In 1889, medical schools popped up all over the country to satisfy the high demand for doctors. Prospective medical students had 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, Vt.?
The only problem with all these medical schools was that they were fake. They were a figment of the fertile imagination of 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 in Vermont. And he didn’t always use the name Bradbury. In one city he would morph into Dr. Freeland. In another, Dr. Ripley.
When away from his patients, Bradbury sold diplomas by the score. They certified 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 incorporated in the small town. 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’ never amounted to 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 selling diplomas.
Unfortunately for Bradbury, one of his advertisements reached 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 sold 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 to send the aspiring doctor a 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 operated. Mail for the college went to a Cornhill Street address in Boston. It arrived in a building that housed a waiting room for streetcar passengers. A lawyer collected the mail for Bradbury and forwarded it to him in Nashua, N.H., where he maintained a medical practice.
From that office in New Hampshire, Bradbury supplied the diplomas and managed 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, a prosecutor indicted him in federal court for the fraud, and he pleaded guilty. The matter did not, however, end Bradbury’s medical career.
Bradbury, then but a young man in his early 20s, changed his name to Henry Esmond and returned to Vermont. He set up practice in several towns and enjoyed a strong country practice. While in Vermont, Bradbury/Esmond proved adept at winning the affections 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, 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. The reason? Bradbury/Edmonds had been divorced form his first wife for less than three years. Vermont law required a three-year cooling off period for divorcees before they could marry again in the state.
The second marriage proved no more successful than the first, and Fleda divorced the doctor 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 police arrested Henry while the couple honeymooned in Toronto. Things went downhill from there, with Henry returning to his abusive ways.
He admitted to his third 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. That’s because 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.
This story about Trinity University was updated in 2023.