids and with the aid of his wonderful invention correctly ascertained the condition of the lungs and allowed for his successful triumph over consumption.
He sold his medicines by mail and through local merchants across the Northeastern states. In the wintertime, he traveled. In January of 1850 he set up temporary quarters in Providence, Rhode Island. Local papers heralded his arrival and readiness to see patients. The next year he spent the winter in Boston. In 1852, he introduced his People's Medical Lighthouse. He made his medicines known through his Medical Advisor and newspaper advertising. He even won a hundred dollar prize for a poem, a criticism on his celebrated People’s Medical Lighthouse. Following his own advice, he was married in 1848 to Miss C. Pettibone at Meriden Connecticut. He invested in real estate and continued in business through the 1860s.
He was popular on the lecture circuit; At a meeting of the “Women’s Rights Convention” held in September of 1853 in New York, he stood up from the audience and said that he had three reasons to give why men should vote, and one why women should not vote. He stood at the lectern with a bible in his hand and announced his name was H. K. Root to which a voice from the audience responded, “Good let us get to the root of the matter.” engendering laughter from the audience. He said: “there are three reasons, why men should vote: first, the original command of God, quote man shall rule." We will take it for granted we are in need and, (laughter); there are enough here to represent Adams and Eves. Well, Adam was placed in the garden to take care of it, Eve given to him as a help mate; and God says in the third of Genesis: "because thou hast hearken unto the voice of thy wife," and etc., "the Earth shall be cursed." You see the original cause of sin was because man gave up his judgment to that of woman; and maybe, if we now give up our rights to women, some great calamity may fall upon us. (Loud laughter and applause.) The second reason why men should vote is, that man's physical strength is greater than woman's. (Laughter) the third reason,-because if women enter the field of competition with men, it may lead to family jars and other evils. I give a fourth reason: it is sufficient that man has dictated that woman shall not vote, that she shall not do so (loud laughter, jeers, and stamping of feet)
Was Harmon K. Root was a quack doctor whose sole motivation was to make money from the sick and unfortunate?
I think not. He believed what he said particularly with respect to the influence of his personal philosophy as it impacted his medical practice. One might question his effectiveness but not his intentions. As for that bottle in GlassWorks Auction, I guess the Blood Doctor’s bottle is still too expensive for my budget as I was the underbidder.