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 Homeopathy: A Condensed History of Homeopathy 

At a time in American medicine when physicians would very rarely, if ever, be reprimanded by fellow physicians, the ethical code on consorting with homeopaths was regularly enforced. (23) One Connecticut physician was expelled from his local medical society for consulting with a homeopath--his wife. (24) A New York doctor was expelled for purchasing milk sugar from a homeopathic pharmacy. (25) Joseph K. Barnes, the Surgeon General of the United States, was denounced for aiding in the treatment of Secretary of State William Seward on the night he was stabbed and Lincoln was shot, simply because Seward's personal physician was a homeopath. (26)

In a bizarre event Dr. Christopher C. Cox was refused admittance into the Medical Society of the District of Columbia because he had served on the D.C. board of health which had a member who was a homeopath. Dr. D.W. Bliss, a conventional physician and colleague of Dr. Cox, also was expelled, not because he consulted a homeopath, but because he consulted with Dr. Cox who was previously expelled. Ironically, the Medical Society judged that Bliss and Cox had committed a heinous crime, even though it was in the treatment of Schulyer Colfax, the Vice President of the United States under Andrew Johnson. (27)

The A.M.A. and its members did anything possible to thwart the education of homeopaths. In the early 1840's and again in 1855 advocates of homeopathy convinced the Michigan legislature to establish a professorship of homeopathy in the department of medicine at the University of Michigan. The AMA resolved to deny recognition to the university's "regular" medical graduates if a homeopath, as one of their professors, signed their diploma (at the time all professors signed graduates' diplomas). The homeopaths brought their case to the Michigan Supreme Court three times, but each time the court expressed uncertainty as to its power to compel the Regents of the University to take action. (28)

Finally, a compromise was reached. In 1875 the Michigan legislature voted to give money to a new hospital dependent upon the appointment of two professors of homeopathy, but it was also decided that only the president and the secretary of the university would sign the diplomas, thereby allowing their graduates to be recognized by the A.M.A.

Despite this compromise, almost every medical journal in the country urged the Michigan medical faculty to resign rather than participate in the training of homeopaths. (29)

The antagonism to homeopathy was not confined only to the United States; it was also widespread in Europe. A French medical student was expelled from his college for expressing interest in homeopathy. A "consultation clause" similar to the one in the United States was established in France. When J.P. Tessier, a conventional French physician, evaluated the results of homeopathy at Hospital Ste. Marguerite and announced to the Paris Academy that they were favorable, he aroused a storm of protest. (30) No orthodox medical journal would publish these results, and when he had it published in a homeopathic journal, he was summarily expelled by the medical society. (31)

In the 1830s the practice of homeopathy became illegal in Austria. Despite its illegality, many people used microdosesduring the cholera epidemic of 1831. Statistics show that those with cholera who tried homeopathy had a mortality rate between 2.4 to 21.1%; whereas over 50% of those with cholera under conventional medical care died. (32)

In addition to the attacks by conventional physicians on the homeopaths' right to practice, the right to join medical organizations, and the right to a medical education, conventional physicians sought to besmirch the reputation of homeopaths. Homeopaths were considered "immoral," "illegitimate," and "unmanly." The opposition to homeopathy was not based on an scientific evaluation of this healing art, but arose primarily because homeopathy and homeopaths were a significant competitor to conventional physicians.

The Rise of Homeopathy
In a 1890 issue of Harpers Magazine Mark Twain acknowledged the special value of homeopathy, noting, "The introduction of homeopathy forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business." (33) Twain also asserted that "You may honestly feel grateful that homeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathists (orthodox physicians) to destroy it."

Despite the significant oppression from the orthodox medical profession, homeopathy survived and even thrived in the 1800s and early 1900s. By 1900 there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, more than 100 homeopathic hospitals, over 60 orphan asylums and old people's homes, and 1,000+ homeopathic pharmacies in the U.S. (34) These impressive numbers alone do not provide an accurate perspective on the significant impact that homeopathy had on American life.

Homeopathy attracted support from many of the most respected members of society. Its advocates included William James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathanial Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Daniel Webster, William Seward, Horace Greeley, and Louisa May Alcott. William Cullen Bryant, the famous journalist, was president of the New York Homeopathic Society. (35) John D. Rockefeller referred to homeopathy as "a progressive and aggressive step in medicine"; the fact that he was under homeopathic care throughout the latter part of his life may be one reason he lived 99 years. (36)

Homeopathy's popularity among respected classes was also evident in Europe. Besides its patronage by Britain's Royal Family dating from the 1830s (37), homeopathy could count among its supporters Charles Dickens, W.B. Yeats, William Thackarey, Benjamin Disraeli, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and Pope Pius X. (38)

Because abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Zabina Eastman were strong proponents of homeopathy, and also because many individual homeopaths were politically progressive, the medicine itself became identified with causes of female and black emancipation. (39) Perhaps this spurred homeopathy's popularity in the north,* while retard its progress in the south. (40)

[*Statistics indicate that the number of homeopaths in New York doubled every five years from 1829 to 1869. (41)]

Homeopathy was also disproportionately popular among women, not only as patients, but as its practitioners. The first women's medical college in the world was the homeopathic Boston Female Medical College, founded in 1848. Four years later it became the New England Female Medical College, and in 1873, it merged with Boston University, another homeopathic college. (42) Homeopaths also admitted women physicians into their national organization considerably before orthodox physicians did. Homeopaths admitted women into the American Institite of Homeopathy in 1871, while women were not invited into the A.M.A. until 1915. (43) The orthodox medical school at Johns Hopkins finally agreed to accept women students as late as 1890, but not out of interests in women's rights. They were offered a $500,000 endowment. (44) Harvard turned down this same offer. (45)

Many clergy not only were personally supportive of homeopathy, they also helped spread the word about it. (46)Even Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, who generally was vehemently opposed to the use of drugs, acknowledged homeopathy's value, saying, "Evidences of progress and of spiritualization greet us on every hand. Drug-systems are quitting their hold on matter and so letting in matter's higher stratum, mortal mind. Homeopathy, a step in advance of allopathy,* is doing this." (47)

[* "Allopathy" is a word coined by Hahnemann to refer to orthodox medicine.]

The press was often very supportive of homeopathy, as theJournal of the American Medical Association regretfully acknowledged, "(W)e all know perfectly well that the sympathy of the press generally and of the public is with the homeopaths." (48)

It is no wonder that Henry James, another advocate of homeopathy, portrayed this medical science in such a positive light in his novel The Bostonians. This reference is carried over in the recent movie made from this book. In a scene from this movie which is set in the 1880s, Basil Ransom (played by Christopher Reeve) addresses Miss Birdseye, the grand dame of the women's movement (played by Jessica Tandy):

Ransom: "You must tell me how much you take. One spoonful?
Birdseye: "I guess this time, I'll take two. It's homeopathic.
Ransom: "Oh, I have no doubt of that. I presume you wouldn't have anything else."
Birdseye: "Well, it's generally admitted now to be the true system." (49)

Although homeopathy was particularly popular among the educated and upper classes, it also had a good reputation among the poor. Some of this support no doubt resulted from the free homeopathic dispensaries in many cities. (50)

However, probably the most important reason that homeopathy developed such immense popularity was its success in treating the various infectious epidemic diseases that raged throughout America and Europe during the 1800s. Statistics indicate that the death rates in homeopathic hospitals from these epidemics were often one-half to as little as one-eighth those in orthodox medical hospitals. (51) Cincinati Homeopaths were so successful in treating people during the 1849 cholera epidemic that homeopaths published a daily list of their patients in the newspaper, giving names and addresses of those who were cured and those who died. Only 3% of the 1,116 homeopathic patients died, while between 48-60% of those under orthodox medical treatment died. (52)

The success of homeopaths in treating the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 that spread throughout the south was so impressive that homeopathy finally began to be noticed in the region. Deaths rates for those under homeopathic care were approximately one-third what they were for those using orthodox medicine. (53)

Besides offering effective treatment for infectious diseases, homeopaths provided care for a wide range of acute and chronic disease. The observation that patients under homeopathic care lived longer led some life insurance companies to offer a 10% discount to homeopathic patients. (54) There is also actuarial evidence that more life insurance money was paid to beneficaries of homeopathic patients because these people lived longer. (55)

The training of 19th century homeopaths compared favorably to that of their orthodox physician colleagues. As I mentioned earlier, many homeopaths attended orthodox medical schools. Eventually, homeopaths developed their own medical schools or maintained departments of homeopathy within other medical schools. Boston University, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Hahnemann Medical College, and University of Iowa were but some of the schools teaching homeopathy. Historians today consider the education offered at the homeopathic medical colleges on a par with the orthodox medical schools of the day. (56)

It is impressive to note that a higher percentage of graduates from homeopathic medical schools passed medical board examinations than did their orthodox medical student colleagues. (57)

Homeopaths showed impressive scholarship, both in books and journals. According to a U.S. Commission on Education in 1898, three of the four medical schools with the largest libraries were homeopathic colleges. (58) And at the turn of the century, there were as many as 29 different homeopathic journals.

Homeopathy's popularity in the United States was obvious and deep-seated. And yet, when reading most books on the history of American medicine, we find little or no mention of it. When there is reference, it is generally derogatory, delegating homeopathy to an anomaly in medicine, a cult that ultimately disappeared, a science of placeboes rather than "real drugs," or a medical heresy. It has been said that history is written by the victors, not by the defeated. The history of American medicine is but another sorry example of this maxim.

The Fall of Homeopathy
It is quite remarkable in itself that homeopathy survived the incessant and harsh attempts to destroy it. After the turn of the century, however, the A.M.A. became increasingly effective in suppressing homeopathy. In a strategic move to make themselves look like "good guys," the AMA chose to "allow" graduates of homeopathic medical schools to join the long as they denounced homeopathy or at least didn't practice it. (59) The A.M.A. also choose to drop the consultation clause in 1901, notbecause they were no longer antagonistic to homeopathy, but because they had new efficient ways of defeating it.

(Excerpted from Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century ISBN: 1556431082)
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 About The Author
Dana Ullman, MPHDANA ULLMAN, MPH, is one of America's leading advocates for homeopathy. He has authored 10 books, including ...more
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