Cupid Out of Sorts—Is Advised to Take a Turkish Bath

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Near Çemberlitas Square in Istanbul, a stone’s throw away from the Grand Bazaar, stands the ethereal Çemberlitas hammam, built in 1584. At first glance, one might think the frontispiece of David Urquhart’s Manual of the Turkish Bath depicts this famous Turkish bath, with its domed vaults and cut-away star windows in the ceiling.

The Hammam. In: Urquhart, Manual of the Turkish Bath, 1865.

It does not. Instead, the engraving depicts a proposed new construction in 19th-century London.

By the 1870s, these baths, modeled on Turkish hammams, were scattered across England and America, largely through the efforts of Scotsman David Urquhart.

In the mid-19th century, Urquhart, an antiquarian and diplomat who had travelled widely in Spain, Morocco, and Turkey, ignited a wave of enthusiasm for public baths in Britain. He wrote about the dry hot-air bath, or hammam, he visited in Turkey in his travelogue, The Pillars of Hercules.

Urquhart’s ideas gelled when he met Irish physician Richard Barter. In 1843, Barter opened the first public bath facility of its kind in the UK designed for medical benefits and fitted with Russian-style baths. In 1856, Barter invited Urquhart to visit, and the two devised a new “improved Turkish bath,” using dry heat to maximize the medical benefits.1

In 1861, Urquhart spoke to the Medical Society of London, arguing that the Turkish bath could alleviate a long list of illnesses. Urquhart believed that visiting the Turkish bath was beneficial to pregnant women and could aid digestion. He also championed its potency as a remedy for bronchitis, asthma, fever, diabetes, syphilis, baldness, and a handful of other maladies, including dementia and insanity.2

By the following decade, Urquhart’s bath at his Riverside home in England was well known, and served as an early model for other baths, including the first bath in London, on Bell Street in 1860. The celebrated Victorian dermatologist Erasmus Wilson describes his visit to Riverside in the 1850s:

We arrive at the door of the Frigidarium; we loosen the latchets of our shoes, and we leave them behind the lintel; the portal opens and we enter. The apartment is small, but it is sunny and bright; throughout the glass doors we see a balcony festooned with the tendrils of the rose…3

The Riverside bath was comprised of a hot room, built directly over the part of the floor with the hottest air underneath (240-250 F); followed by a second hot room, kept at 170F; and, down a set of marble steps, a third area with a divan, kept at 150F. Soft pillows were available for comfortable reclining in each space.

The Bath at Riverside. In Wilson, The Eastern or Turkish Bath, 1861.

The Bath at Riverside. In Wilson, The Eastern or Turkish Bath, 1861.

Wilson describes an adjacent washing area enclosed by a curtain:

We seat ourselves on the clean marble at the edge of the Lavaterina; our host plays the soft pad of gazul4 over the head, the back, the sides; we complete the operation on the limbs and feet ourselves; Basin after basin of warm water rinses the gazul and the loosened epidermis from the surface, and we rise…

After this scrub-down, Wilson visited the piscina, a square pool, for a cold water plunge. Wilson explains that typically this might be followed by a second washing, a warm Turkish towel, and a period of relaxation.

In 1862, Urquhart supervised the construction of another London bath at 76 Jermyn Street (the hammam depicted in the first image of this post). After several decades of popularity with Londoners it closed because of disuse. A bomb destroyed the facility in April 1941.

Section of the Hammam, Jermyn Street. In Urquhart, Manual of the Turkish Bath, 1865.

Plan of the Hammam, Jermyn Street. In Urquhart, Manual of the Turkish Bath, 1865.

Manual of the Turkish Bath presents many of Urquhart’s arguments for the health benefits of the Turkish bath in Socratic dialogue form. It is also notable for its case histories. A paper by Arthur Leared, “Treatment of Consumption by the Turkish Bath” notes the improved health of several patients he treated at 76 Jermyn Street. Leared reports that a 17-year-old wood engraver whose sister and mother died of phthisis and suffered from the same disease improved markedly with treatment:

April 16th—Twenty-first week of Bath treatment; has had about fifty baths in all. Is now in all respects going on well. Sleeps well, and has no night-sweats; appetite good; bowels regular; cough almost gone. Has worked ten hours a day for last two months, except on days when he takes a bath.

By the 1860s, Urquhart’s new Turkish bath had caught the notice of the Brooklyn physician Dr. Charles Shepard. Shepard’s 1873 pamphlet praised Urquhart’s revival of the bath, and promoted a new bath established by Shepard in Brooklyn Heights.

The pamphlet takes as its conceit the suggestion that even Cupid needs a pick-me-up sometimes:

Introduction to Shepard, The Turkish Bath, 1873.

The narrative unfolds with charming illustrations:

The pamphlet includes Shepard’s plan for his Brooklyn Heights bath. New Yorkers were encouraged to visit 9am to 9 pm, all days of the week except for Sundays. It remained open until 1913.

Plan and prices of the Turkish Baths in Brooklyn Heights. In Shepard, The Turkish Bath, 1873.

View of Brooklyn, showing the location of the Hammam. In Shepard, The Turkish Bath, 1873. Click to enlarge.

The Bath’s exterior. In Shepard, The Turkish Bath, 1873.

Whether in London or Brooklyn, these 19th and early 20th century baths provided centers of calm in a bustling city. As David Urquart said:

Well can I recall the Hammam doors which I have entered, scarcely able to drag one limb after the other, and from which I have sprung into my saddle again, elastic as a sinew and light as a feather.5


1. This was the Hydropathic Establishment of St. Anne’s in Cork. In many parts of Europe today, the “Turkish bath” is known as the “Irish-Roman bath.” See

2. Urquhart, David. Manual of the Turkish Bath. John Fife (Ed.). London: John Churchill & Sons, 1865.

3. Wilson, Erasmus. The Eastern, or Turkish Bath: Its History, Revival in Britain, and Application to the Purposes of Health. London: John Churchill, 1861.

4. Soap.

5. Shepard, Charles H. The Turkish Bath. Brooklyn, NY: S.W. Green, 1873. P.30.

Three Days in Baden-Baden: On the Enchantments of Soviet Biography

Johanna Conterio, a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Harvard University specializing in modern Russia, wrote today’s guest post.

It is notoriously difficult to find biographical information about people who lived in the Soviet Union. Personal papers, the kind that historians of the United States rely on, are rarely found in state archives in Russia. Russian intellectuals historically tried to keep their materials out of state archives, associating these with policing rather than with preservation—reasonable enough, as archives were mainly acquired during police raids! But that does not mean that biographical information is impossible to find. When getting into a story in the Soviet past, certain names keep coming up, and information comes from unexpected places. A person may have written an article. If their position is given in the byline, one can figure out where they worked and perhaps find the archive of that organization, or a published history. One checks the stacks for books and brochures they have written. Perhaps they gave a talk at an international conference and left a trace in conference volumes. The more one learns, the more curious one becomes about the course of a life in the past, at first seen only in fragments.

Nikolai Ivanovich Teziakov

Nikolai Ivanovich Teziakov

I first encountered Nikolai Teziakov in a source from the Central Scientific Medical Library in Moscow. In 1923, he published a small book, Health Resorts in the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic. When the librarian delivered the book, I was surprised to find that it was in German and had been published in Berlin (in the card catalogue, the title was given in Russian).1 I had it photocopied and didn’t think about it again for some time. But as I continued my research, I started to see the name Nikolai Teziakov again and again. He was the second director of the Main Health Resort Administration, the state organ that organized Soviet health resorts, and part of the People’s Commissariat for Public Health. He worked during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922) in rural Saratov, 500 miles southeast of Moscow, heading the regional health department fighting infectious diseases and setting up sanatoria for tuberculosis patients. But some very basic questions about who he was remained unanswered. Was he a member of a political party? How did he progress from rural physician in Saratov to top official in Moscow? What was his family background? Where did he study medicine? Did he ever travel abroad? And what did he look like?

Some basic information comes from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, and I’ve filled in some more details. Nikolai Ivanovich Teziakov was born in 1859 into a peasant family in a village outside of Sverdlovsk, in the Ural Mountains. He finished secondary school in 1879, and studied medicine in Kazan, finishing in 1884. Teziakov was enormously active in public health in Russia before the October Revolution of 1917. Following the cholera epidemic of 1892-1893, he became a sanitary physician and began to collect statistics and conduct epidemiological research. He worked to lower the rates of infant mortality through the organization of free day care for agricultural families, and to fight infectious diseases through disinfection and immunization. He was also active in training medical workers in the new field of hygiene. He attended the famous International Hygiene Exhibition in Dresden in 1911. While working in Kherson province, he wrote about the increasing rates of landlessness among the peasantry. His statistics were used by Lenin in his work On the Development of Capitalism in Russia. During the years of the Civil War, he wrote the slogan “Health Resorts for the Workers!” He was convinced that health resorts were important for the improvement of the health of the workers, an opinion shared by Lenin and Commissar [Minister] of Public Health, Nikolai Aleksandrovich Semashko, powerful patrons of Soviet health resorts, who oversaw the development of the first health resorts for workers in Europe. He died in 1925 at age 65.

But it is Teziakov’s German connections that emerged as an intriguing story, told through the official journal published by the Main Health Resort Administration, Health Resort Affairs [Kurortnoe delo], in the New York Academy of Medicine’s rich collection of Soviet medical journals.  Teziakov’s Berlin publication was meant to be a conference paper, originally to be presented at the 38th German Balneological Congress in 1923 in Aachen.2 He travelled to Germany in 1923 for the conference, but due to the French occupation of Aachen (these were eventful years in Europe!), the conference was abruptly cancelled. Nonetheless both the director and the secretary of the German Balneological Society gamely hosted him and his small Soviet entourage for ten days in Berlin. Add two new names to the historical index: Eduard Dietrich and Max Hirsch.

Teziakov was eager to see the health resorts of Germany. Together with the Soviet physician [S. V.] Korshun and a German secretary, Binger, and carrying with them a letter of introduction from Dietrich, from April 12 to 30 Teziakov visited the German health resorts Baden-Baden, Wildbad, Bad Homburg, Bad Kissingen, Wiesbaden, Bad Nauheim, and Bad Eichhausen.3 Upon his return to Moscow, Teziakov published two detailed accounts of his travels in Health Resort Affairs. Although he was impressed by the beautiful parks and gardens, clean streets, and brilliant architecture of the German baths, Teziakov was disappointed to find that these were only accessible to what he called the “grand bourgeoisie,” and deplored what he called the “commercial” organization of health resort care. Exceptions to this rule were a few charitable organizations that he visited during his three days in Baden-Baden, but Teziakov called these “pathetic.” He contrasted German with Russian medicine: “Medical help at the health resorts is in the hands of private physicians, united into unions. The organization of state or public, municipal health care such as we, Russian physicians, understand it, does not exist.”4 Teziakov’s reports were republished in a brochure for a mass audience, and reviewed by Commissar Semashko on page one of the newspaper Izvestiia. Reprising a common theme among the new Soviet leaders, Semashko wrote that the country needed to combine “German” technology and “iron discipline” with the Soviet approach to social questions. “What a fantastic order we might then establish in health resort construction,” he wrote.5

The German balneologists were also interested in developments in the Soviet Union. The director of the German Balneological Society, Eduard Dietrich, was invited to the Soviet Union in 1924, as a delegate to the Fourth All-Russian Balneological Congress in Moscow (although it remains unclear whether he attended).6 The Society’s secretary, Max Hirsch, developed an ongoing fascination with Soviet balneology and health resorts. He wrote a number of articles about Soviet balneology in the German press in the 1920s, particularly in the Journal for Scientific Balneology [Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Bäderkunde]7 and provided reports on various balneological conferences and proceedings to Health Resort Affairs. Hirsch’s relationship with the Soviet Union had begun, and was continued by further meetings with Teziakov in 1923 and 1924, when Teziakov returned to Germany to attend the balneological congress. Of Jewish heritage, Max Hirsch emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1933, fleeing his native Germany via Czechoslovakia. My next task is to find out what happened to him when he arrived in the USSR. Through detective work in the journals, I’ve learned not only more about Teziakov’s career, but discovered the surprising interplay of German and Soviet public health in the 1920s and 1930s, mirroring political developments of those decades.

1. N.J. Tesjakow, Das Kurortwesen in der Russischen Sozialistischen Räterepublik (Berlin: Verlagsbuchhandlung von Richard Schoetz, 1923)

2. Balneology is the science of baths or bathing, especially the study of the therapeutic use of thermal baths.

3. N.I. Teziakov, “Po germanskim kurortam (12-30 apr. 1923 g.)” Kurortnoe delo 1 (No. 6, 1923): 19.

4. N.I. Teziakov, “Po germanskim kurortam (12-30 apr. 1923 g.)” Kurortnoe delo 1 (No. 6, 1923): 30.

5. Izvestiia, August 3, 1923.

6. Christine Böttcher, Das Bild der Sowjetischen Medizin in der ärztlichen Publizistik und Wissenschaftspolitik der Weimarer Republik (Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus-Verlagsgesellschaft, 1998), 52-53.

7. This journal is also held in the collections of the New York Academy of Medicine Library.

Hot Springs: Respite for the brain-weary and infirm

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

Blizzards, cold weather, and short days call for vacations to warmer climes.

Fortunately, our collection contains a large number of items relating to balneology, the science of baths and bathing, including pamphlets from hot spring resorts across the United States from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Even if we can’t really get away, we can take a virtual trip to a warm soak thanks to these guides.

Some of the content in these pamphlets has not aged well, due to both medical progress (no one today could claim that a hot spring could cure syphilis) and political correctness (Hunter’s Hot Springs’ view of Native Americans is appalling by today’s standards). But they offer a unique look into how these destinations marketed themselves using the medical claims and social mores of the era.

Arrowhead Hot Springs

“Here the brain-weary may forget a busy world, the seeker after pleasure find it unalloyed with vice, and all, with their loved ones, secure under the watchful care extended to guests night and day.”

Cutter’s Guide to the Hot Springs of Arkansas

“The following diseases are successfully treated, the failure to cure being the exception; where a perfect cure is not effected, a benefit is experienced by all where the waters are properly used: Rheumatism, Gout, Scrofula, Paralysis, Neuralgia, Ozena, Catarrh, Sore Throat, Syphilis—acquired or hereditary, in its different forms—Asthma, Gravel, Diseases of the Kidney and Bladder, Eczema, Psoriasis, Uticaria, Impetigo, Prurigo, Rupia, Chronic Ulcers, Glandular Enlargements, Ring Worm, Migraine or Sick Headache, Enlarged Tonsils, Menstruation Troubles, and Sterility. This is a long list, yet the truth is not half told. Not a week passes but some remarkable cures are effected where all hope of recovery had been abandoned before a visit to these Springs had been concluded upon.”

Cincinnati Sulpho-Saline Springs and Bath House

“Cincinnati is in fact positively the only place where mineral water, fresh from mother earth, can be employed for the restoration of the sick to health and vigor, where all the advantages of a great city can be enjoyed at the same time.”

Hunter’s Hot Springs at Springdale, Montana

“The fact that the Indian of untutored mind should be able to appreciate the value of thermal springs may strike us at first as strange and inconsistent. But the Indian, and particularly the Indian of the wilds unchanged by contact with the whites, lived very close to Nature and learned many of her secrets.”

El Paso de Robles Hot and Cold Sulpher Springs

“On the skin of an average-sized adult there are about seven million pores—seven million little sewer outlets—which are discharging vents of twenty-eight miles of connecting tubes or pipes—through which a large proportion of effete, worn-out débris of the human body, and noxious, poisonous substances, as I have just proved, are cast out from the animal economy . . . The large quantity of bi-carbonate of soda and of sulphur in these waters washes out all these obstructions from the mouths of these millions of little sewers, and after a few days’ bathing leaves the skin almost as smooth as satin.”

Which vacation destination would you pick?