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Heliotherapy [Sun-Therapy] In Switzerland

“In the last 20 years [1923] more than 2000 cases of surgical (bone & joint) tuberculosis have been treated, & more than 80% discharged as cured. The Children are gradually exposed to the sun’s rays until the whole body can be bared. In winter the whole day is spent in the sunshine and dry, cold air.” This is supplemented by appropriate “occupational therapy, exercise and a diet change…”

Time Magazine; Medicine: Heliotherapy; Aug, 06, 1923 [Dr. August Rollier, Dr. Rosselet
Clinic at Leysin, near Lake Geneva Switzerland. Click here.

The 1927 document (click here, p. 149-162) informed readers that Beau Soleil was “a unique
establishment for delicate children.” Cases of “general feebleness, bronchial
weakness, school fatigue, nervousness, growth problems and those in need of
convalescence” were especially welcomed. The “unique establishment,” however, offered little that was truly novel.

Open air schools existed in Europe as early as 1903 in Germany and 1908 in England. The first open air forest school of Switzerland was founded through communal initiative in Lausanne in 1908. Two similar private institutions emerged in Geneva in 1912 and 1913. Children with weak constitutions were the impetus behind developing such school initiatives. A belief that fresh air fostered strength and treated conditions such as malnutrition, anemia, heart and pulmonary disease fueled the schools. High altitude open air studies took place in Switzerland as early as 1911. The early presence of these schools raised suspicions about the “uniqueness” of Beau Soleil’s open air school.

The specific clinical practices advertised were not original. The prospectus claimed the school offered two curative methods: the “cure of the sun and air” and the “Rollier Method”. Anyone familiar with the Rollier Method would have realized this distinction was akin to the difference between tap and bottled water.

The Rollier method was a cure of the sun and air: the dominant sun and air cure of the Vaudois Alps. Dr. Rollier, or the Sun Doctor, developed the method of heliotherapy or light therapy for the treatment of tuberculosis. His cure rested on the theory that the sun contained antibacterial, analgesic and strengthening properties. In 1903 he began practicing his ideas one valley over from Villars-sur-Ollon, at Leysin.

By 1927, Rollier offered “the most approved treatment of extra-pulmonary tuberculosis” in Western medicine. He oversaw thirty-six sanatoria in the Vaudois Alps treating over 3000 patients. He also managed a Rollier Method school, Ecole au Soleil that opened in 1911. This model school functioned to demonstrate the application of the Rollier Method in a school environment .

Although Beau Soleil’s 1927 prospectus presented the Rollier Method as something other than the principle cure offered, by all appearances they were one and the same. A comparison of Ecole au Soleil and Beau Soleil’s curative methods as described in the prospectuses indicates similarities outweighed differences. Both schools offered a total program incorporating fresh air, proper diet, rest, and individual medical attention. They provided a cure for restoring and strengthening children’s health based upon the principal that UV rays possessed anti-bacterial properties and strengthened the immune system. Both offered a specialized architectural environment which enabled students to rest or study indoors while still exposed to rays (i.e. south facing open and closed glassed galleries, large windows, balconies where children could be wheeled out in their beds for sun exposure during enforced daytime rest).

They provided outdoor classes using portable wooden desks as well as Swedish drill,
indoor artificial radiation and hydrotherapy.