HYDROTHERAPY, or water cure, was introduced in Cleveland in the 1890s as a treatment for typhoid fever and was later applied in the treatment of various neuropsychiatric disorders. Developed in Germany, hydrotherapy was first used in the U.S. in the late 1880s to treat almost every known malady, from the common cold to chronic illness. It involved immersing parts of the body in a full tub of cold water for an extended period of time, on the belief that the cold water drew the blood from the diseased body parts and effected a cure. The various types of treatment included the plunge, douche, shower, hose, and cataract baths, the rubbing wet sheet, and the sitzbath (in which the patient sat waist-deep in ice water for 15-20 minutes, with a blanket thrown over the shoulders). Repeated hydrotherapy was thought to reduce the mortality rate among patients with typhoid fever.
Dr. CHRISTIAN SIHLER, a friend of Dr. Simon Baruch, the first American doctor to advocate hydrotherapy, was the first Cleveland physician to promote its use. Sihler was a neurologist and the chief of staff at LUTHERAN HOSPITAL, and later founded Windsor Hospital. During the 1890s, hydrotherapy caused somewhat of a schism among Cleveland physicians. Opponents disapproved of its unpleasant aspects and questioned its effectiveness, while proponents claimed it helped reduce mortality. Despite the controversy, water cure eventually became fairly routine in Cleveland-area hospitals and was used to treat various nervous and psychiatric disorders in some local hospitals until mid-century. One popular site for hydrotherapy was the CLEVELAND WATER CURE ESTABLISHMENT.