Vermont

The Notorious Vermont Doctor Behind Bennington’s Trinity University

In 1889, to satisfy the high demand for doctors, medical schools were popping up across the country. Prospective students were presented with a host of choices. Did they prefer The University of New Hampshire or University of Cincinnati? Trenton (N.J.) Medical College or the New York State Medical College? Or better yet, how about the prestigious Trinity University of Medicine and Surgery in Bennington, Vermont?

The only problem with all these medical schools was that they were fake. They were all dreamed up by Henry Freeland Bradbury (or at least that seems to have been his name). Bradbury practiced medicine in many areas, popping up in Nashua, N.H., Lowell, Mass. and Boston, as well as Bethel and St. Albans, Vermont. And he didn't always use the name Bradbury. In one city he would morph into Dr. Freeland. In another, Dr. Ripley.

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When he wasn't seeing patients, Bradbury was selling diplomas by the score certifying that the bearer was trained in medicine and surgery. He offered the diplomas for a variety of fees, ranging from $60 to $300. In the spring of 1889, the medical community first learned of Trinity University. A doctor applied for admission to a medical society at Buffalo, N.Y. He presented himself as a graduate of Trinity University in Bennington, Vt.

A quick inquiry to the town clerk at Bennington would reveal that, in fact, Trinity University had been incorporated in the small town In fact, Trinity offered a course of studies in law, dentistry and liberal arts, as well as medicine and surgery. At least that's what the articles of incorporation stipulated.

The university was never anything more than a piece of paper. But it was enough for Bradbury to start churning out diplomas. He printed circulars advertising the college and developed a brisk business in selling diplomas. Unfortunately for Bradbury, one of his advertisements reach Alan Hardwicke, a hardware maker. Hardwicke's brother was a physician, and the two men suspected something was off about Trinity University.

The advertisement didn't explicitly state that the college was offering to sell phony degrees. It talked about accepting only students of good moral character and requiring a lengthy course of study. But when Hardwicke began corresponding with Bradbury, the outlines of the operation became clear.

Bradbury wanted Hardwicke to send him a paper addressing a medical condition, such as "Treatment of Bright's Disease." And he suggested he meet with Hardwicke to administer an exam. The reason, he said, was so Hardwicke and he could swear under oath, if needed, that Hardwicke had sat for an exam to receive his diploma.

When Hardwicke balked, Bradbury agreed that he would send the aspiring doctor an diploma for $60 (C.O.D.) to the train station at Buffalo under a false name. Afterwards, Bradbury agreed, he would place Hardwicke's name in the college records and certify he had graduated in response to any requests to verify his status.

Hardwicke promptly forwarded the diploma to the medical society, which began investigating. They soon uncovered how Bradbury was operating. Mail for the college was delivered to Boston at Cornhill Street. It arrived there in a building that housed a waiting room for streetcar passengers. A lawyer would collect the mail for Bradbury and forward it to him in Nashua, N.H. where he maintained a medical practice. From that office Bradbury would supply the diplomas and manage the business of Trinity University. He imported sheepskin for the diplomas from New York and had them printed in Lowell, Mass.

Though the medical societies forwarded their findings to the police, for a time Bradbury remained at large. Eventually, however, he was indicted in federal court for the fraud, and he pleaded guilty. The matter was not, however, the end to Bradbury's medical career.

Bradbury, who was then but a young man in his early 20s, changed his name to Henry Esmond and returned to Vermont, setting up practice in several towns. Back in Vermont, enjoying a strong country practice, Bradbury/Esmond proved adept at winning the affection of women. But bad at keeping them.

His first marriage to wife Anna ended in divorce in 1907 when he developed an unusually powerful influence over one of his patients, a young girl named Fleda White. Fleda's father did his best to keep the doctor, who was now in his late 30s, away from his daughter. In the end, however, the two married, though Bradbury/Esmond had to bring Fleda and her family to Claremont, N.H. for the wedding. Bradbury/Edmonds had been divorced form his first wife for less than three years. The law required a three-year cooling off period for divorcees before they could marry again in Vermont.

The second marriage proved no more successful than the first, and the doctor was divorced from Fleda in 1914 owing to his abusive behavior. A third trip down the aisle ended acrimoniously, as well. Shortly after his second divorce came through, the doctor married a young woman named Martha. The marriage got off to a bad start when Henry was arrested while the couple were honeymooning in Toronto. Things went down hill from there, with Henry returning to his abusive ways.

He admitted to his second wife that he had been convicted of assaulting one of his former wives. But, she revealed to the court during sensational divorce hearings, she never did find out why he was arrested in Toronto, where he used the false name Marcus Eastman. The judge agreed to grant the divorce and set the former dean of Trinity University at liberty to pursue his happiness.

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