'Massage' is a term with a long and international history.
Thought to have originated in the Far East, it has developed a
rather ambiguous reputation in Western Europe.
In 1894 the magazine Reynolds Weekly wrote: "Massage, in plainer
language, is rubbing, only rubbing done in a thoroughly scientific
way, by people with very strong wrists... great numbers of persons
earn a fairly good living by meeting the demand and becoming
Unfortunately, Reynolds Weekly had embarked on this definition
because it was reporting on a major massage scandal, which made
headlines that year. Investigations had revealed that although many
people were offering a genuine therapy, others used 'massage' as a
cover for prostitution.
On 21 July 1894 an article in the Evening News and Post stated:
"The government must see the necessity of doing something to
protect these young girls and others who once entangled in the
meshes of these massage adventurers are too ashamed to protect
themselves by exposing these evils". It went on to emphasise the
need "to protect from further aspersion the characters of those
honest masseurs and masseuses who, sometimes amid great privations
and sacrifices, have devoted themselves…to the study of massage
proper in the interests of suffering humanity".
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was founded that same
year, to make it clear who was offering genuine therapy and who
dealt in the more seedy practice of 'massage'. The images in this
section are drawn from the Society's archives, which are held at
the Wellcome Library. The collection contains not only extensive
documentation of therapeutic massage but also books of lurid
newspaper cuttings documenting the scandal of the time.