Superstitions possess an ancient pedigree. With the passage of time thematic superstitions developed; for example, some solely addressed the public’s health care needs. In fact, as far back as the fifth century many English subjects believed magical spells and jewels had curative properties. Law was another context that generated a body of superstitions. Capital punishment was one area that generated many superstitions. In fact, so many that a specific category was established: gallows superstitions. With hanging as the primary method of execution in England for centuries, this group of superstitions became a relatively large one. By merging the health care and gallows superstitions a new category of superstitions was created: medicinal gallows superstitions. The purpose of this Article is to examine and unravel the trail forged by the intersection between gallows superstitions and momentous legal, socio-economic, financial, and demographic changes that occurred in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that led to medicinal gallows superstitions serving a decidedly unusual purpose: a provider of public health care.

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2016

Notes/Citation Information

Roberta M. Harding, Rubbing the Rabbit's Foot: Gallows Superstitions and Public Healthcare in England During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, 25 B.U. Pub. Int. L.J. 359 (2016).



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