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Ashland's miracle woman

Ashland is rich with alternative healers, but none gained the success or fame of a thin, quiet mother of six, who professed no special skill or training but would perform “laying on of hands” for hundreds of people a week who packed her tiny clinic on Idaho Street from 1933 until her death in 1966.

Her name was Susie Jessel and, says Ashland historian-author Dennis Powers, “she was the real thing.” Jessel was boosted to the national stage with a 1943 True Magazine article titled “They Call Her the Miracle Woman.”

As part of the Windows in Time lecture series, sponsored by the Southern Oregon Historical Society and Jackson County public libraries, Powers will speak about Jessel at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, June 23, at the Ashland library.

“It’s an amazing story. I didn’t believe it ’til I really got into researching her, and, when I lectured, I heard from people in the audience who’d been to her. She told them not to tell her their ailments, but would move her hands over their bodies until she found it. Her hands would get warm and the veins on her hands would stand out. ... I was floored,” said Powers.

“What stood out was her compassion and total lack of commercial interest. She’d had a vision she was supposed to heal people. She would refuse payment or return large gifts. People would just slip a dollar or two in her apron, and it would go to the house payment.”

In his research, Powers learned she was born with a caul, or membrane, covering her face, which, according to local lore, portended a gift. She was raised a Baptist in North Carolina, but was “not an Elmer Gantry type,” promoting any sort of religion.

On entering her clinic for the start of a 16-hour day, she would raise her arms toward a picture of Jesus and say, “I dedicate my hands to the Lord,” according to a 1953 Time Magazine article.

It added, “In a white frame building in Ashland (pop. 8,000), Ore., some 140 people packed into seats in a low-ceilinged, fetid room 30 feet square. Many wore bandages or held canes and crutches. Some bore the grimace of chronic pain. But all stood up when a thin, wrinkled woman in white nurse’s uniform and fancy-print apron with prominent pockets came in.”

Oddly, Jessel was scorned by the Baptists of Ashland, says Powers, with suggestions she was a heretic.

Jessel would dismiss the idea she was a healer, saying only that her creator did the work, and she would “make people feel more comfortable.” One patient interviewed by Powers was an injured Southern Oregon College quarterback in the 1950s. She laid on hands, which usually took three minutes or so, and told him to do some mild exercises and resume playing, which he did.

She and her husband, Charlie, raised the kids, grew vegetables, had a cow and sold butter. Cars with license plates from all over the country lined the streets around her house. After she died, her children, Joe and later Alma, took over the practice for some 25 years but “neither had close to the connection Susie did.

“There are just some rare people who have the ability,” says Powers. “I wasn’t able to find out what the gift really was. She wouldn’t tell people what was wrong with them. She didn’t care about religion. She didn’t care what gender, color or religion you were. All people were the same to her. She was the real deal.”

Powers, a lawyer and former SOU teacher of business law, has written many books on law and nautical lore. His book “Where Past Meets Present: The Amazing People, Places & Stories of Southern Oregon” contains a chapter on Jessel.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Southern oregon historical society photoCars line up to meet Susie Jessel in 1940.