California: A Health-Seeker’s Paradise?

With the Homestead’s Victorian Fair coming up this weekend, along with a favorable weather forecast, our Collections Coordinator Michelle Villarreal has Victorian health on her mind. Why the Victorian era, weather, and health? Well, read on!

Considering the numerous health trends that come and go, from eating low-carb to superfoods to juicing, maintaining one’s health was just as popular during the Victorian era as it is today. The latest cures and fads were highly sought and mild climates were thought to alleviate many afflictions, including arthritis, insomnia, consumption (tuberculosis), and pneumonia.

Book, "Two Health Seekers in Southern California," 1897.
Book, “Two Health Seekers in Southern California,” 1897.

Southern California’s weather was considered ideal for health enthusiasts and ailing patients alike. According to the 1897 book Two Health Seekers in Southern California by William A. Edwards, M.D. and Beatrice Hapraden, “Within a few hours from any given point one may obtain the climate to his liking. This is invaluable to the invalid or health-seeker wishing an immediate change of air. It enables the residents of the interior valleys too to find a lower and more agreeable temperature in summer by visiting the sea-shore or by ascending some of the surrounding mountains.”

Other writers named specific cities and counties that were best for patients with tuberculosis, as mentioned in the aptly named California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence. Charles Nordhoff wrote, “San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, with Stockton and Visalia, are the points most favorable for consumptives and persons subject to throat difficulties.”

To capitalize on this trend, sanitariums began to pop up throughout Southern California, which touted healthy diets, rest cures, and comfort. Some adopted health principles that originated at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, founded by John Harvey Kellogg (whose family was of cereal fame). Their treatments included plenty of open air, sunlight, dietary restrictions, exercise, and overall health, among other things.

Of course, the benefits for those afflicted came with a price tag. Relocating to California was expensive and accommodations cost a pretty penny. Edwards and Hapraden added, “One can live very cheaply but only by denying himself the comforts and luxuries which are essential to the well-being of an invalid.”

While many aspects of life have changed since the Victorian era, we can still appreciate California’s weather and its potentially healing properties, if at least for one’s well-being.


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