Thomas and Mary Gove Nichols were already notorious for their reform activities when they issued the following prospectus in 1856 announcing their proprietorship of the Yellow Springs Water Cure. Water cure, also known as hydropathy, was a popular form of alternative medicine that employed techniques known today as homeopathic and followed regimens modern observers would recognize as wellness. Established in the South Glen near Yellow Springs in the early 1840s, the Glen Forest Water Cure was a spa staffed by physicians and not to be confused with the resort hotel situated at the famous spring that gives the town its name.
Followers of the highly influential and equally eccentric French Utopian thinker Charles Fourier (1772-1837), the Nichols’ were known primarily for their advocacy of free love. The 19th century concept of free love was quite different than it is today, for in the 1850s it referred to reforming the institution of marriage, which as Fourier espoused was virtual slavery for the wife. Mary had had a particularly bad first marriage, of which she once wrote “I have suffered a degradation that the Church and the World call purity and virtue.” Her 1855 autobiographical novel, Mary Lyndon, was largely a condemnation of matrimony. It should come as no surprise that this was not a terribly popular outlook in their time, and the Nichols’ would have many more detractors than followers. One of those detractors was the first president of Antioch College, Horace Mann, who was none too pleased to learn that the Nichols’ were about to set up shop within walking distance of the campus. Sworn to protect the moral character of his students, neighbors like these were the last thing he wanted.
Under their direction, the Water Cure would be much more than a place to recuperate from illness. Rather, the Nichols’ aimed to create a training ground for the perfect society advanced by Fourier called a phalanx. Fourier believed that in a perfectly balanced community of 1620 members, unfettered by marriage and populated by an equal number of men and women representing the 810 personality types he had identified, the law of Progressive Harmony would occur naturally, and all would do the work most natural to them for the greater good. The Nichols’ rejected Fourier’s notion that this process would happen spontaneously, asserting that it first required intensive training of body and mind before the transformation took hold.
A School of Health, Progress, and Harmony.
Dr. T. L. Nichols and Mrs. Mary S. Gove Nichols, have leased for the term of five years, the spacious and beautifully situated Water Cure Establishment, known as the “Yellow Springs Water Cure”, at Yellow Springs, Miami township, Greene County, Ohio; on the railroad between Xenia and Springfield, about seventy miles northeast of Cincinnati, and accessible by all the great routes of Western travel.
The village of Yellow Springs is one of the pleasantest in south-western Ohio. The country is broken and picturesque; the climate delightful; the air of singular salubrity, with an entire freedom from malaria. Its remarkable healthfulness, and the beauty of its scenery, have made it for many years a resort for invalids. It is the site of Antioch College, the great liberal arts college of the West, which, under the presidency of Hon. Horace Mann, with a faculty of eminent ability, proffers to both sexes equal advantages in obtaining, at a nominal price, a thorough education.
The Water Cure Establishment, with accommodation for over one hundred persons, is situated on the side of a beautiful ravine, about half a mile from the village and college buildings. It is surrounded by forest trees and gardens; springs of living water gush from the hillsides; a little river runs through the glen, and there are pleasant and secluded walks for amusement or meditation. It is a sylvan retreat, surrounded by natural beauties.
We named this place, to which Providence has guided us, Memnonia, from the Mystic Statue on the Nile, which saluted the rising Sun with music. So would we salute with our Social Harmony, the dawn of a New Era for Humanity. Here we open, on the first of April, 1856, a School of the Progressive Union, for Health and Education; for Physical, Mental, and Spiritual development; and a training and preparation, internal and external, for the True Life of a Harmonic Society.
To the wearied, exhausted, and diseased, who have yet a recuperative vitality, we offer a home, where rest, pure air and food, exercise, and the processes of Water Cure, congenial society, and all natural and spiritual Hygienic elements, will restore them to the Physical Harmony of Health.
To our friends who wish to prepare themselves for a True Society, by the development of all their faculties, we offer a School of Science, Literature, Art, and Industry, which will enable them to “Give from all faculties, to all faculties;”—the law of Progress in Passional Harmony.
Memnonia will be a School of Health; a School of Progress; a School of Life. We wish to gather here, as in a carefully cultured nursery, the germs of a new society.
Principles, Conditions, and Regulations.
Wide spread calumnies and misrepresentations of the principles and objects of the Progressive Union, and of our characters and teachings, make it necessary that we state, with all possible clearness, the Principles and Regulations of the MEMNONIA INSTITUTE, and the conditions of admission.
The motto of our society is “Freedom, Fraternity, Chastity.”Our object is to free men and women from the domination of sensual appetites and habits, and their injurious consequences, material and spiritual. We believe in Freedom, as the right to do right; and do not assert, or justify, any Freedom to do a wrong to ourselves or others. Freedom is, to us, a condition of truth and purity in all relations. The law of Progression in Harmony gives us this law of sexual relations, “Material Union is only to be had, when the wisdom of the Harmony demands a child.” The wisdom of our Harmony teaches us that birth, under existing conditions, is seldom and exceptionally a good; and not to be sought contrary to the laws of the society and State in which we live. We, therefore, not only require the chastity that the civil law demands, but we repudiate the sensual license it permits. We ask the far purer chastity of a higher law, which commands us to garner our lives, and avoid the waste and all the evils of sensuality. It will be expected and required, that those who join with us for the attainment of Health and Harmonic Development, will conform to this standard; and we will not assume any responsibility either as teachers or healers, toward any person who can not cordially accept and live to the spirit of the law. Citizens of the State, and members of a civil society, we shall require of all the inmates of our home, conformity to the civil law respecting Marriage and Paternity. And it is necessary that those who are preparing for a Harmonic Life, should render a loving and truthful obedience to the interior law of Chastity, as a condition of Health, Progress and Security. And while we do not seek to impose an arbitrary restraint on any, we feel it our duty to say, that persons who will not conform to this necessity of existing conditions and relations, can not be admitted into our Institution.
Our rules will also exclude the use of the flesh of dead animals as food, and the use of Tobacco. We shall require daily bathing, neatness of attire, and attention to the principles of courtesy and propriety, recognized in every fine society. All persons coming to us, will be expected to conform to the spirit of these regulations.
This statement is made thus frankly and fully, for the benefit of such as may have misapprehended our principles. We do not seek to impose these interior laws upon the world of legal or illegal experimentists or sensualists: but we wish to prevent such persons from coming to us, under the mistaken idea that our Freedom sanctions licentiousness, instead of being the very condition of that purity which is necessary to the True Enjoyment of Life.
Objects and Methods
The Memnonia Institute will, in accordance with these principles and regulations, receive three classes of inmates—members of the Progressive Union, who wish to live a Purer and Truer Life, and enjoy higher Social and Spiritual advantages than are now Open to them; Invalids, who seek the Restoration of Health, and are willing to follow the needful directions; Students, young or old, and of either sex, who seek an integral education. All these objects may be sought by the same individual.
To supply these wants, we hope to gather a Cultivated and Harmonic Society; we offer to the sick, pure air, water, scenery, rest, exercise, treatment, and, when required, Clairvoyant examinations, and Magnetic and Spiritual Ministrations. With proper Mediums, and a Harmonious Circle, we hope to develop a corresponding power of healing.
In the cultivation of the Intellectual and Esthetic faculties, we shall have lectures, studies, and conversations on science; lessons in music and the arts of design, and in elocution, composition, conversation, and deportment. Our method is to make the most useful things agreeable, and the most agreeable things useful.
As the Memnonia Institute has no pecuniary endowment, it must be self-supporting. The price to each person, will vary from three to ten dollars per week, according to service, benefit, and accommodations. The highest price will be for patients requiring special attention: the lowest for students and young persons, requiring less care and space. To all, the price will be made as equitable as possible. Those who have known us for the past eight years, will not accuse us of being governed by mercenary considerations. We, and all we have, are devoted to the work of Individual and Social Reform.
It is to be understood that, taking all responsibility, we shall exercise the right to reject any application, or to dismiss any inmate of our home. Memnonia will be, provisionally and necessarily, a despotism, as wise and benevolent as circumstances will admit. It is to be neither a community nor a house of refuge, but, as far as possible, a refined and beautiful Harmonic Home.
Those who wish to enjoy its advantages will apply by letter, giving all needful particulars, to
—T.L. N NICHOLS, M.D.
Cincinnati, Ohio, after April, Yellow Springs, O.