A history of healing

Ashland woman was famed for her ability to feel sufferers' ailments with her hands
Above, a long line of cars is parked outside Susie Jesselís home at 541 Holly St. as patients wait to see her in this undated photo. Below, Jessel was a famous healer who started her Ashland practice in 1933. Her fame spread with stories in True Magazine in 1943 and Time in 1953.Courtesy of Dennis Powers

Ashland has long been a magnet for alternative healers — including Susie Jessel, a nationally famous spiritual healer in the early to mid-20th century.

The North Carolina native started her work in Ashland in 1933, healing the sick by laying her hands on them and praying. She would ask people not to tell her where their ailment was but to let her healing hands find the problem, a process that took only a few minutes. She charged no money, but patients slipped coins and bills into her apron pocket.

If you go

What: "Susie Jessel: Spiritual Healer," by Dennis Powers of Ashland, part of the Windows in Time series sponsored by Jackson County Library Services and the Southern Oregon Historical Society

When: Noon Wednesday, July 2

Where: Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave., Medford. Presentation will be repeated at noon July 9 at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd.

With success, her fame spread. She was featured in True Magazine in 1943 and Time in 1953. Long lines of patients waited in the small anteroom of her house at 541 Holly St., and cars whose license plates came from up to 20 states clogged the street.

"After all my research, I'm convinced she was the real thing, a true spiritual healer," says author Dennis Powers of Ashland, who will give a talk about her at noon on Wednesday, July 2, at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave., Medford. He will repeat his talk at noon July 9 at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd.

"There are those few who have that ability to connect," says Powers. "I was a disbeliever, but when I got into it, I was convinced."

Jessel was a draw much like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which started shortly after she arrived in town.

"Area residents had no idea she would become a magnet for people suffering from debilitating conditions, from colds to arthritis and cancer," Powers says. "For over 30 years, countless thousands filled the local hotels and restaurants as they waited to see the thin woman who became a nationally recognized healer."

Jessel was born in 1891, supposedly with a caul or membrane over her face, indicating a gift of some kind. Her parents, notes Powers, would place her in the hands of sick people and they would become well. At first, she rejected the notion and taught school, but a vision of Jesus told her to use her gift.

"Jessel came to her clinic every afternoon and stayed until the last patient was seen, which could be very late at night and turn into a 16-hour session," Powers says; "Bandaged or holding their head in their hands, the sick and afflicted sat patiently in her waiting room."

She eschewed the title of healer. A sign in her healing room said, "With God, all things are possible." She died in 1966 and was succeeded in the healing work first by her son Joe, then, after he died in 1975, by her daughter Alma Jessel.

"Oftentimes, the veins on the back of her hands and arms would harden and stand up once over the (afflicted) place," says Powers, in an article on the healer. "She wouldn't make a diagnosis, although perhaps comment on the condition, and then told the person when he or she could return home. A treatment took from one to three minutes, and could take different sessions before the patient's condition was considered to be improved. No forcing, poking, or manipulation was done. The treatment ended when Susie walked over to a stand, wiped her hands on a wet towel, and her veins returned to normal."

Powers' presentation, "Susie Jessel: Spiritual Healer," is part of the Windows in Time series on the first and second Wednesdays sponsored by Jackson County Library Services and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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