Barbells & Bios: The Sydell Herbst–Christopher Gian-Cursio Collection

Barbells & Bios: The Sydell Herbst–Christopher Gian-Cursio Collection

Born in Rochester, New York in 1910, Christopher Gian-Cursio was one of America’s most outspoken, popular and reviled commentators on alternative medicine. Trained at Dr. Benjamin Lust’s American School of Naturopathy, Gian-Cursio came to practice what he termed Natural Hygiene for several decades. Like many practitioners of alternative medicine at this time, Gian-Cursio was against traditional medicines and nostrums, believing that natural methods could cure all diseases. This opinion, somewhat unsurprisingly, often brought Gian-Cursio into conflict with established medical authorities. In fact, Gian-Cursio was arrested several times during the 1940s on the charge of practicing medicine without a license. Acquitted several times but eventually imprisoned, Gian-Cursio became a leading advocate for medical liberty, that is the ‘the right of Americans to choose treatment according to their beliefs about healing.’ In his practice, Gian-Cursio was highly read and highly motivated. His collection, held at the Stark Center, is testament to this fact. Acquired from Sydell Herbst, Gian-Cursio’s former assistant, the Collection holds approximately 5,000 books, 80 naturopathic and medical journals in several hundred issues. Furthermore, the collection boasts roughly 1500 pamphlets, correspondence, and medical files. While it would take several lifetimes to fully do justice to its importance, the Gian-Cursio collection highlights an evolution in American medicine during the twentieth century, tensions between orthodox and alternative treatments and the multifaceted ways in which individuals trained, dieted and treated their bodies. 

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