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'We Belt the World': Dr. Leslie E. Keeley's 'Gold Cure' and the Medicalization of Addiction in 1890s London

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Article numberBHM-2019-10-0072.R1
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>16/08/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Issue number2
Number of pages29
Pages (from-to)198-226
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Dr. Leslie E. Keeley (1832-1900), proprietor of the “Gold Cure” for alcohol and drug habits, was the world’s best-known addiction cure doctor at the end of the nineteenth century. Vast numbers of people claimed that his treatment worked, but his insistence on a secret cure brought derision from mainstream medicine. This article uses unpublished archival sources to examine the 1892 opening of Keeley’s London franchise. The British medical establishment, particularly that element of it led by Dr. Norman S. Kerr and the Society for the Study of Inebriety, was outraged at the American clinic’s presence in London. Nonetheless, the Keeley Institute flourished. London’s mainstream professionals did not have the cultural authority to impose their assessment of the Keeley Institute over the popular language of “cure” that followed the Keeley phenomenon around the globe. This article argues that, despite this apparent struggle between two ways of conceptualising and treating addiction, the ultimate winner of the debate was medicalization itself. Whichever therapy a patient chose, mainstream or popular, both understood addiction to be a medical problem, requiring a medical solution.