University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Edward Mott Moore, Nineteenth Century Medical Student

Volume XIX · Autumn 1963 · Number 1
Edward Mott Moore: Nineteenth Century Medical Student

Was it a science, a fashionable hobby, a harmless pastime, or just pure humbuggery?

These questions about the legitimacy of a phenomenon known as animal magnetism claimed the attention of many in Europe and America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Actually, animal magnetism was the "evil eye" of the world's earliest centuries and is the hypnotism of today. However, it had its own refinements. The basis of animal magnetism was the belief that the hypnotist had some peculiar and unusual power, a magnetic influence, that flowed from the "magnetizer" into the patient.

A picture of experiments in animal magnetism, conducted in this country during the 1830's, is given by Dr. Edward Mott Moore, prominent Rochester physician and surgeon. Dr. Moore's personal papers were given to the University of Rochester Library this summer by his grandson, Edmund Wetmore Moore, Class of 1913, of St. Petersburg, Florida. Dr. Moore found the experiments interesting, but was not inclined to believe all the "vagaries" of the magnetizers.

Animal magnetism was popularized by Anthony Mesmer (1733-1815) who had improved upon the ideas of one Father Hell, a Jesuit and professor of astronomy at the University of Vienna. Father Hell had invented steel plates of a peculiar form, and claimed that when they were applied to the naked body they served as a cure for some diseases.

Mesmer maintained that magnetic matter or fluid pervaded the universe. He claimed that this magnetic matter could be communicated from one body to another through the exertion of the will. As  a result of this communication, Mesmer said he was able to cure many diseases.

Mesmer became a sensation in Paris where he operated from a house noted for its rich décor and expensive incense. He succeeded in convincing the public that he and his assistants possessed some unusual ability given only to a chosen few. Charles Mackay, who wrote on popular delusions in 1841, described Mesmer's mode of operation:

In the centre of the saloon was placed an oval vessel, about four feet in its longest diameter, and one foot deep. In this were laid a number of wine-bottles, filled with magnetised water, well corked-up, and disposed in radii, with their necks outwards. Water was then poured into the vessel so as just to cover the bottles, and filings of iron were thrown in occasionally to heighten the magnetic effect. The vessel was then covered with an iron cover, pierced through with many holes, and was called the 'baquet.' From each hole issued a long movable rod of iron, which the patients were to apply to such parts of their bodies as were afflicted. Around this 'baquet' the patients were directed to sit, holding each other by the hand, and pressing their knees together as closely as possible, to facilitate the passage of the magnetic fluid from one to another. Then came in the assistant magnetisers, generally strong, handsome young men, to pour into the patient from their finger-tips fresh streams of the wondrous fluid. They embraced the patient between the knees, rubbed them gently down the spine and the course of the nerves, using gentle pressure upon the breasts of the ladies, and staring them out of countenance to magnetise them by the eye.

Gradually the cheeks of the ladies began to glow, their imaginations to become inflamed; and off they went, one after the other, in convulsive fits. Some of them sobbed and tore their hair, others laughed till the tears ran from their eyes, while others shrieked and screamed and yelled till they became insensible altogether.

By this time Mesmer had appeared, "dressed in a long robe of lilac-coloured silk richly embroidered with gold flowers." With his fingertips and long white wand he would restore the patients to consciousness. According to Mackay, "They became calm, acknowledged his power, and said they felt streams of cold or burning vapour passing through their frames. . . ."

One scientific commission which investigated Mesmer's experiments in animal magnetism, or "mesmerism," concluded that all of these effects were the result of imagination and not animal magnetism and that all of the manipulations and passes and ceremonies could not produce any effect if used with the patient's knowledge or his expectation of some effect.

This report and others ruined Mesmer's reputation in France, although his previous successes inspired many imitators, some of whom discovered that persons could be magnetized or hypnotized without any physical manipulations. However, they too eventually lost favor and during the first twelve years of the nineteenth century animal magnetism was lost in obscurity. Then a new work was published by a M. Deleuze and interest in animal magnetism was rekindled.

Deleuze claimed that:

When magnetism produces somnambulism the person who is in this state acquires a prodigious extension of all his faculties. . .  Seeing and hearing are carried on by the magnetic fluid, which transmits the impressions immediately, and without the intervention of any nerves or organs directly to the brain. Thus the somnambulist, though his eyes and ears are closed, not only sees and hears, but sees and hears much better than he does when awake. In all things he feels the will of the magnetiser, although that will be not expressed. He sees into the interior of his own body, and the most secret organisation of the bodies of all those who may be put en rapport, or in magnetic connexion, with him. Most commonly, he only sees those parts which are diseased and disordered, and intuitively prescribes a remedy for them. He has prophetic visions and sensations, which are generally true, but sometimes erroneous. . .

Finally, in 1841, Dr. James Braid of England, originated the word, "hypnotism." He recognized the validity of animal magnetism but denied any magnetic element. However, he gave public exhibitions of hypnotism, inducing the state of artificial somnambulism by inviting his subjects to blank their minds and to gaze on a bright object, finally exercising his will to overcome their wills. He is credited with laying the foundations for the modern study of hypnotism.

The experiments in animal magnetism as witnessed by Dr. Moore bear little resemblance to the wild performances of Mesmer and his assistants, but they seemed strange enough to shock his family, especially his mother. Dr. Moore first mentioned the experiments in a letter to his parents, dated October 24, 1837. He was then training in the Almshouse in Blockley Township, Philadelphia, which was becoming known as a center of clinical instruction in medicine.

Dr. Moore, then a young student of twenty-three, wrote home:

We have just transferred our Wds from one to the other & my duties have become more arduous & take this into consideration in connexion with some experiments that we have been lately making in Animal Magnetism - may account in part for my deficiency - I have certainly seen some strange things - Of course I do not believe all the vagaries of the Magnetizers - such things as we find in Col. Stone's book - There are some things which are so absurd as not to command our belief although our senses would lead to credence - This clairvoyance - seeing things hundreds of miles off is supreme nonsense - But I have seen some things which seem almost incredible - & will let you into the matter at once— A young physician from N. Y. a man of fortune went on to Providence for the purpose of detecting the impostures of Animal Magnetism - but as he progressed every thing seemed to turn upon himself & he became a convert     He came out to the A. House -  & one of the physicians selected a patient for him to operate upon After a short time (20 minutes) he succeeded in placing her in a sound sleep from which she could not be awakened by sticking pins in her pinching her standing her on her feet - hollering in her ears tickling her nose &c. & - She would talk when spoken to but would not answer questions directly but fancied herself talking all the time to one of her friends - The ideas expressed were such as would naturally - about matters in the Wd - about cheating the Doctors &c. - &c - It seemed very much like a dream expressed -  This patient was magnetized three or four times with exactly the same results - Another patient who went into the room as a companion to the first without any choice on the part of the physician was put to sleep also & presented different phenomena - She said after wards that she was conscious but felt the utmost inability to move & use the muscles of voice - He paralyzed her arm completely - producing both loss of sense & motion by only a few movements of the hands after she was awakened - He then requested her to raise her arm but she could not - he then told her that he would release it by paralyzing the other & after doing this he asked her to raise the first one - but she could not - This was what he desired - for he did not intend to do it - but wished to show that the imagination had nothing to do with it - With a few other motions he entirely restored it - He then in one arm that was paralysed while she was standing up & perfectly conscious, stuck a pin through a fold of the skin so that it must have passed through twice - She held her arm perfectly still without any pain – declared she did not feel it at all -  Pinching was tried - Burning was tried but with no effect - Several others have been magnetised (4 in all) with various degrees of success Now these facts prove that there are modes of operating upon the nervous system in such a way as to produce effects with which we had not been previously acquainted - If it proves to be an almost universal principle it must be of great utility in Medicine. These experiments have been repeated with some modification for several days in succession - If any thing new in the art turns up I will let you know - No collusion could have taken place & the facts are of such a nature that no legerdemain could have been practised - It is so remarkable & the effect & cause seem to bear so little proportion to each other that I can scarcely rely upon my senses - I adopt the Irishmans motto 'Believe nothing that you hear & not half that you see' - I saw all these things that I have related & assisted in some such as pinching &c


Philadelphia 12 mo 7th. 1837

Mother commenced her letter quite formidably but I don't know how the next one will be begun when she hears what this one contains about animal magnetism - Since writing the last one Dr. Mitchell, a distinguished lecturer & physician of this city has undertaken to investigate this so-called science of Animal Magnetism - He accordingly made the Alms-House the theatre of his experiments & in order to understand it properly became a magnetizer himself - But as he wanted to vary his experiments it was necessary to have more than one & accordingly I turned magnetizer& found that my soporific powers were as good as his, Setting the patients to sleep in a few minutes &c - We made the subject purely one of medical research & of course kept as many persons out as was practicable, but still many came - We kept notes of all the cases at the time - as the time it took to produce sleep - the state of the pulse - respiration, temperature of the body &c &c - I have now several sheets of foolscap taken on the occasions - There were about 15 sittings - We gave our attention principally to disprove the humbuggery of the affair - For instance it is asserted that the will of the magnetizer can control the magnetised &c. This is disproved - That by certain applications of the hands to the body of another peculiar effects are produced is proved beyond a possibility of doubt - some sleep in a peculiar manner & some do not some talk & some are mum - some are paralyzed & some walk There is one who is affected in such a peculiar manner as to give us some clew to the origin of the notion of clairvoyance or the power of seeing objects at a distance - She seems when under the peculiar influence to have the power of recalling old impressions which may have been stored away for many years - Dr. Mitchell, asked her what she was doing here in Shippen St., she at first ridiculed the notion of her being there but when he insisted upon it & asked her what sort of a house that was over the way &c - she described the plac{e] just as it was 4 years before when she was last there    There has been a market built there since & Dr M. asked her if she did not see it - but she resolutely denied that there was one - After she awoke she had no recollection of what had passed - This took place this afternoon & we have not had time either to make further experiments or reason upon it, but if I may be allowed to hazard a conjecture it is that persons under this influence will sometimes as in dreams recall things that have seemed to have been lost for years. The state into which they are thrown is not one of sleep but resembles somnambulism & is in fact a variety of it - So much for Magnetism it is an interesting subject & demands & deserves much time to investigate its laws & divest it of the witchcraft & mysticism with which it is involved....

These excerpts are just a portion of a very interesting collection of letters written by Dr. Moore and members of his immediate family. The letters tell an intimate and detailed picture of the life of a Quaker family in the rapidly growing community of Rochester. They are concerned not only with the commonplace occurrences of everyday life but also with the stirring events of the United States in the nineteenth century. They tell of the Yearly Meetings of the Quakers at Farmington, New York, of the differences of the Orthodox and Hicksite Quakers. Opinions are given about President Jackson and the banks and speculation and the financial crisis of 1837. There are accounts of temperance meetings and speeches on the relative merits of abolition as opposed to colonizations as a means of solving the slavery issue.

Dr. Moore comments on most of these topics, gives accounts of his financial problems, his hopes and future plans, and expresses his views on the education of members of his family. He also speaks of Dr. Anson Colman, Rochester's leading physician in the early years of the nineteenth century, with whom Dr. Moore studied medicine at the age of nineteen.

Excerpts from some of the letters written home by Dr. Moore follow:

Philadelphia 3d mo. 6th-1837

My dear Parents,

I believe it is now four weeks since I have written to Rochester, & in the interim have received two, but I must plead want of time, for I am endeavouring to prepare myself for an examination provided I get the votes of a majority of the guardians of the poor, for if an applicant is not a graduate he is examined to see if he be qualified to discharge the duties of the office. If they require as much as if I were a graduate the probability is I shall be rejected, for I am a year behind hand in my studies. I expect you begin to think that I think of but little else as I have introduced it into every letter that I have written, but in truth I expect to spend the summer at Rochester, for the opposition is so great that there is but little prospect of success, at all events it will be decided in the course of six weeks, & if against me I shall leave instanter. I have now been here four months & my financial affairs though not complicated are in a shattered condition, my wallet being in vacuo. You complain at R. of the same deficiency. If I succeed in my efforts in obtaining the situation at the Alms-House $250 must be laid down instanter, & though I could get it of uncle J. for a short time, the pressure in the money market affects him & he has some trouble as well as the rest & the withdrawal of a little money even, might not be very convenient. At all events please let me know what I may expect & if it cannot be furnished now when it can.

Myron Hollys address is certainly a very fine production, but more adapted to a refined audience & one that understood the general features of abolition than to those entirely ignorant. It contained much of which I was entirely ignorant. Mother expressed some desire to know the contents of Dr. Colman's letter. All that it contained was merely a request to send him a German paper that is printed in this city & stating the fact that his health would require his going to Europe next Winter & that he would like to have my company. In my answer to his letter I declined on the ground of expense & although I looked forward to the time when I should spend a year in Paris in order to complete my professional education, I could not bear the expense of travelling next Winter....

I am glad to hear that Murray is attending school, he must study Latin & Greek & go to College, (Haverford), for every boy that is industrious & wants to learn as much as he ought to be aided. I wish now that I had not been such a dunce as I was at his age & refused to study, it would have made a great deal of difference now. But Murray is intelligent enough to see the advantage of applying himself now & if he does by the time he is as old as I am will have amassed twice as much knowledge. There will be no necessity for him to stay at Haverford during the whole term, for with his industry he can prepare himself to enter the junior or perhaps senior class by the time he is 18 or 19 years old. The requisitions are not high for the absurd practice of our cities even for the sons of the most wealthy, is to have their education completed as they call it at 16 or 17. They are then put into stores & immediately eradicate all that they have learnt by round of parties in the evening & business during the day. I suppose you have seen Adam's Speech, one [of] the best & most cutting things that he has ever uttered. Judging from the tone of Van Buren's inaugural address we have not much to expect from the legislation of Congress, very democratic to say that he would veto the will of the majority. Of course his object is to obtain the South for the next election; to what depravity our public officers have brought themselves. Perhaps he may not get his next election, for I perceive that Benton is brought forward as a candidate for the next election, by the same paper that first proposed Gen. Jackson & this may produce a split in the canaille. Pliny Earle, formerly a teacher in Providence went down to Washington in order to witness the inauguration & while there went to see old Jackson. He says he looks as if he was 90 years old. There was a small company & Ritchie the editor of the Richmond Whig fell into a discussion with him on the subject of currency & the old dunce maintained that there was specie enough in the country to maintain the requisite amount of healthy circulation. .

Abolition seems to be gaining ground in this state, we have just received intelligence that one of the lecturers in this has been mobbed. There seems to be no abatement of the abolition ferment, but little however is said of mobs for they are expected almost as a matter of course - It is truly alarming to see the rapid manner in which the mob have progressed within the last few years

. . . J. G. Whittier has hunted out an old speech of his delivered fifteen or twenty years ago when he was first sent to Congress that was most decidedly proslavery & J. Randolph rebuked him severely for it, saying that 'he envied not the feelings of a man coming from a free state who uttered such sentiments' - Hunt the temperance lecturer attended & spoke at a colonization meeting a short time since, but advocated the cause on the ground of the good effects of the colony upon Africa, but declared that it would never be a remedy for slavery. . .

The Jefferson College has its commencement tomorrow & I shall attend it. I have dropped in & heard some of their lecturers occasionally some of them are very good especially one that they have got this Winter, Dunglisson. He is an Englishman & very eloquent. This college is the medical branch of a Jefferson College located off in the south-eastern part of the state, & has succeeded very well. Philadelphia is truly the focus of medicine in this country & it is probable that it will remain so though NewYork on some accounts would be better but as this city gets nearly all the patronage of the South it will continue high in public estimation & this patronage enables them to expend a great deal of money. I have estimated that some of the professors for the time that they are talking, recieve one dollar per minute (paying well for air). .


Philadelphia 7th. mo 31st 1837

My Dear Parents -

I have just received a letter from Van Every, stating the death of Dr. Colman - & giving me an account of his symptoms & the post mortem appearances, proving that it was an aneurism. The loss will [be] great to the little town of which he was a citizen & will be especially so to me who expected to derive so much benefit from him - But it is out of place to bring in any thing selfish at such a time. . .

How I should like to make you all a visit for a few days & then come back again - I would undergo considerable privation to do it & would if it were not for the expense, which is an impossible barrier in these times, though expenditures must be made while I am here to a greater or less extent - I cannot tell what effect Dr. Colman's death may have upon my movement I have not had time to reflect upon it, but am inclined to think that it will have considerable influence upon them. If he had lived, he would have assisted me very materially in getting into practice & perhaps now that I must depend upon myself~ without even acquaintances & relations to assist, it may be more necessary that I increase my knowledge of the profession by a longer stay....

If I should conclude to remain two years more, I shall at all events come home & see you next spring - I feel a strong desire to stand upon my own feet as soon as possible but when I consider that Rochester is poorly supplied with Surgeons & the splendid opportunity that the Pennsylvania Hospital affords for the study of surgical diseases & perhaps be the means of my monopolizing in a few years a greater part of surgery of the city it is a very strong inducement for the sacrifice - At present my surgical knowledge is very limited & must be so unless I can devote more time than is possible in this hospital & especially with the expectation of graduation before me. . .

The more I think about home & the necessity of beginning practice, the less I am inclined to stay, but it is a splendid chance that is within the reach of but few - It will cost something also (clothes & incidentals) to remain two years for my wardrobe is pretty low, though that must be replenished where ever I am. Does father think that the finance can be arranged for me to stay. . . . There is very little doing in this city, though it is not the busy time of year -  The coal trade is very extensive & carried on here on the Scuylkill right under our faces - though it is not as brisk as last year's. If better times do not come on before next Winter the poor must suffer much in the cities for both bread and fuel - The Alms House are laying in their stock 2,000 Tons of coal & 2,000 cords of wood, all of which will be consumed, nothwithstanding heated air furnaces &c - One would I think that it would not take more than a ton of coal & a cord of wood for an individual in a large establishment like this but people are apt to be prodigal of the public purse. . .


Philadelphia 10th mo 24th-1837

The Alms House remains to be the same place as formerly but my associates have changed much - four old ones have gone out & as many new ones come in - One of them from Miss - the son of a planter was a very agreeable & I think conscientious man    In our conversations on Slavery for we had several he would side with me against some Philadelphians & though he had some fears was an abolitionist in principle - But when he gets back he will become a slaveholder like the rest, for a man must have not only a disposition to do right but very stern moral & religious principles to withstand the force of the influence around him on that subject -  He says that at the south they have a very erroneous opinion of the northern abolitionists, being accustomed to look upon them as vile characters & desperate in measures - He was of the opinion that emancipation—would be a great blessing to the south. . .


Asylum 5th. Mo- 20th.-1839

Mother says father seems disappointed at my resolution to remain here another year & seems doubtful of my reasons for so doing - I thought you were fully aware of my reasons or I should have sent word sooner - They were simply that I should leave no obligations behind me - Being oppressed with debt is rather uncomfortable, & I thought that it would conduce much more to my happiness to be entirely free of it before undertaking practice. For several years I cannot expect much more than subsistence & it would interfere much with my comfort to think that this was still to pay - Perhaps you were not aware of the amount of my indebtedness, it is a subject which I have not often gone into though it has been alluded to in my letters. It may be rather unpleasant to you as it has so intimate a connection with the unfortunate Palmyra business, but I will sum up briefly my financial affairs -  When I left home in the fall of 1836, father being a little short of funds gave me $175 - & desired me to draw when he should inform me   This was expended except a few dollars, immediately on my arrival, the fees for instruction being $125 for the course & the remainder going for travelling expenses & for clothing - But I spent nothing but what was absolutely necessary & I made no draw upon uncle James until near spring - During the Summer I went home & fell short of money & father gave me $20 at some inconvenience to himself to get me down - In the fall N. Vale lent me $100 - I had however before this gone to the Alms House & was obliged to pay $250 on entrance - There were other expenses which made the absolute expense about $275 - During the next Winter I got off with about $70 to the University as I had attended the New York school - In the spring I got my diploma for $45 & eschewed any further expense for medical tuition - I then came here - On reviewing my debts I found that I owed Uncle James $360 - N. Vale $100 - & about $40 to tailors, shoe makers &c That due N. Vale & the tradesmen has been paid this spring. The remainder will be liquidated next spring & I shall have the pleasure of seeing you once more - As I have no expenses for board I can save $400 from my salary this year & that is better than I can do for some time in Rochester - I think it not probable that I shall get home this summer - though I am so homesick at times that I may start off at some time. . .


Dr. Moore was born in Rahway, New Jersey, July 15, 1814, the son of Lindley Murray and Abbey Mott Moore; The parents were Quakers, and were closely connected with two prominent Quaker families, the Moores of New Jersey and the Motts of New York and Long Island.

The Moores moved to Rochester in 1830 where the father conducted a school of higher education. At the age of four, under his father's tutelage, Edward Mott Moore began the study of Latin and Greek. Later he was a student in his father's school and then at the Rensselaer Scientific School at Troy.

In 1833, at the age of nineteen, he began reading medicine in the office of Dr. Colman, and in the fall of that year went to New York City where he attended one course of lectures at Columbia College, the only medical school of that city.

The next year he entered the University of Pennsylvania, and after a year as house physician at Blockley Hospital he was graduated from the University's Medical College. After graduating he interned in the Frankfort Insane Asylum.

Equipped with education and clinical experience far superior to that of most of his contemporaries, he returned to Rochester in 1840 to start the practice of medicine and surgery. His ability was soon recognized and he was appointed to the chair of surgery in the Medical School at Woodstock, Vermont. During the eleven years at this school he also taught at the Medical School in Pittsfield, Mass. After leaving these two schools he served as professor of surgery at the Starling Medical College of Columbus, Ohio, and after two years there, he became professor of surgery at the University of Buffalo.

In Rochester he was connected with St. Mary's Hospital and for thirty years was chief surgeon for that institution. He was president of the Monroe County, Central New York, and New York State Medical Societies, the American Medical Association and the American Surgical Association.

He devoted much of his time to the study of fractures and dislocations, and also to the prevention of disease. As a result of his work in the prevention of infectious diseases, he was selected as the first president of the New York State Board of Health. As a member of the Rochester Board of Health he was instrumental in movements for the Hemlock water supply and for a system of sewers in Rochester.

His activities at home were not confined to medicine and public health, although these were his major interests. During the middle 1840's he took an active part in the futile attempt to found a college in Rochester, hoping that a medical school might be established as an integral part of it. When the University of Rochester was founded five years later, he became its ardent supporter, was elected to its Board of Trustees in 1872, and became president of the board in 1893, holding the position until his death in I 902. In 1870 the University awarded him an honorary LL.D. degree. He also was instrumental in establishing the Rochester City Hospital and the Infant's Summer Hospital. Last, but perhaps most important, he advocated and by persistent effort brought about the establishment of Rochester's great parks system.

In 1847, he was married to Lucy Richard Prescott of Windsor, Vermont. They had eight children two of whom, Edward Mott Jr., and Richard Mott, became physicians. He died March 3, 1902. Twenty-five years later a statue was erected in his honor in Genesee Valley Park. At dedication ceremonies held October 19, 1927, Dr. George W. Goler delivered an address, portions of which are interesting in describing Dr. Moore as a physician and as a man.

He was never a money-getter. Notwithstanding his great physique he was as delicately organized and as tender as a child. He avoided pain wherever and whenever possible. He never spared himself. In the early period of his Rochester career, when roads were bad and the income meager, he would frequently ride on horseback a distance of eighteen or twenty miles and back to make a single visit or perform a surgical operation.

He had a dignified, even a majestic presence. He was simple of manner and easy of approach. His appearance in the sick room, where the patient was in pain and the family in tears, seldom failed to bring that calm which denoted the presence of a great physician. He relied more upon his powers of simple exposition and encouragement than he did upon the use of drugs. Not only as a practitioner but as a consultant was his opinion sought both in this as well as neighboring states.

He had a habit of whistling, never a tune or even a pronounced air, just an unconscious blowing sound made by pursing the lips. He had been criticized for this habit, indulged in sometimes even at the bedside or in the operating room, where he might have said with Osler, 'I whistle that I might not weep.'

Like other men he has been criticized. Some one replying to a criticism said: 'Yes, there have been greater surgeons than he and better operators; but he is not only a surgeon and an operator but an originator of devices for the cure of disease, the prolongation of life and the promotion of health. He was a surgical philosopher. More than that he was an all-around philosopher.'