J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

John and Hannah Pope: cancer specialists

Writing about Richard Stockton dying of cancer in 1781 reminded me that I had some information about a cancer specialist on my hard drive. A few years ago, historian Clayton Cramer came across an entry in the 1800 Boston town directory for “Hannah Pope, cancer doctor.” He wrote about that fact on his blog, and later mentioned it on an email list we both subscribe to.

So I did some checking in my resources. Several Boston newspapers noted the death of Hannah Pope in March 1805. The first was the New England Palladium, which identified her as widow of Dr. John Pope, aged 61, “a member of the Society of Friends and exemplary in her virtues,” and up until quite recently living at 63 Newbury Street. (Bostonians started numbering their houses after the war.)

Knowing Pope was a Friend led me to check George Selleck’s Quakers in Boston, which contains a complete list of the town’s Quakers in 1774. In that year John and Hannah Pope were members of the Society of Friends, along with John’s parents and uncles and Hannah’s father, James Raymer. John was four years older than his wife. They had a son named John and a daughter named Hannah. John Pope was described as a surveyor as well as a doctor, and indeed in 1785 he advertised that he taught surveying, mathematics, and other skills in the evening.

According to Peter Benes’s article on itinerant healers in the Medicine and Healing volume of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, the Boston directory for 1789 listed Dr. John Pope as a specialist in “cancers and malignant ulcers” as well as “school-master and surgeon.” He claimed to have been curing people since 1768 with an external “Plaister” and an internal “Balsamic Elixir.”

Hannah Pope must have carried on her husband’s profession after his death, also calling herself a “cancer doctor.” The Quakers were unusually respectful of women’s abilities (for the times), and perhaps that gave Hannah the impetus to operate on her own. (She was never called “Dr. Hannah Pope,” though.) The couple’s sons John (b. 1769), Samuel (b. 1781), and Benjamin (b. 1783) all followed in the field, advertising their skills in Providence and Hartford in the early 1800s.

TOMORROW: Cancer treatment in 1799.

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