Titled after the first American lay publication dedicated to natural healing, Nature’s Path: A History of Naturopathic Healing in America (John Hopkins University Press, 2016), eloquently weaves together the insightful and, at times, radical sociopolitical, cultural, and medical history of naturopathy from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Susan E. Cayleff, medical historian and professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, proves well suited to undertaking the first comprehensive study of an alternative medical system defined as much by its struggle for self-definition as by its philosophy of natural treatments and medical freedom. Informed by a myriad of source materials, from patient testimonials to the publications of founding naturopathic leaders and legal proceedings, Cayleff offers a meticulously researched monograph that strives to answer the question: What has occurred since the founding of naturopathy as a broadly-defined set of therapeutics “to alter yet empower the work of naturopaths” (11)? The conclusion is, much like the practices of nature healers, multi-faceted and complex.
Focusing on the history of naturopathy as a profession, rather than its popular reception or clientele, Cayleff provides a necessary boundary for the vastness of her work. Recognizing that naturopathy has often included an ill-defined assortment of healing modalities, Nature’s Path grounds readers through eleven well-structured chapters of chronological and thematic presentation. Chapter 1 introduces the origins of the term naturopathy during fin-de-siècle America. Cayleff highlights the legal, professional, and personal significance of the term for nature curers who often faced legal prosecution throughout the early- to mid-twentieth century. The term also encapsulates the often radical socio-political stance of numerous natural healers, including prominent American naturopath Benedict Lust, who viewed the term “as a living protest against the autocracy, coercion, imposition, intolerance, and persecution” of allopathic medicine and the growing American Medical Association (14). Continue reading “Book Review: Nature’s Path”