Print this page

Observations placeholder

Fancher, Mollie - Living without any food



Type of spiritual experience

A description of the experience

Friar Herbert Thurston - The Physical Phenomenon of Mysticism

When some attention was drawn to the case in 1878, the New York Herald on October 20th published an article which seems to have escaped the notice of Judge Dailey. The reporter of the Herald had very rightly been refused admittance to the house in which the poor invalid was living, but he managed to discover the names of her medical advisers. Dr. Ormiston, on being interviewed, is stated to have said:

"lt seems incredible, but from everything I can learn, Mollie Fancher never eats."

The doctor went on to declare that the aunt, her constant companion, who testified to this, was a person of the highest character, and he added:

"During a dozen visits to the sick chamber I have never detected evidence of the patient's having eaten a morsel.”

Finding his way thence to Dr. Speir, the reporter put the question: Has she eaten nothing during all these fourteen years? The reply was in these terms:

I can safely say she has not. I do not believe that any food- that is, solids has ever passed the woman’s lips since her attack of paralysis consequent upon her mishap. As for an occasional teaspoonful of water or milk, I sometimes force her to take it by using an instrument to prize open her mouth. But that is painful to her. The case knocks the bottom out of all existing medical theses, and is, in a word, miraculous.

After referring to the emetics he had administered, Dr. Speir went on:

I have taken every precaution against deception, sometimes going to the house at eleven or twelve o'clock at night without being announced, but have always found her the same and lying in the ,in-, position.  My brethren in the medical profession at first were inclined to laugh at me and call me a fool and a spiritualist when I told them of the long abstinence and keen intellectual powers of my interesting patient. But such as have been admitted to see her are convinced. These are Dr. Ormiston, Dr. Elliott and Dr. Hutchison, some of the best talent in the city, who have seen and believed.

The reporter then went back to Dr. Ormiston, but found him in no way inclined to withdraw from his former declarations. On the contrary, he strengthened them by saying:

Her tenacity of life for fourteen years, without sustenance enough to feed a baby for a week, appeals strongly to my unwilling belief in supernatural visitations.

I cannot find in subsequent issues of the Herald that the doctors who were so reported made any attempt to repudiate the language attributed to them.

The nutrition trouble seems to have begun in Mollie Fancher's school days. Her stomach even then "rejected most kinds of food," and the doctors, being persuaded that she suffered from nervous indigestion, recommended her to take up riding as an exercise. This resulted in a very bad fall in which she struck her head against the kerbstone and broke a rib, though her completely crippled condition only followed upon a second accident when in stepping out of a tram-car her crinoline got caught in the vehicle and she was dragged for many yards along the roadway.

A curious remark is recorded of her in the early stages of her illness when they were trying to force food upon her which her stomach rejected, and which caused her great distress. Her aunt, Miss Crosby, urging her to make an effort because it was necessary to eat in order to maintain life, she is said to have replied that she received nourishment from a source of which they were all ignorant.

In the presence of the facts just quoted it seems difficult to affirm with confidence that the disinclination for food which we find so constantly recurring in the case of almost all visionaries-Anne Catherine Emmerich, Domenica Lazzari, Louise Lateau, Teresa Higginson, Theresa Neumann, etc., not to speak of many canonized Saints-is necessarily of supernatural origin.

The source of the experience

Fancher, Mollie

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image


Observation contributed by: Francis Keeble