Stark Center—Complementary Medicine Collections

Complementary Medicine Collections at the

H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports

The University of Texas at Austin;

The Stark Center is a comprehensive library/archive devoted to collecting and preserving the words of physical culturists, naturopaths, sport scientists, alternative medical practitioners, and sport and exercise enthusiasts. Its collections on holistic health practices are believed to be the largest in North America.

During Stark Center director Jan Todd’s dissertation research on the history of women’s exercise in the nineteenth century, she discovered that information on exercise was more likely to be found in alternative health magazines than in traditional medical journals. Because such alternative journals fell outside the canon of most academic libraries, Jan, and her husband, Dr. Terry Todd, broadened their efforts (they were already important private collectors of materials related to strength and exercise) and began collecting what was then called “alternative” health and medical literature. Over the years, they brought together the most important private collections in this field and these collections are used regularly by academics from around the world, including students from Bastyr University (the naturopathic university) in Kenmore, Washington; AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, in Austin, Texas;  and students and faculty at UT-Austin. The collections include both nineteenth- and twentieth-century books, magazines, correspondence, medical records, hygienic association materials, and other forms of media.

Of particular note are:

The Sydell Herbst – Christopher Gian-Cursio Collection

Christopher Gian-Cursio was a naturopathic doctor, nutritionist, author, editor, and researcher. His assistant, Sydell Herbst, saved his collection following Gian-Cursio’s death and assisted him in his practice.  Included in Gian-Cursio collection are materials related to the founding of the American Natural Hygiene Society (now called The National Health Association) in 1948, and extensive correspondence with his co-founders, Jesse Mercer Gehman, and Herbert Shelton, whose collections are also at the Stark Center. Gian Cursio was also the editor of The Journal of Natural Hygiene  published from October 1954 to the Summer of 1957.

The Gian-Cursio Collection also includes an extensive library of rare eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century books; copies of such rare alternative medical magazines as the Water Cure Journal, The Phrenology Journal, The Laws of Life, Natural Hygiene, and Herald of Health; and pamphlets, clippings and personal notes on a broad variety of health-related subjects such as food and nutrition, cancer, chiropractic care, fasting, and sexual health. There are also materials on vaccination and the question of medical freedom in relation to alternative medicine.

Gian Cursio’s collection also includes considerable material on the connections between health reform and the mid-nineteenth century social reform movements such as the anti-slavery movement, the temperance movement, and the women’s rights movement.  Gian-Cursio was especially interested in Dr. James C. Jackson’s hygienic home called “Our Home on the Hillside” in Dansville, N.Y., and Jackson’s advocacy for women’s right to be physicians, and his partnership with Dr. Harriett Austin.   The finding aide is available at:

The Jesse Mercer Gehman Collection

Jesse Mercer Gehman was a founding member of the American Natural Hygiene Society who graduated in 1925 from the American College of Naturopathy and Chiropractic with degrees in nutrition (DCN), naturopathy (ND) and chiropractic (CD).  As a practicing naturopath, Dr. Gehman recommended vegetarianism, exercise, sunlight, and the avoidance of tobacco.  In the 1930s he began researching the effects of smoking on health, causing him to become one of the earliest anti-smoking authors, publishing his first book, Smoke Over America in 1943. He also wrote, Living Today for Tomorrow (1947) and Is Smoking Harmful? (1950). Gehman served as president of the American Naturopathic Association (1947) and the American Vegetarian Union (1949). He served as secretary and president of the Citizens Medical Reference Bureau, was chairman of the first American Vegetarian Convention in 1949, and was the vice president for the International Vegetarian Union.

Dr. Gehman’s collection includes several hundred books on the topic of natural hygiene and several runs of periodicals in the field.  In addition, the collection includes over one hundred boxes of his personal and professional papers (which have not yet been processed for access) including letters from patients and his replies suggesting nutritional therapies related to the illnesses. Before completing medical school, Gehman worked as a model for Physical Culture magazine and became friends with its publisher, Bernarr Macfadden.  Materials related to Macfadden in the Gehman Collection include a Macfadden family scrapbook from the 1920s and other photos of Macfadden in his later years. To learn more:

The Herbert M. Shelton Collection

Dr. Herbert M. Shelton, was a San Antonio based naturopath and prolific author and editor. Beginning in 1939, Shelton singlehandedly published Dr. Shelton’s Hygienic Review a monthly magazine discussing natural hygiene, vegetarian nutrition, fasting and the need for medical freedom.  Shelton was a founding member of the American Natural Hygiene Society and was an avid collector of materials related to alternative medicine. Upon his death, his library was donated to the National Health Association, who kept it at its national headquarters in Tampa, Florida for many years.  After learning that the Todds had acquired the Gian-Cursio and Gehman collections, the NHA decided to donate Shelton’s collection to the Stark Center so that his books and papers would rest alongside those of Gian-Cursio and Gehman  and allow researchers the opportunity to have a greater understanding of the evolution of complementary medicine in the United States.  In addition to books and periodicals, Dr. Shelton’s collection includes more than 50 large boxes of personal papers, pamphlets, correspondence, manuscripts, association minutes and other ephemera.

To learn more:

The Maude Frank Collection

Because of her nutritional conversion to vegetarianism, Maude Frank became interested in the field of physical culture and natural hygiene.  She consequently began to collect relevant books and periodicals.  As long-time patron of the Strand bookstore in New York, it was Frank who purchased from them the important core collection of Dr. Gian-Cursio.  This 2000+ volume collection of 18th and 19th century books on health, nutrition, and hygiene is now housed in the Stark Center and available for researchers and student to use.

Beulah “Boo” Law Collection

Beulah “Boo” Law (1922-2016) was a student and practitioner of natural hygiene from the early 1980s until her death in 2016. Her collection contains materials collected by Law during her practice of natural hygiene. Entities represented in the collection include Austin-based T.C. Fry’s Life Science Institute, various health retreats, and natural health organizations such as Victoria Bidwell’s Get Well, Stay Well, America! and the National Health Association (formerly the American Natural Hygiene Society). The materials document education and social communities focused on natural hygiene throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

To learn more:

The Bernarr Macfadden Collections: Founder and publisher of the long-running journal Physical Culture, (1899-1948) Bernarr Macfadden was also a vegetarian, health reformer, and a prolific author of books that were sold through his publishing company.  The Stark Center has several collections containing Macfadden’s publications, including copies of his Encyclopedia of Physical Culture, and the numerous books and articles he wrote on how to live well by natural means.  In addition, the Center is home to the research collection of Dr. William Taft, a Macfadden scholar and biographer, and the research collection of Robert Ernst, author of the definitive biography of Macfadden’s life, Weakness is a Crime, published in 19991.  We also have a small collection of materials donated by Johnny Lee Macfadden, Bernarr’s last wife, and an original oil portrait of Macfadden that formerly hung in the Smithsonian.