In A Nutshell
In the early 1900s, Linda Hazzard set up shop in Seattle as a starvation doctor. She wasn’t called that, of course. She was a less-threatening “fasting specialist,” but the result was the same—her patients died. After the death of the daughter of an officer in the English Army, she was eventually tried and convicted of manslaughter—but she had already gotten some of her patients to sign over their wealth.
The Whole Bushel
If you’re ever walking through downtown Seattle, take a look upward at the Northern Bank and Trust building, located at the intersection of Fourth and Pike. Not too many decades ago, the building was home to the unusually (but appropriately) named Dr. Linda Hazzard.
At the turn of the century, Hazzard was one of the foremost champions of a so-called medical treatment that had gained bizarre levels of popularity, in spite of a less-than-stellar track record. While she had little in the way of actual training, she did have a state license that declared her a “fasting specialist.”
In 1908, she wrote a book called Fasting for the Cure of Disease. In it, she talked about how every day, she saw evidence of success in her patients, many of whom (she said) saw amazing improvement in their health with the removal of food.
The basics of her argument said that a diseased body needed to be rested in order to heal, and feeding a diseased body wasn’t the way to encourage rest. She claimed that while a diseased body was in the resting-and-recovering phase, there would be no starvation; starvation would only happen in an otherwise healthy body. Disease came from impurities in the blood, and impurities in the blood were caused by problems with digestion . . . so the way to good health was clear.
She claimed that the internal organs themselves were perfectly fine when people took ill, and it was only the presence of food and the toxins food created that made organs begin to malfunction. Stop the food, and the body would begin to cleanse itself.
Those that died, of course, were just chalked up to having something else wrong with them that would have killed them anyway, months of fasting aside.
And there were a lot that died.
The treatment that people were signing up for at Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Therapeutics was nothing short of barbaric. Fasting for week after week was required, with patients fed only 2 cups of vegetable broth every day. They underwent brutal “massages” that involved more screaming than it did enjoyment, and they were subject to enemas that would last for hours, their weakened bodies supported by tarps.
One of the first casualties was a Norwegian immigrant who died after follow Hazzard’s regimen for 50 days. It was called the “most beautiful treatment,” and all throughout the process, that’s what the patients thought it was doing.
Hazzard’s downfall came when she treated a pair of sisters who enrolled in her program for illnesses that were basically no more than the everyday aches and pains that everyone has. Two months into the program, both sisters weighed around 31 kg (70 lb). The first sign the family had that there was any problem was a cable that was sent to their childhood nurse—it was so disjointed and nonsensical that she went to find them.
By that time, Claire was dead. Her dresses were in Hazzard’s wardrobe, her jewelry on her doctor’s hands, and her gold fillings had been extracted and sold. After a lengthy battle, the sisters’ uncle managed to pay for the release of the remaining girl. This was no small matter, as they had been convinced to sign over all legal authority to the doctor that was starving them. It’s not known how many other “patients” were coerced to do the same.
Eventually she was put on trial and convicted for manslaughter. After serving only eight years, she returned to the small Seattle suburb of Olalla and rebuilt her practice. When she was in her seventies, she took ill and began her own fast. As had happened with so many of her patients, it failed to work.