Deborah White speaks on life of Dr. Samantha S. Nivision
The Historical Society of Hammonton held their monthly speaker series presentation at the Hammonton Canoe Club on March 2. Deborah White was the guest speaker for this month’s speaker series presentation as she talked about the life of Dr. Samantha S. Nivison.
Nivison was one of the first female physicians in the country who was a pioneer in promoting preventative health and opportunities for women in the medical field, which was ahead of her time. Born in Mecklenburg, N.Y. as one of 12 children to a farmer, where five (including two sisters) of the siblings went on to become physicians, she attended female seminary school for secondary education in Elmira, N.Y. and then later graduated from Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1855. The topic of Nivison’s life was brought to White’s attention by accident but then was later drawn to her for the past five to six months and talked more about Nivison’s life and impact to those in attendance, including her history in Hammonton.
Nivison was described as “stout and manish” and never married nor had kids, although she took on seven children as her wards. In the 1850s, a lot of obstacles were meant to impede Nivison’s dreams, such as being an unmarried female doctor, where women didn’t belong in that profession during that time period. White used the baseball analogy of “three strikes and you’re out” for Nivison being a woman, doctor and unmarried as to why she didn’t belong to society, with White saying “three strikes, you’re out, although Samantha was never out.”
Nivison traveled around the Northeast after graduating college as she lectured on physiology, hygiene and health. She later lived in a health sanitarium called Clifton Springs Sanitarium and gave the water cure treatment to patients, where patients are soaked in warm water or wrapped in clothing soaked in warm water for health treatments.
“Soaking in a warm bath helped people feel good and if you put salt in it, it can help with inflammation if you had a problem with your skin, with a sore throat, gargle with warm water.
It’s common sense to us here but not in the 1850s, people looked at this and said ‘warm water? Sulfur in your bath?’” White said.
Nivison later set up her private practice in Mecklenburg, eventually purchasing property in Dryden Springs to treat patients, despite not being financially stable all her life. She eventually started her own sanitarium called Clifton Springs Sanitarium and she treated patients of all health problems, including alcoholics, mental patients, invalids, rich and poor people.
Nivison eventually bought more land as a way to help grow the sanitarium, with Hammonton being one of the locations of land. Hammonton was considered a flourishing town as a result of the advertising by Charles K. Landis and Richard Byrnes of Hammonton Lake, which reached Nivison. She then partnered with Ezra Cornell to build a sanitarium, which was called Cascadilla Place that broke ground in 1864 but as a result of the Civil War, it later became a dormitory.
The financial struggles eventually hindered Nivison as she sold the property, which was valued for $9,300 for 83 acres, to Adeline Eldred Prentiss for $1, only to sell it back to Nivison for $1 in hopes to keep mortgaging the property and to treat the patients. She refocused her energy to serve infants and young children. A new sanitarium called Nivison Home is financed by three businessmen from New York City to treat them but then tragedy struck when the measles outbreak took place where 11 infants were killed. That led to an investigation on the conditions of the sanitarium, where it was considered unsanitary. She was put on trial and with the help of Cornell, three men from Hammonton were there to help Nivison but the circumstances later outweighed that help. She was later fined $100 for not having the proper permits to bury children and was accused of murder, which was later backtracked.
“When that knock on the door came, all of these men [the jurors] came there along with the attorney, coroner and they basically put Samantha on trial. One person that wasn’t there was a defense attorney, Samantha had no defense, she’s at a trial with no defense. Basically everything at the trial came out: four babies’ bodies were exhumed, there was extensive testimony given by all of the people that took care of the babies, the infants’ diets and medications were gone over and it appeared that the sanitarium had some rather unsanitary conditions there,” White said.
Nivison later passed away and the land was inherited by her considered adoptive son, Sam Holliday, although the land was abandoned for six years as Holliday moved out of New York.
The land was later purchased by Antonio DeMarco, although he didn’t build a home on the land despite the sanitarium falling apart. His son, Michael, inherited the property and built a home on the land and Michael’s daughter, Bridget DeMarco Carruolo, was in attendance for the speaker series presentation. To conclude the event, White presented Carruolo with a gold plaque in honor of her father’s legacy and the history of Nivison’s land.