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History Corner: Montpelier’s Clairvoyant Physician

During the Civil War era, an unusual but renowned female medical doctor lived in Montpelier. She was perhaps the second most prominent female doctor of the 1800s, when compared to respected surgeon Dr. Rebecca Peabody Davis — wife of one of Montpelier’s earliest settlers, Parley Davis. Peabody Davis attracted patients for miles around in the late 1790s and early 1800s due to her effectiveness in handling broken bones and other physical problems.

Lucy Ainsworth came along in 1819 in Calais, the daughter of Luther and Lucy Burnham Ainsworth, and earned a reputation as a clairvoyant physician. As a young woman, Lucy married Charles A. Cooke, and moved to Reading, Vermont, where she began gaining recognition for her work as a clairvoyant physician, according to a special story that appeared in the July 29, 1925, Rutland Daily Herald. Charles Cooke kept a tavern in the hamlet of Hammondsville “with his ‘better half’ taking all the glory,” the article states. She became known as “Sleeping Lucy” because she would issue remedies for her client’s ailments after going into a trance-like state. 

An article in the Vermont Union Whig newspaper of 1846 reports how she “examines the human system in all its parts — with the precision as if it were laid open to view by an anatomist — telling the condition of lungs, heart, stomach, liver and all disease that may be lurking in the system.” Her remedies consisted mostly of roots, barks, and herbs.

Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, she moved to Montpelier after her husband died. She lived in Montpelier for 20 years, earning statewide success, according to the Herald article. An ad placed in Montpelier’s Daily Journal on Jan. 15, 1864, reads, “Mrs. Lucy A. Cooke, known as ‘Sleeping Lucy’, Clairvoyant Physician, is now at home where she would be pleased to receive calls from all of her friends. Liberty Street, Montpelier, Vermont.”

Lucy married a second time in her 70s — 30 years after the death of her first husband. “It is said of her at this time her skin was as fair as that of a young girl and her hair was as black as jet,” the Herald article states. After living in Montpelier for more than 20 years, she moved to Cambridge, Mass., where she died in 1895.