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Faith in the Great Physician

Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860–1900

Heather D. Curtis

Publication Year: 2007

Faith in the Great Physician tells the story of how participants in the evangelical divine healing movement of the late nineteenth century transformed the ways Americans coped with physical affliction and pursued bodily health. Examining the politics of sickness, health, and healing during this period, Heather D. Curtis encourages critical reflection on the theological, cultural, and social forces that come into play when one questions the purpose of suffering and the possibility of healing. Curtis finds that advocates of divine healing worked to revise a deep-seated Christian ethic that linked physical suffering with spiritual holiness. By engaging in devotional disciplines and participating in social reform efforts, proponents of faith cure embraced a model of spiritual experience that endorsed active service, rather than passive endurance, as the proper Christian response to illness and pain. Emphasizing the centrality of religious practices to the enterprise of divine healing, Curtis sheds light on the relationship among Christian faith, medical science, and the changing meanings of suffering and healing in American culture.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Lived Religions


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

They were individuals who believed that unlikely, even ostensibly impossible feats could be accomplished through faith in the power of God. They were equally convinced that the example, encouragement, and fellowship of others would help to motivate, support, and sustain them in their ongoing efforts to act out their convictions, ...

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pp. 1-25

Late in the evening on April 23, 1878, Jennie Smith stood on her feet for the first time in more than sixteen years. From the age of fifteen, when she wrenched her back while pitching a load of hay into her father’s dry-goods storeroom, to the age of thirty-five, when she was finally healed, Smith endured countless ailments, ...

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1 A Thorn in the Flesh: Pain, Illness, and Religion in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America

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pp. 26-50

On the night of October 18, 1842, twenty-one-year-old Mary Rankin was lying in bed, surrounded by a small group of physicians and friends. After binding a tourniquet around her leg, Rankin’s surgeon, Dr. J. Christy, commanded her to “brace every nerve” as he was prepared to amputate. ...

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2 Resisting Resignation: The Rise of Religious Healing in the Late Nineteenth Century

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pp. 51-80

Jennie Smith heard Lucy Drake narrate her “experience in being healed” at a gathering held near Smith’s home in Ohio in May of 1872. Drake, who was traveling across the country with William and Mary Boardman helping to promote “The Higher Christian Life,” had shared her testimony in numerous settings since her cure in January 1870 ...

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3 Acting Faith: The Devotional Ethics and Gendered Dynamics of Divine Healing

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pp. 81-108

Carrie Judd became an invalid at the age of eighteen. One morning in the early winter of 1876–1877, Judd slipped on an icy sidewalk on her way to the Buffalo Normal School where she was studying to become a teacher. Her arms loaded with heavy books, Judd hit the stone walkway hard. Although she managed to make it to class that day, ...

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4 The Use of Means: Divine Healing as Devotional Practice

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pp. 109-138

One Sunday afternoon in January 1884, Emma Whittemore made her way from her stately Park Avenue home through the streets of New York City. Prompted “purely by curiosity,” Whittemore had accepted a friend’s invitation to hear Carrie Judd give an account of her healing at one of A. B. Simpson’s religious services. ...

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5 Houses of Healing: Sacred Space, Social Geography, and Gender in Divine Healing

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pp. 139-166

In the autumn of 1876, while attending the nation’s centennial celebration, Miss H. M. Barker contracted a case of typhoid fever that left her crippled. While she managed to get about on crutches for several years, Barker’s health was gradually failing. By the spring of 1881, she was “completely prostrated.” ...

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6 The Lord for the Body, the Gospel for the Nations: Divine Healing and Social Reform

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pp. 167-191

Seven and a half years prior to her departure for India as a missionary, Helen Dawlly “was generally regarded as a hopeless invalid.” Following the onset of “some disease which baffled medical skill,” Dawlly “utterly broke down” and “was compelled to retire from the busy scenes of life and enter upon a dreary season of pain and languishing, ...

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pp. 192-210

Jennie Smith died in 1924. For forty-six years following her healing, Smith had crisscrossed the nation as a “railroad evangelist,” seeking to bring salvation and sobriety to those “phases of humanity” who had been “neglected spiritually.” In the final installment of her autobiography, ...


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pp. 211-240


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pp. 241-260


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pp. 261-269

E-ISBN-13: 9781421402017
E-ISBN-10: 1421402017
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886867
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886864

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 19 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Lived Religions