Mark Twain and Alternative Medicine

What do you know about Mark Twain? That he was a famous humorist? That he wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn? Maybe you know he questioned many conventions like organized religion. What you may not know is that he was an enthusiastic proponent of “alternative medicine” long before the term was coined.

Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens, was born in 1835, long before germ theory, antibiotics, randomized clinical trials, or modern vaccines. The medicine of his day was pre-scientific and unregulated, splintered into sects with allopaths, homeopaths, hydrotherapists, osteopaths, and others battling each other for primacy. Anyone could practice medicine without a license. Twain had no rational basis for choosing one sect over another.

Twain always feared death, with good reason. In his day, life was very uncertain, with 25 percent of children dying before their first birthday, and 50 percent by age 21.

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