Biography of Vincenz Priessnitz
Vincenz Priessnitz has been named the father of modern hydrotherapy. He was the son of a farmer and received very little schooling, probably remaining an illiterate. However, he possessed an excellent memory and a sharp and rare power of observation. Already aged fifteen years he began giving medical advice, and at age of nineteen ha had such a reputation that he was called to sick people in Böhmen und Mähren.
According to coldwater lore, as a boy Priessnitz enjoyed excursions in the forest. Once he observed a roe-deer that had been wounded by a shot in the back of the thigh. Every day the roe-deer came to a source to bath its lamed leg in cold water, and gradually it became completely healed. On an other occasion, also when still a boy, he observed a vagrant using cold compresses and magic formulas to heal a wounded cow. He soon realized that the cold compress was more important than the magic formula (he got that one wrong!). Later, at the age of seventeen, his belief in cold water was strengthened when he cured himself for a broken rib.
In 1822, when an increasing number of people came to Gräfenberg, he had to build several new houses to replace his old wooden house. After continued struggles, and after having been accused of Curpfusscherei (quackery), his institution was eventually granted state recognition. The number of Curgäste, in 1829 they were not more than 29, reached its peak with 1700 in 1839. He drew people of every rank and many countries, medical men were conspicuous by their numbers, some being attracted by curiosity, others by the desire of knowledge, but the majority by the hope of cure for ailments which had as yet proved incurable.
As his treatment became quite a health fad and he got competition, as numerous other Curorten had begun offering water cures, and this therapy had also been taken up by scientifically educated physicians. The apparent success of his cure, however, is probably more due to the fact that his heroic regime included hard physical labour and long walks along the steep paths of the neighbouring mountains. A water cure with Priessnitz in Gräfenberg worked best for those who were already fit as a fiddle.
The sickness that took his life in 1851 was caused by his long-time use of cold water on his chest.
We thank Rudolf Kleinert, Bad Reichenhall, Germany, for information submitted.
- Philo vom Walde:
Vincenz Priesnitz, sein Leben und sein Wirken. Berlin, 1899.
- W. Heisig:
Vincenz Priesnitzens Verhältnis zu Dr. Johann Sigmund Hahn.
Hydriatr., Jb. 2, 1902, pp 51-71.
- E. M. Selinger:
Lebensbeschreibung. Wien, 1852; 2nd edition, Freiwaldau, 1903.
- Franz von Bielau:
Authentische Biographie von Schlesiens berühmten Naturarzte und Erfinder der Wasserheilkunde. Freiwaldau, 1902.
- Josef Ehrlich:
Ahnentafel. Sudetendeutsche Familienforschung, 1932/1933; 5: 1833.