Lewis, Diocletian, 1823-1886

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Diocletian Lewis (March 3, 1823 – May 21, 1886), commonly known as Dr. Dio Lewis, was a prominent temperance leader and physical culture advocate who practiced homeopathy and was the inventor of the beanbag.

He was born on a farm near Auburn, New York. He left school at 12 to work in a cotton factory. He later worked at a hoe, axe and scythe factory and went back to attending school.

He started teaching school at 15. At 18, he organized a school in Lower Sandusky, Ohio (now Fremont). He extended the curriculum to include algebra, geometry, Greek and Latin. This so impressed the townsfolk that they constructed a building for the school, and when a certificate of incorporation was obtained for it, they named the school the Diocletian Institute in his honor. He had to work hard at his own studies to stay ahead of his pupils. Severe illness obligated him to give up the school after a year, and he never went back.

He decided to go into medicine, and worked for three years in the office of the physician for the Auburn State Prison. He then studied at the Harvard Medical School. Apparently a lack of funds prevented him from finishing the course there, and upon leaving he immediately opened up a medical practice in Port Byron, New York. His partner in that practice, Lewis McCarthy, interested him in homeopathy, and he attended the Homeopathic Hospital College of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1848, he opened a practice in Buffalo, New York. However, because he only received a degree in homeopathic studies and no M.D., his use of the title doctor was fraudulent and his practice of medicine was illegal. He began a monthly publication called The Homœopathist.

After a year in Buffalo, he married Helen Cecelia Clarke. In 1852, he gave up his practice and went south with her on behalf of her health. Three of her sisters had died of tuberculosis, and she was showing signs of the same disease. Lewis claimed to have used homeopathy to cure his wife Helen's TB, and from that day his so-called "Consumption Cure" became well-known and profitable. Helen worked with Lewis on his publications, writing her own column on dress reform and woman's health.

From 1852 till 1860 Lewis was engaged in lecturing on hygiene, temperance and physiology. He began by lecturing on health topics in schools, and then in 1853 gave his first public lecture, addressing the topic of “The Influence of Christian Women in the Cause of Temperance”. This lecture stemmed from his experience in joining an organization called “The Sons of Temperance”: he had met indifference when he brought up the topic of having women in the organization. In 1856 he visited Paris for a short time to obtain material for his physiology lectures and used the opportunity to attend clinics in some of the city hospitals.

While lecturing, Lewis began developing a new system of exercises. He felt that, although athletic young men could succeed in the feats required by German gymnastics then prevalent, these exercises did not meet the needs of those who most needed the benefit: boys; old, fat or feeble men; and girls and women. By June 1860, he felt he had developed a satisfactory system, and settled in the vicinity of Boston to publicize it, feeling that “Boston would prove more hospitable to an educational innovation than any other city in the country.” He was not disappointed.

Evening classes in gymnastics were organized in West Newton, Newtonville, Newton, Newton Upper Falls, and Watertown. The new system was introduced in a normal school in Framingham, the Concord Hall school and schools in Boston. A public gym for men, women and children opened at 20 Essex Street in Boston. A lecture at a conference in Boston in August 1860 brought the new system to the attention of educators from across the United States.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Barnard, Henry, 1811-1900. Papers, 1765-1935 (bulk 1830-1899) Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn May family. Papers of the May and Goddard families, 1766-1912 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Plummer, Farnham, 1809-1877. Papers, 1776-1879. Gadsden Public Library
referencedIn Kate Sessions Collection, 1876-1940 San Diego History Center Document Collection
referencedIn Weld-Grimké family papers 1740-1930 1825-1893 Weld-Grimké family papers William L. Clements Library
creatorOf Lewis, Dio, 1823-1886. Papers, 1872-1878. Duke University, Medical Center Library & Archives
creatorOf Lewis, Dio, 1823-1886,. Autograph letter signed from Dio Lewis to Augustin Daly [manuscript], [1868]. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874. Correspondence, 1829-1874 Houghton Library
referencedIn J. S. Bliss Correspondence, 1867-1882 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Houghton Mifflin Company contracts, 1831-1979 (inclusive) 1880-1940 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Weld family. Weld-Grimké family papers, 1740-1930, bulk 1825-1893. William L. Clements Library
creatorOf Leonard, Fred Eugene, 1866-1922. Papers, 1821-1922, 1893-1922. Oberlin College Library
referencedIn May family. Papers of the May and Goddard families, 1766-1912 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Lewis, Dio, 1823-1886. Autograph letter signed : Oakland, California, 1877 Aug. 22. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn May family. Papers of the May and Goddard families, 1766-1912 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Barnard, Henry, 1811-1900 person
associatedWith Bliss, J. S. person
correspondedWith Daly, Augustin, 1838-1899 person
associatedWith Grimké family family
associatedWith Houghton Mifflin Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Leonard, Fred Eugene, 1866-1922. person
associatedWith May (Family : May, Samuel, 1776-1870) family
associatedWith MAY-GODDARD FAMILY family
associatedWith Plummer, Farnham, 1809-1877. person
associatedWith Sessions, Kate Olivia, 1857-1940 person
correspondedWith Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874 person
associatedWith Weld family (Family : Weld, Theodore Dwight, 1803-1895) family
associatedWith Woolson, Abba Goold, 1838-1921. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Buffalo NY US
Port Byron NY US
Boston MA US
Auburn NY US
Health education
Exercise for women
Exercise for women
Homeopathic physicians
Homeopathic physicians
Medical educators


Birth 1823-03-03

Death 1886-05-21





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