Gunn’s New Family Physician


My mother came across an interesting old book in among many other antiquated volumes in their home called Gunn’s New Family Physician written in 1864.   She said the book has some marvelous remedies and many suggestions and exercises for better health.  Some remedies, however, are better than others.

In the section on ” Shower Bath,” Gunn says, “When convenient, the shower bath is an admirable thing–to be followed, of course, with proper friction and exercise. The morning is probably the best time to take it. In order to take this bath properly, it is necessary to have a box or apparatus constructed expressly for the purpose. Most of my readers, probably, will know how such an apparatus should be made. It is sufficient to say here that it consists, essentially, of an arrangement by which the water is allowed to fall upon the body in a series of small streams at the same time, and the greater the surface upon which they fall, the better. Usually these baths are so constructed that the streams fall perpendicularly, and strike upon the head and shoulders only. ..Where there are no better means at hand, an assistant may stand upon a chair, or in some elevated position, and pour the water upon the bather from a common watering-pot, which will answer as a very good substitute for a more perfect machine. The benefit of the shower bath consists mainly in the general shock, and consequent reaction, which it produces upon the nervous system, and the organs of the skin…In order to derive the full benefits of the bath, the water must be cold…”

I shudder at the thought of a cold shower.  But Gunn goes on to “applaud the benefits of “The Full Bath,” which consists of immersing the whole body in water. For this purpose, a tub, vat, or bathing trough, is necessary, which should be large enough to take in the whole person, and be sufficiently roomy to admit of freedom of motion. Should the cold bath, after all proper efforts, be followed by paleness of the skin, dullness and inactivity of body and mind, with more or less chilliness, it is not likely to be useful, and should, for the time being, be abandoned.”

You think?

*Pic of the robustly healthy John Gunn and his book. Women in late 19th century bathing costumes

8 responses to “Gunn’s New Family Physician

  1. LOL. A cold shower wouldn’t appeal much to me either, Beth! Great post!!

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  2. Brrrrr…no wonder some considered bathing to be bad for your health back then and didn’t wash regularly as we do these days. If the water was cold enough – it probably WAS bad for you.

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  3. I don’t think everyone advocated cold bathing but that had to be a big turn off for those who did.

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  4. Did I get this right – a cold shower stimulates you but a cold bath makes you pale and unresponsive? How unique. He’d be stoned to death these days. 🙂

    How interesting his thoughts were. I’ll enjoy my hot showers, thank you very much. 🙂

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  5. Agreed. Thanks for stopping by, Paisley.

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  6. Hi, Beth–we watch Lark Rise to Candelford on PBS, a continuing saga in the English countryside. Two maiden ladies who own a dress shop indulge and buy a “shower.” The dress in their bathing costumes and caps to take this shower. There’re two two tubs–the person sits on a stool in one, and works a hand pump to move the water through a tube to a shower head.
    The scene was hysterical–they were laughing and shrieking so much they could hardly bathe. A ridiculous sight! Celia

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