The Female Bone Setter

Bone-setting or joint manipulation has been practiced in different cultures for millennia. Hippocrates (460-385 BC) was the first physician to record joint manipulation techniques. For the treatment of curvature of the spine he had the patient tied to a ladder, which was inverted to make use of gravity to apply force. He also described the use of straps, wheels etc to apply traction.

With judicial use of a hand, foot, weight, or a lever a prominent vertebra could then be pushed back into place.

One bone-setter who worked briefly in the Epsom area was Sarah Wallin.

We don't know too much about her background various reports say that she was the daughter of a Wiltshire bone-setter called John Wallin (occasionally reported as Wallen, or Wallis) who lived in Hinton (also reported as Hindon) in Wiltshire.

It is thought she was born in 1706 but so far we have not been able to verify this. Following a family quarrel she left home and travelled from place to place attending local fairs where she practiced her skills.

Around 1735 her travels took her to Epsom where she quickly developed a reputation for effectively resetting joints, some of which had been dislocated for some time. Although slovenly in appearance she was neat in her work and took care in rolling her bandages.

It is said that she only had basic understanding of anatomy but had not only the 'knack' but also the prodigious strength that was required to pull and manoeuvre old dislocated joints in to place. Bone setting was often a sideline of farriers and blacksmiths who were regarded as the strong men in a village.

Sarah settled in Epsom where her skill was greatly appreciated especially by the racing crowd, who had more than a fair share of fractures and dislocations caused by falls from horses.

Sarah collected fees from grateful patients and when a rumour went round Epsom that she was about to leave, the townsfolk quickly made a collection of 100 guineas (105) as an incentive for her to stay for at least a year.

Sarah was still seeing patients on the wedding day. One was the daughter of Mr. Glasse, an attorney who was accompanied by Sir James Edwards, of Walton upon Thames. The child had a dislocated neck, which was supported by 'steel instruments'.

Sarah saw the child, and said that she could treat her but would treat no one else until she was a married woman. Someone lent the couple their carriage to convey them to an inn in Ewell, where they expected to find some transport to London.

On their way they were met by a Mr. Walker, a brazier of Cheapside, who went with them to the inn for advice respecting his daughter, a girl of twelve years of age, whose "vertebra, instead of descending regularly from the neck, deviated to the right scapula, whence it returned towards the left side, till it came within a little of the hip-bone, thence, returning to the locus, it descended regularly, and upon the whole formed a serpentine figure". Apparently Sarah "set her straight, made the back perfect, and raised the girl two inches."

While this operation was being performed, two gentlemen came in Sir James Edwards's carriage, to entreat her to return to Epsom, but all they could do was to persuade her that she should be married in nearby Headley. Shortly after setting off towards Headley, Sarah was told that the Headley minister had been suspended, so the coachman said that he would carry her no farther, unless it was back to Epsom.

An article in the London Magazine states:

"The concourse of people to Epsom on this occasion is incredible, and it is reckoned she gets nearly 20 guineas a day, she executing what she does in a very quick manner. She has strength enough to put in any man's shoulder without any assistance; and thus her strength makes the following story probable. A man came to her, sent as it is supposed by some surgeons on purpose to try her skill, with his hand bound up and pretended his wrist was put out, which upon examination she found to be false; but to be even with him in his imposition she gave it a wrench which really put it out and bade him go to the fools who sent him and get it set again, or if he would come to her that day month she would do it herself . . . . ."

Besides working in Epsom she traveled to London once or twice a week in her expensive coach and four and returned bearing away the crutches of her patients as trophies of honour.

She held her healing sessions at the Grecian Coffee House, where she successfully treated a niece of Sir Hans Sloane. The cure of Sir Hans Sloane's niece was the talk of the town, and Mrs. Mapp became quite a famous character.

She moved to lodgings in Pall Mall in London during 1736 but her period as a healer did not last long as many of 'the medical establishment' started a campaign against the large number of quacks operating in London.

Hogarth produced the satirical drawing The Company of Undertakers, shown above, and Sir Percival Pott criticised her calling her 'an immoral drunken female savage'.

Mrs Mapp's success seems to have aggravated her alcoholism and she quickly lost her customers and she died in poverty in Seven Dials during December 1737 and was buried at the expense of the parish.

James Caulfield in his 1820
"Portraits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons: Vol.4"
gives us a glimpse of the life of this unusual character:

Mrs Mapp
by G. Cruickshank

Mrs. Sarah Mapp, a female of masculine habits, distinguished herself by some extraordinary cure she effected, merely resulting from personal courage.- She was called the bone-setter, or shape mistress. Her maiden name was Wallin. Her father was also a bone-setter, at Hindon, Wilts; but, quarrelling with him, she wandered about the country, calling herself crazy Sally.

On her success in her profession she married, August 11, 1736, Hill Mapp, a servant to Mr. Ibbelson, mercer, on Ludgate-hill. In most cases her success was rather owing to the strength of her arms, and the boldness of her undertakings, than to any knowledge of anatomy or skill in chirurgical operations.

The following particulars relative to her are collected from the Grub-street Journal, &c. and serve at least to shew, that she was a character considerable enough to deserve the satire of Hogarth.

August 19, 1736. - "We hear that the husband of Mrs. Mapp, the famous bone-setter, at Epsom, ran away from her last week, taking with him upwards of one hundred guineas, and such other portable things as lay next at hand.

Several letters from Epsom mention, that the footman, whom the female bonesetter married the week before, had taken a sudden journey from thence with what money his wife had earned; and that her concern at first was very great; but soon as the surprise was over, she grew gay, and seemed to think the money well disposed of, as it was like to rid her of a husband. He took just one hundred and two guineas,"

The following verses were addressed to her in August, 1736:-

"Of late, without the least pretence to skill,
"Ward's grown a fam'd physician by a pill;
"Yet he can but a doubtful honour claim;
"While envious death oft blasts his rising fame.
"Next travell'd Taylor fill'd us with surprise;
"Who pours new light upon the blindest eyes;
"Each journal tells his circuit thro' the land;
"Each journal tells the blessing of his hand;
"And lest some hireling scribbler of the town;
"Injures his history, he writes his own.
"We read the long accounts with wonder o'er;
"Had he wrote less, we had believ' him more.
"Let these, O Mapp! thou wonder of the age!
*With dubious arts endeavour to engage :
"While you, irregularly strict to rules;
"Teach dull collegiate pedants they are fools;
"By merit, the sure path to fame pursue;
"For all who see thy art, must own it true."

September 2, 1736. - "On Friday, several persons, who had the misfortune of lameness, crowded to the White-hart Inn, in Whitechapel, on hearing Mrs. Mapp, the famous bone-setter, was there. Some of them were admitted to her, and were relieved as they apprehended. But a gentleman who happened to come by, declared Mrs, Mapp was at Epsom, on which the woman thought proper to move off,"

"September 9, 1736.
"Whereas it has been industriously (I wish I could say truly) reported, that I had found great benefit from a certain female bone-setter's performance, and that it was to a want of resolution to undergo the operation, that I did not meet with a perfect cure: this is therefore to give notice, that any persons afflicted with lameness (who are willing to know what good or harm others may receive, before they venture on desperate measures themselves) will be welcome any morning to see the dressing of my leg, which was sound before the operation, and they will then be able to judge of the performance, and to whom I owe my present unhappy confinement to my bed and chair.

Tallow-chandler, Saffron-hill."

September 16th, 1736. - "On Thursday, Mrs. Mapp's plate of ten guineas was run for at Epsom. A mare called "Mrs. Mapp" won the first heat, when Mrs. Mapp gave the rider a guinea, and swore if he won the plate she would give him 100; but the second and third heats were won by a chesnut mare.

"We hear that the husband of Mrs. Mapp is returned, and has been kindly received."

September 23d, 1736. - "Mrs. Mapp continues making extraordinary cures; she has now set up an equipage, and on Sunday waited on her majesty.

Saturday, October 16, 1736. - "Mrs. Mapp, the bone-setter, with Dr. Taylor, the occulist, was at the play-house in Lincoln's-inn-fields, to see a comedy called 'The Husband's Relief, with the Female Bone-setter and Worm-doctor;' which occasioned a full house, and the following epigram -

"While Mapp to th' actors shew'd a kind regard,
"On one side Taylor sat, on th' other Ward:
"When their mock persons of the drama came
"Both Ward And Taylor thought it hurt their fame;
"Wonder'd how Mapp cou'd in good humour be-
"Zounds! cries the manly dame, it hurts not me,
"Quacks without art may either blind or kill,
* demonstration shews that mine is skill."

And the following was sung upon the stage:-

"You surgeons of London, who puzzle your pates,
"To ride in your coaches; and purchase estates;
"Give over, for shame; for your pride has a fall,
"And the doctress of Epsom has out-done you all.
Derry down, &c.

"What signifies learning, or going to school,
"When a woman can do, without, reason or rule,
"What puts you to nonplus, and baffles your art.
"For petticoat-practice has now got the start.
Derry down, &c,

"In physics, as well as in fashions, we find, r ;
"The newest has always the run with mankind:
"Forgot is the bustle 'bout Tatlor and Ward;
"Now Mapp's all the cry, and her fame's on record.
Derry down, &c,

"Dame nature has given her a doctor's degree,
"She gets all the patients, and pockets the fee;
"So if you don't instantly prove it a cheat,
"She'll loll in her chariot whilst you walk the street.
Derry down," &c,

* This alludes to some surprising cures she performed before Sir Hans Sloane, at the Grecian Coffee-house; (where she came once a week from Epsom, in her chariot drawn by four horses) viz., a man of Wardour-street, whose back had been broke nine years, and stuck out two inches; a niece of Sir Hans Sloane in the like condition; and a gentleman who went with one shoe-heel six inches high, having been lame twenty years of his hip and knee, whom she set straight, and brought his leg down even with the other.

October 19, 1736, London Daily Post. - "Mrs. Mapp being present at the acting of the Wife's Relief, concurred in the universal applause of a crowded audience. This play was advertised by the desire of Mrs. Mapp, the famous bone-setter, from Epsom."

October 21st, 1736. -"On Saturday evening there was such a concourse of people at the Theatre Royal, in Lincoln's-inn-fields, to see the famous Mrs. Mapp, that several gentlemen and ladies were obliged to return for want of room. The confusion at going out was so great, that several gentlemen and ladies had their pockets picked, and many of the latter lost their fans, &c. Yesterday she was elegantly entertained by Dr. Ward, at his house in Pall-mall."

"On Saturday and yesterday Mrs. Mapp performed several operations at the Grecian Coffeehouse, particularly one upon a niece of Sir Hans Sloane, to his great satisfaction and her credit. The patient had her shoulder-bone out for about nine years."

"On Monday, Mrs. Mapp performed two extraordinary cures; one on a young lady of the Temple, who had several bones out from the knees to her toes, which she put in their proper places: and the other on a butcher, whose knee-pans were so misplaced that he walked with his knees knocking one against another. Yesterday she performed several other surprising cures ; and about one set out for Epsom, and carried with her several crutches, which she calls trophies of honour.'

November 18, 1736. - "Mrs. Mapp, the famous bone-setter, has taken lodgings in Pall-Mall, near Mr. Joshua Ward's."

November 25, 1736.

"In this bright age three wonder-workers rise,
"Whose operations puzzle all the wise;
"To lame and blind, by dint of manual slight,
"Mapp gives the use of limbs, and Taylor sight.
"But greater Ward," &c.

December 16, 1736. -"On Thursday, Polly Peachum, Miss Warren, (that was sister to the famous Mrs. Mapp) was tried at the Old Bailey, for marrying Mr. Nicholas; her former husband, Mr. Somers, being living."

December 22, 1737. - "Died last week, at her lodgings, near the Seven Dials, the much-talked-of Mrs. Mapp, the bone-setter, so miserably poor, that the parish was obliged to bury her."

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
A pioneer bone-setter. Mrs. Sarah Mapp by Pearsall R., Practitioner. 1965 Nov
Mrs. Mapp, or crazy Sally Mapp by Fitzwilliams DC., Med World. 1951 Jun 22
Remarks on Manipulative Surgery or Bonesetting by Frank Romer, Postgrad Med J 1926
Portraits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons (Vol.4.) by James Caulfield, 1820
A hand-book of Epsom, by CJ Swete
Some particulars relating to the history of Epsom, by H Pownall


Contact Us

   Principado da Boa Nova
   Bahia, Brasil





   Cangrejeras 1500
   San Pedro de la Paz
   413000 Concepcion, Chile



School of Health & Pharmacology VOLKSMED Est 2014