• Marie Hickman

Magnetic Physician Offers "Metallic Rings"

Updated: Dec 22, 2019

by Anne Adams

Listed in the 1904 Athens City Directory, besides the names and addresses of city residents, there were also numerous advertisements for local merchants and professionals. For example, on one page there was an ad for a grocery store, a barbershop and also a notice from “Dr.  J.B. Williams – Magnetic Physician.” 

If that sounds unusual, then we find a few years later in 1913 Dr. Williams now advertised in the Athens Weekly Review offering “Trio Metalic [sic] Rings.”

So what’s the story?

At this time in the early 1900s what today we call “alternative” medicine was quite popular with many if they became dissatisfied with conventional physicians. Some relied on a “tonics” or patent medicine which while maybe not curing their illness definitely made them feel better because it was largely alcohol. Or they might try a cure by wearing an electric belt as advertised in the Sears catalogs of the time.  Such measures sound strange to us but since doctors at the time did not have all the modern medical science we have if they couldn’t always provide relief or a cure, and these alternative practitioners like Dr. Williams were appealing. 

But how effective was Dr. Williams?  Did he cure anyone? His ad in the city directory said he had and he was ready to provide testimonials. He also stressed that “I can cure all manner of diseases without the use of the knife or medicines.” And if there was no cure then there was no fee.

By 1913 Dr. Williams then advertised that he was offering “Trio Metalic [sic] Rings” made of zinc, copper, and silver that were “so constructed as to generate, or gather, electricity and in turns carry the current through the body.”  According to the ad, it was widely believed that illnesses were caused by insulation, and that principal insulators were shoes and hats.  “Every living thing on the earth conducts the currents from the air to the ground and doubtless baldness is caused by wearing hats,” said the ad. And by this theory, it was sure that hats served “as insulators and preventing the currents from entering the ends of the hair and giving life and vigor to it.”

Then there also was the problem with footwear because shoes “…have a tendency to stop the currents from going through the body to the earth.”  After all, in cultures where people wore no hats or shoes they had fewer illnesses than “civilized people” had.

So what the purpose of the rings?  It was to “help adjust and rectify this mistake we have made so long, by gathering up the electricity and passing it through the body; rejuvenating and enlivening the whole system.”  The ad writer admits that there some illnesses that nothing can cure, but urged the customer to try the rings anyway!

So how did they work? Once you bought the rings and began to wear them then “they will do the rest because they will absolutely pass through the body a regular gentle, mild current of electricity perceptible to most people.” They were especially effective for women who suffer with “troubles peculiar to their sex.”  It was a common tact to single out women in such ads since accurate knowledge about gynecological issues was sparse, women with “feminine problems” often sought relief through these alternative medicine methods.

If you were curious about this company, Dr. Williams assured the reader that he had a reference with the Guaranty State Bank there in Athens, and the company office was apparently in the Coleman Bldg. over the bank.  And were the rings made locally?  Perhaps they were – or at least something similar was definitely produced in Athens – in the building now occupied by the Henderson County Historical Museum.

This is the Faulk-Gauntt Building which at one time was the location of many such businesses as groceries or law offices. However, according to Estelle Corder’s article at the Historical Commission, there was once a particular tenant on the second floor that might tie into our story.

As Ms. Corder wrote about the building:  “…in 1909 or 1910 Tom Billy Jones located a small manufacturing business here. He and several employees made copper rings with small lead caps that were claimed to create an electric current to cure rheumatism.”

So did Jones and his associates make the Trio Metalic Rings?  We can only guess. However, whether it was treatment by a “magnetic physician” like Dr. Williams or wearing metal rings that were supposed to affect a cure, people at the time often sought relief or a cure with the “alternative medicine” at the time.

So did it work?  We don’t know of course, but when you’re suffering and your family doctor seems powerless than naturally, you’d be willing to try anything – even what we see today as useless. 

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