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Houses of Healing: Sacred Space, Spiritual Practice, and the Transformation of Female Suffering in the Faith Cure Movement, 1980–90

  • Heather D. Curtis (a1)


In the autumn of 1876, while attending the nation's Centennial celebration, Miss Harriet 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.” For the next four years, Barker remained a “helpless invalid” whose case “seemed to baffle even the best medical skill.” Although she tried various treatments, “all remedies were of but little avail,” and her physicians eventually deemed her incurable, predicting that she had only a few months to live, at most. “During all these years of suffering,” Barker later recounted, “I prayed so earnestly for patience and resignation to God's will, and for the most part rested quietly, and, as I believed, submissively, under what I felt was His needed teaching of me.” But as “the weary years dragged on,” Barker recalled, “I began to think of the subject of Divine Healing.” At first, she reported, the possibility of healing by faith “seemed a great way off—something for only a chosen few.” Although she became “more convinced of the reality of this belief” through discussions with friends who were “deeply interested” in the possibility of faith cure, Barker confessed that she “was still much in the dark about the matter” and could not “see it clearly enough to grasp it for myself.”



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1. Barker, Miss H. M.,” in A Cloud of Witnesses for Divine Healing, ed. Simpson, A. B., 2nd ed. (New York: Word, Work and World, 1887), 170–78. See also Barker, Nettie M., “Made Whole in Christ,” The Word, Work and World 5 (04 1885): 124–25.

2. For a fuller treatment of the divine healing or faith cure movement, see Curtis, Heather D., “The Lord for the Body: Pain, Suffering and the Practice of Divine Healing in Late-Nineteenth-Century American Protestantism” (Th.D. diss., Harvard University, 2005); Baer, Jonathan R., “Perfectly Empowered Bodies: Divine Healing in Modernizing America” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2002); Chappell, Paul G., “The Divine Healing Movement in America” (Ph.D. diss., Drew University, 1983); Cunningham, Raymond J., “From Holiness to Healing: The Faith Cure in America, 1872–1892,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 43:4 (12 1974): 499513; Dayton, Donald, “The Rise of the Evangelical Healing Movement in Nineteenth-Century America,” Pneuma: Journal for the Society of Pentecostal Studies 4 (spring 1982): 118; Hardesty, Nancy, Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003); and Opp, James W., The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine, and Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880–1930 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005).

3. Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holiness Held at the Agricultural Hall, London,June 1 to 5, 1885(London:J. Snow and Bethshan, 1885). For an overview of Protestant beliefs regarding the miraculous in the nineteenth century, see Mullin, Robert Bruce, Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996), especially 9–30.

4. Barker, H. M.,” in A Cloud of Witnesses, 170–78.

7. Sentimental novels in this vein included Warner, Susan, The Wide, Wide World (1850; reprint, New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1987); Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom's Cabin: or Life Among the Lowly (1852; reprint, New York: Penguin Books, 1981); and Prentiss, Elizabeth, Stepping Heavenward (1869; reprint, Sterling, Va.: GAM, 1996). Associations between true womanhood and suffering have been assiduously documented. Classic studies of the domestic ideology include Welter, Barbara, “The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820–60,” American Quarterly 18 (summer 1966): 151–74; Cott, Nancy F., The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman's Sphere” in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977); Sklar, Kathryn Kish, Catherine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973); Smith-Rosenberg, Caroll, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985); Theriot, Nancy M., Mothers and Daughters in Nineteenth-Century America: The Biosocial Construction of Femininity, rev. ed. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996); and Tompkins, Jane, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

8. On the “cult of female invalidism,” see Stage, Sarah, Female Complaints: Lydia Pinkham and the Business of Women's Medicine (New York: W. W. Norton, 1797), 7475; Verbrugge, Martha, Able-Bodied Womanhood: Personal Health and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Boston (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 16; and Herndl, Diane Price, Invalid Women: Figuring Feminine Illness in American Fiction and Culture, 1840–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), especially 20–30. Numerous historians have charted the increasing trend among nineteenth-century physicians toward focusing on the reproductive organs as the main determinants of female health. Classic studies include Smith-Rosenberg, Caroll and Rosenberg, Charles, “The Female Animal: Medical and Biological Views of Woman and Her Role in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of American History 60 (09 1973): 332–56; Wood, Ann Douglas, “‘The Fashionable Diseases’: Women's Complaints and their Treatment in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4 (summer 1973): 2552; and Stage, , Female Complaints, 6488. For more recent analyses, see Braude, Ann, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2001), 142–61; and Satter, Beryl, Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity, and the New Thought Movement, 1875–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 2156. As Satter, Braude, and others have shown, even under the best of circumstances, menstruation was seen as fundamentally pathological.

9. Clarke, Edward H., Sex in Education: Or, A Fair Chance for Girls (Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1873). On Mitchell and the “rest cure,” see Satter, , Each Mind a Kingdom, 5455; and Bassuk, Ellen L., “The Rest Cure: Repetition or Resolution of Victorian Women's Conflicts?,” in The Female Body in Western Culture, ed. Susan, Rubin Suleiman (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986), 141–43.

10. Record of the International Conference, 151–63. See also Simpson, A. B., “The Conferences in Great Britain,” The Word, Work, and World 5 (09 1885): 233–40. Details on the establishment and development of these institutions may be found in Curtis, “Lord for the Body,” chapter 5.

11. Simpson, A. B., “The New Berachah Home,” The Word, Work, and World (09 1886): 186–87.

12. Barker, H. M.,” in A Cloud of Witnesses, 170–78.

13. Judd, Carrie F., ”‘Faith Rest’, Buffalo, N.Y.,” Triumphs of Faith 8 (04 1884): 96. For this understanding of the relationship between space and ritual practice, I am indebted to Smith, Jonathan Z., To Take Place: Toward a Theory of Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), especially chapter 5.

14. MrsChancey, C. E., “Healed by Power Divine,” Triumphs of Faith 8 (08 1888): 178; Simpson, A. B., “The New Berachah Home,” The Word, Work, and World (09 1886): 186–87; and Montgomery, Carrie Judd, “The Present Outlook of Our Work,” Triumphs of Faith 10 (07 1890): 147–48.

15. “The Rest,” Triumphs of Faith 3 (April 1883): 9293; “Homes of Divine Healing,” The Word, Work and World 5 (10 1885): 253–54; and Judd, Carrie F., “Faith-Rest Cottage,” Triumphs of Faith 2 (04 1882): 5960.

16. The “terms” that various faith homes established ranged from no charge to a nominal fee of, in several cases, one dollar. See, for example, Judd, Carrie F., “Faith-Work,” Triumphs of Faith 4 (12 1884): 265–69; and Daniels, W. H., ed., Dr. Cullis and His Work (1885; reprint, New York: Garland, 1985), 352; Judd, Carrie F., “Faith-Work Abroad: Bethshan,” Triumphs of Faith 2 (11 1882): 165–66; and Sloan, Kittie A., “Faith Work in StratfordTriumphs of Faith 4 (08 1884): 185–88. For a critique of this financing method, see Buckley, James Monroe, “Faith-Healing and Kindred Phenomena (Supplementary Article),” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine 33 (03 1887): 781–87.

17. For examples of individuals who compared themselves with the woman in Mark 5, see Lancaster's, Alice testimony, in “Experiences of Physical and Spiritual Healing,” Triumphs of Faith 1 (02 1881): 3031; and Elizabeth Baptist's account of her healing in MrsMix, Edward [Sarah], Faith Cures, and Answers to Prayer (1882; reprint, Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2002), 72.

18. Beryl Satter discusses the rate policies of Christian Science healers in Each Mind a Kingdom, 85–86. Divine healing advocates contrasted their policies to magnetic, clairvoyant, orthodox, and Christian Science practitioners on many occasions and also confirmed that operating faith homes was not a profitable enterprise. See, for example, Judd, Carrie F., ”‘He That Receiveth You Receiveth Me,’” Triumphs of Faith 6 (11 1886): 260; Cullis, Charles, Faith Healing (Boston: Willard Tract Repository, n.d), 36; Judd, , “Faith-Work,” 265–69; and Prosser, Anna W., From Death to Life: An Autobiography (Buffalo, N.Y.: McGerald, 1901), 164–69.

19. Buckley, , “Faith-Healing and Kindred Phenomena (Supplementary Article),” 781–87.

20. For Bates's story, see Bates, Carrie B. to Judd, Carrie F., 22 November 1884, Triumphs of Faith 4 (12 1884): 286–88; Bates, Carrie B., “The Lord My Healer and Keeper,” Triumphs of Faith 2 (02 1889): 2529; and Pardington, George P., Twenty-Five Wonderful Years: A Popular Sketch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (1919; reprint, New York: Garland, 1984), 172–73.

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Church History
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  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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