Jackson Sanitorium, Dansville

Mineral springs in Avon, Dansville, and Nunda attracted travelers from around the world to Livingston County to enjoy the medicinal effects of water therapy. Most well-known in the 19th century was the sprawling resort in Dansville operated by Dr. James C. Jackson, a leading holistic health advocate and abolitionist.

The Sanitorium was a hub of activity and a place that promoted social reform. Dr. Harriet N. Austin played a vital role in the success of the institution and in the advancement of women’s rights, as well as physical and emotional well-being.

Dr. Harriet N. Austin (1826-1891)

Harriet N. Austin, M. D. was born in Connecticut and studied medicine at the American Hydropathic Institute in New York City. In 1851, she was one of nine females in the first graduating class. She opened a hydropathic practice in the village of Owasco, NY but abandoned private practice in 1852. She joined Dr. James C. Jackson on the medical staff of the Glen Haven Water Cure, on Skaneateles Lake, thus beginning a personal and professional partnership with the Jackson family that lasted nearly 40 years.

When Jackson opened Our Home on the Hillside in Dansville in 1858, Austin became one-third partner in the new venture as an active practitioner and partner, treating both male and female patients, including Clara Barton and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The institution soon became nationally and internationally known as the largest water cure in the world and Austin built a reputation as a highly esteemed physician and trailblazing social reformer.

Dr. Harriet Austin authored numerous books and publications on all aspects of health and wellness and was most well-known for championing the “American costume” for women as an essential element to obtain optimal health. She was a founder of the National Dress Reform Association, serving as president of the organization in 1858, and edited popular health reform periodical The Laws of Life for more than thirty years. 

A glimpse into Austin’s close friendship with Clara Barton is captured in twelve years of correspondence between the women, digitized for public access, at the Library of Congress.