The 19th-Century Physician Who Treated Patients in Her Sleep

In March 1876, Mrs. Christie of Vermont slipped on the ice and broke her hip. At least, that’s the diagnosis her doctor gave her. After suffering for months with no relief, Mrs. Christie decided to consult another physician—a woman named Lucy A. Cooke.

Lucy determined Mrs. Christie’s “hip was not broken only dislocated […] and replaced the bone.” The procedure was successful, and a local paper later reported that Mrs. Christie was now “doing well.”

Lucy Cooke had a remarkable skill for setting bones and adjusting joints, but that wasn’t what most notably set her apart from other medical practitioners of the time.

Lucy, as it turns out, claimed to be a clairvoyant physician, and she attended to her patients while in a trance.

15 Jan 1864, Fri The Daily Journal (Montpelier, Vermont)

Sleeping Lucy

Born Lucy Ainsworth in 1819, Lucy A. Cooke (her married name) became famous across Vermont for entering a “mesmeric sleep” to diagnose and treat her patients—earning her the nickname “Sleeping Lucy.”

According to a newspaper account from 1846 (when Lucy was in her twenties), the trances gave her the ability to “describe the internal organs with the same precision as when laid open to view […] detecting any and all disease that may be lurking in the system.” Then while still “sleeping,” Lucy would prescribe an herbal remedy for those illnesses that “could be cured.” 

In fact, one of her own ads from 1857 claimed she could “cure some of the most difficult diseases, which have baffled the skill of Physicians and [have] been pronounced by them incurable.”

19th-century portrait of Sleeping Lucy19th-century portrait of Sleeping Lucy 04 Feb 2002, Mon The Transcript (Morrisville, Vermont)

Clairvoyant or Not?

There were, of course, people who were skeptical of her claims of clairvoyance. But whether she was clairvoyant or not, it does appear that Lucy successfully treated a number of patients. Throughout her career, various Vermont newspapers carried stories of people who had been helped by Sleeping Lucy—particularly those with bone or joint issues.

And, for the most part, Lucy seemed to have been respected as a medical practitioner by many in her community. One article, though generally skeptical of her clairvoyance, admitted that “a large share of those for whom she prescribes have faith in her, and believe they are benefitted by her” and that “she has performed some remarkable cures.”

Beyond Trance Medicine

Lucy’s clairvoyance—while primarily focused on treating patients—was occasionally put to other uses, including locating the bodies of missing people.

In 1871, for instance, Sleeping Lucy reportedly used her clairvoyant abilities to locate the body of a man whose boat had capsized. And in 1872 she allegedly did the same for a young woman who had drowned.

22 May 1872, Wed Vermont Watchman and State Journal (Montpelier, Vermont)

A Successful Career

Sleeping Lucy worked as a clairvoyant physician for more than 50 years, and for much of that time her trance medicine practice prospered. She ran ads in Vermont newspapers for decades, and later ran them in Boston as well after moving her business to the area in the mid-1870s.

In addition to treating patients in person, Lucy also diagnosed people through the mail, apparently only needing to know their full name and age. She also made money by selling some of her tonics.

An article published in 1889, six years before her death, stated that she claimed to have been consulted by 200,000 patients and set more than 1,300 broken or dislocated bones “while in a mesmeric state.”

22 Feb 1889, Fri The Vermont Tribune (Ludlow, Vermont)

Remembering Sleeping Lucy

When Lucy passed away in 1895 at age 76, her obituary was published widely in Vermont and in a few Boston papers as well.

The Vermont Watchman—attempting to sum up her long career in a one-paragraph obituary—wrote that Lucy’s “fame as a clairvoyant was wide-spread, and she was consulted by people from all parts of New England.” To which the Boston Globe added in its own obituary, “She was a wonderful woman.”

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