While it’s never a good idea to eat too much—especially when the food you’re consuming isn’t all that nutritious—the fact remains that eating is a necessary part of life. Without proper nourishment, our bodies simply cannot function; this is accepted as common knowledge.
There have been times in history, however, that this was not the case. During the turn of the twentieth century in the United States, a troubling number of people believed that eating food was actually the root of most health problems.
Perhaps that’s why Linda Hazzard was able to convince people to pay her to starve them. Yet that’s far from the strangest part of her story…
Dr. Linda Hazzard, despite her self-appointed title, was actually not a doctor. In fact, she fits the definition of a “quack” quite perfectly. She had no medical degree and almost no real medical training, and yet was somehow licensed by the state of Washington as a “fasting specialist.”
In her 1908 self-published nonfiction book, Fasting for the Cure of Disease, Linda claimed that food was the root of all medical problems. “Appetite is Craving; Hunger is Desire. Craving is never satisfied; but Desire is relieved when Want is supplied,” she wrote. Many people, including those as prominent as The Jungle author Upton Sinclair, started to buy into these ideas as a sort of dietary fad.
Residing in the town of Olalla, Washington, Linda established a “sanitarium” called Wilderness Heights. It came to be known as “Starvation Heights,” as people would flock to her for her unorthodox treatments that involved extreme starvation over an extended period of time. Patients were only fed small amounts of soup made from tomato juice, for instance.
“Flushing” patients with daily enemas lasting for hours, terribly painful “massages,” and scalding hot baths were among her other methods. Through it all, she claimed that she was curing people of all their ailments, because she was ridding them of the toxins in their bodies. If they died, she said, it was because of something that they would have died from anyway, and not because of starvation.
It was the 1912 death of British aristocrat Claire Williamson that brought about Linda’s downfall. By the time Claire died, she weighed fewer than fifty pounds. During Linda’s trial, it was revealed that she’d forged Claire’s will and other stolen her valuables—something she apparently did for several other patients.
Claire’s sister, Dorothea (who went by “Dory”), was at the treatment center as well. Allegedly, she only survived because a friend of the family showed up just in time to remove her from the compound, as she was too weak to leave on her own. Sadly, by that time, Claire had already died. Dory testified against Linda during the trial.
Linda was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to two-to-20 years in prison at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Just two years later, on December 25, 1915, she was released on parole. Later, she was fully pardoned by Governor Ernest Lister.
Linda spent the rest of her life in New Zealand, where she built a “school for health” and lived among supporters. In 1935, the institute completely burned to the ground; three years later, Linda—by then in her early 70s—got sick and started fasting herself. It failed to cure her, and she soon passed away.
As sad and horrifying as this story is, it just goes to show that you should always be skeptical of medical treatment by people who are not licensed medical professionals. While it’s certainly possible for some foods to make you sick, for the most part, food is what’s keeping you alive!
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