Nellie Bly’s 700 Doctors

Nellie Bly

The New York World/November 10, 1889

A Perfect Army of Wiseacres Come to Her Relief

 Queer Ways to Cure that Headache

 Her Experience with the Seven Distinguished New York Physicians Interested Everybody All Over the Country—Medicine Enough Received to Stock a Drug Store—The Question of Toast Diet vs. Five Meals a Day—Prescriptions Galore—An Onion the Best After All

I am still ill.

Two weeks ago I had seven physicians who charged large fees. Today I have 700 physicians who diagnose my case and prescribe without charge.

The story of my ills has brought on me a shower of sympathetic listeners. I never knew before how many friends I had in the world.

Indeed, it has made me regard my never-absent headache more as a blessing than as a curse, for without it I should never have known that while I labor with my work and my aches there are kindly people who would help me if they could.

In face of their example I cannot refuse to write this in answer to the pleading letters I have received from sufferers like myself. The burden of their plea has been:

“If you find anything that is beneficial please advise me, for I am a victim of headaches that no doctor has been able to cure.”

Material for a Drug Store

I have received enough patent medicine in the shape of liquids, pills, wafers and powders to set up a good-sized drug store. The majority are sent through disinterestedness; one did it as an advertising scheme, asking me to accept the medicine and acknowledge it in The World.

Someone in Chicago sent me a box of troches, with the advice to take one before breakfast, make no changes in diet and inconvenience myself in no way; that I will find them harmless, pleasant to take; will not cost 45, and, if I care to know what they are, use the enclosed envelope for that purpose.

A man in Frankfort, Ind., sent me one powder that he claims will cure the worst headache in half an hour.

From a New York physician (retired) I received a pamphlet recommending some “cure.” He underscored several lines, such as:

It calms the excitability of the nervous system.


Pains often increase to such a point as to make her actually crazy.

Requiescat in pace.

One who advises me to have nothing to do with doctors, but try the massage treatment, writes the following: “The New York World reaches Denver, and the Sunday editions are eagerly sought for and pass the rounds of a good many readers for days together. Among the class of people that I was chiefly brought in contact with, viz., doctors, your visit to several of the profession living in New York, as described in The World, created quite a consternation. It is feared the contagion will spread and other reporters will be sounding the real or feigned knowledge of medical men all over the world. * * * Dr. —- justly remarked at an autopsy conducted by me on the body of a prominent citizen some time ago. Gentlemen, the internal investigation of this body discloses facts that none of us knew or even suspected before, and shows that with all our boasted knowledge and science we are still groveling in the dark. Well may we exclaim, “The science of materia medica is but an experimental one, after all.” * * * Now, about your hard working self. A woman’s lot in life, be it in luxury or otherwise, is ever so much harder than that of a man’s. But especially so with the working woman. It behooves them to look as young and beautiful as much and as long as possible and ease in the pleasantest manner possible the many pains and aches of their lives. I honestly believe that massage ca help to accomplish such results. Try it for your headache.”

“Do Not Wear Corsets”

The following advice sent me on a slip of yellow paper is very sensible, to say the least. Headache sufferers who have been testing all sorts of medicine might try this as a change.

“Your diet must consist entirely of fruits, vegetables, graham bread and rice. Drink only milk and water. Bathe once a day in tepid water and rub your body thoroughly with a Turkish towel. Walk in the fresh air two hours a day. Keep you sitting a bedroom windows always open a little. Use no drugs or medicines. eat when hungry. do not overload your stomach Take a cup of very hot water with juice of a lemon in it an hour after meals. Do not wear corsets.

“All of the above directions ust be strictly followed. They are simple and easy. By so doing nature will cure you. Do not read or write more than six hours a day.”

I thank M.P.M. for her kind offer, and also am I obliged to a very kind friend in West Twenty-Second Street, who does not want her letter published. I assure her that the persons professing to know me are mistaken.

I am certain “Pure Sympathy” would not ask me to be like a man I knew in a country lane. He could positively cure hydrophobia. His secret he learned late in life, after he lived a lonely and eccentric existence. On his deathbed he refused to divulge his secret, because he had not known it long enough to make him rich, and he was determined no other person should be benefited by it. So he died, and the wonderful knowledge with him.

Now, as my sympathizer has found a way to banish headaches, she should not ask me to bury such enviable knowledge in my heart, as I know she will forgive me for making it public.

A Little Sensible Advice

“Don’t eat light meals. Eat three hearty meals every day.”

That is good advice. I know a woman who had been subjected to headaches for years, and when one came on her doctor always advised her to eat light meals, toast and tea, or something of that sort. While suffering severely one day she decided to eat until she was comfortably satisfied. She did so, and much to her amazement her headache disappeared. Ever since she has been eating heartily and her headaches are further apart and less severe.

“Don’t take cold drinks of any kind at meals. A cup of black coffee, reduced to a blood heat, with one lump of sugar can be taken with each meal. Never use tea except once a day, if at all, and that in the evening. Milk is often injurious.

“Tea with bread and butter is not a light meal, and is hard to digest. The more food is animalized the more easily it is digested, so that bread and butter, with coffee and lamb or mutton chops or beefsteak is really a light or easily digested meal.

“An excessive use of salt will produce a pain in the back, so use salt sparingly. Good health is more easily retained by not drinking between meals, so avoid food that produces thirst. If having felt thirsty during the day a cup of cold water can be taken on retiring for the night.”

If those who have asked my advice are willing to take it I should suggest giving the above directions a thorough test.

Before I went to the doctor I usually use two meals a day, sometimes three. This meant a light breakfast and a dinner at 6, with sometimes luncheon between.

Dr. Delafield advised me to live on three slices of toast a day. Dr. Meyer told me to eat at least five meals a day. I followed Dr. Meyer’s advice, and I can honestly say I feel better for it. I have effectually stopped several headaches with a bit of steak or an egg or even a bunch of grapes and a cracker.

I have often given myself a headache by drinking tea with buttered bread, and have given myself a sick headache and indigestion for days by my great liking for cold water before, after and during meals.

A Washington physician, who writes that he has prepared a paper on the subject of prescribing for the disease instead of the patient, to be read before a medical society, thanks me for my timely experience, which he says has furnished him the “terrible example,” :points a moral,” &c.

Omitted the Main Point

“But—and here’s a good word for the doctors—he adds: “You didn’t treat the doctors fairly; you kept back the most important information of all—that you were Nellie Bly; that you had been through an experience in an insane asylum enough to make most women insane, if not very strong (the fact that it didn’t make you so proves your good health at that time); that you are continually on a strain which knows no intervals. It is no wonder that you have headache; no doctor can cure a continuing cause, and it is very difficult to keep a patient ‘patched u’ under such circumstances.

* * * “There! I didn’t mean to gabble so, but I want to thank you for what you did in the asylum particularly, and for all the good you try to do—and for the moral to my paper.”

A Prescription of Rest

The Washington physician coincides with the opinion of a woman who served some years as a writer and who gives me a good prescription, but one hard to take, as follows:

“Still, my dea, I must say that I think you have done the doctors an injustice, inasmuch as you withheld from them the key; you should, in short, have told them that you were—Nellie Bly! I now propose to tell you, although I am no doctor, what is the matter with you. You have spent quite a sum of money to find out what didn’t ail you. I shall now tell you what does ail you free of charge.

“You need rest! Complete and absolute rest. Let The World wag as it will, you must have rest. The hint which your head has given you is not to be ignored.”

It is easy to say rest. But when we think how much there is to do, how short life is, and how long a time will be that rest that comes at last, even the most weary get up again and return to their labors.

One Way to Do It

A gentleman writes his experience with two well-known physicians. Having a dislike for gloves, his hands were always exposed to the weather. During a very cold spell a very irritating eruption made its appearance on the backs of his hands. The first physician he consulted gave a prescription for a salve, with instruction not to take any medicine. He consulted another physician who told him not to use any salves, as they would do no good, but to take the medicine which he prescribed.

The patient was in doubt what to do, both physicians being equally well known and eminent in the profession.

As a last resort he decided to use both remedies, which he did, and, strange to say, he was completely well in a couple of weeks. He wished to advise me to do the same by following the advice of all my physicians, but how I could eat five hearty meals a day and at the same time live on toast were two things he could not solve.

Declined With Thanks

It is impossible for me to visit those who have asked me to come to them and be cured. I am grateful, but I am too busy. I am also obliged to the physicians who have offered to treat me free of charge. I cannot accept, as under no circumstances do I tell that I am Nellie Bly, and without this information they are liable to treat free any that may call upon them with an ache.

There is one physician who does not ask me to come to him, and is so modest that he does not even sign his name to the letter he sends. He observes:

“You have had lots of fun with the doctors—and paid for it, too. Now there is just one thing left for you to do. Come over to Brooklyn and let us have a chance to diagnose your case, and we won’t charge you such high prices, and might run the risk of curing you. But, seriously, from your own statement of your case, I am of the opinion that you dono’t need those “nasty drops,” only a little rest. You have worked too hard. Take a vacation and a little tonic, and nature will do the rest.

“I’ll give you a recipe, and gladly do so without money and without price, for it costs so little to exist here in the goodly city of Brooklyn that we can afford to work cheap. This prescription, with a vacation, will cure your head and heart aches.”

A sufferer, who has gone through similar experiences with doctors, sends me her own remedy, which is simple enough to deserve a trial:

“Rub the head and scalp often and freely with whiskey or brandy.”

From the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital, I receive the following letter, which explains itself:

Medical Students to the Rescue

“Having read of your various complaints in The World, and recognizing the fact that you are in great need of medical aid, we take the opportunity of informing you that we have diagnosticated your disease and recommend the following plan of treatment:

“On rising in the morning, take a cold sponge bath, followed by a vigorous rubbing with a Turkish towel; then, lightly clad, exercise with one-pound dumbbells as laid down in ‘—‘s Manual for Physical Culture.’ After a month’s work with the dumbbells, take the exercise with chest weights. Eat three good meals every day with no stimulants. We think your trouble is simply too much literary work with too little physical exercise, and that, having already paid $40 for medical advice, you are entitled to some additional opinions gratis. Follow these explicitly and we are positive that you will eventually be free from headaches.

“Four Medical Students.”


A newspaper correspondent in St. Paul, Minn., says that after suffering from headaches for fifteen years he found a good remedy in some kind of wafers, which he has been using since April last, during which time he has not had an attack of his old complaint.

As I did not receive the package containing the wafers, I am unable to tell what his remedy is.

And Here We Have Onions

Here is a letter that breathes of honesty as well as onions:

“If you want to get away from your headaches, take and eat a raw onion every night about ten minutes before you retire, and you will feel as fresh as a lily in the morning. You must not dread any smell from your breath, for an onion will sweeten it; that is a well-known fact. If you should take a nice mild one every night for a week, I will bet my last drop of celery against a decayed apple that you will have no more headaches. Those doctors know all that, but there is no money in writing ‘onions.’ Please do not look upon this as a joke, for it is a fact.

“A Jerseyman”


I knew a girl in my school days who had the most beautiful complexion I have ever seen. She always ate a raw onion before going to bed. She said she did it to make and keep her complexion perfect.

There are plenty of simple things here for headache victims to test which, if not efficient, at least are perhaps likely to do little injury.

Confidentially, I have tried the onion. Three nights I have eaten onions and for three days thanks to “A Jerseyman’s” advice, my head has not ached.

(Source: New York University, “Undercover Reporting,”

The works of Nellie Bly and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.