Most often people will think of wellness from a science perspective, but it’s always a good idea to uncover and discover where our way of thinking originated so that we can understand ourselves a little better. In that way, perhaps we can learn from history and modify our mindset to move on in a more responsible direction.
This is a continuing series discussing the historical perspective of our view on health and wellness in America. It is meant to be concise so you can grasp an overview then develop your own ideas as they come to you.
A Rival to Conventional Medicine Arises
Conventional (allopathic) medicine longed to continue dominating the healing arts, however, it didn’t have all the answers. History does repeat itself, over and over again. Often the pattern is obvious as seen in a political battle: Greed for power and wealth drive people to fulfill their lusts. Even in the name of medicine for the good of others, greed for power and wealth control the narrative. Someone during the Popular Health Movement (1830 to 1850) was quoted as saying, “There can be no good reason for keeping us ignorant of the medicines we are compelled to swallow.”
So the Popular Health Movement gained momentum to clip the wings of the hawkish medical establishment.
Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) was the father of homeopathy. He believed healing came from God and that our bodies needed only to be gently encouraged by the physician.
Much like today, he thought prescribing toxic drugs was out of control, so he set about to translate into German William Cullen’s Materia Medica.
While working on this project, he was increasingly convinced that Cullen’s prescriptions lacked an experimental basis. How could a physician give drugs to sick people and not understand how those drugs would work on normal people?
The Law of Similars
The outcome of his thinking introduced to the medical establishment of the day the “Law of Similars” which states “a substance that produces a certain set of symptoms in a healthy person has the power to cure a sick person manifesting those same symptoms.”
The opposing manner of treatment by similars is treatment by contraries (antipathy – allopathic “other than the disease”).
Treatment by Contraries to Silence Symptoms With Drugs
Treatment by contraries prescribes drugs on the basis of no consistent or logical relationship to symptoms. So instead of listening to the body by paying attention to the symptoms presented, the symptoms were silenced with drugs.
For example, opium was often prescribed as a drug of choice back in the day, but observing the pattern of “action and reaction” we see that opium produces euphoria and stimulation at first, then depression later on. The initial symptoms are the direct effects of the drug; the delayed effects are the body’s attempt to restore equilibrium.
Homeopathy Arrives in America
Homeopathic physician, Dr. Hans Burch Gram, opened the first homeopathic practice in New York City in 1825.
About a decade later (1836) the Hahnemann Medical College opened in Philadelphia. In 1840, Hahnemann’s works were available in English, and the American Institute of Homeopathy was founded in 1844, becoming the first national medical society in America (not the AMA).
When a cholera epidemic broke out in the Midwest, homeopaths were more successful in treating victims than allopaths.1
Soon the homeopaths gained prestige and money so more doctors left the ranks of conventional medicine to enter the field of homeopathy. As a result, another homeopathic medical college opened in Cleveland, Ohio in 1850.
Dealing With the Competition
Previously in 1772, conventional doctors in the colonies tried to eliminate any competition by organizing and securing legislation favorable to themselves. After the infant nation gained her independence, these regular doctors established state medical societies and regulations for licensing physicians to exclude those whom they considered “irregular” in their practice of medicine.
The Popular Health Movement
But the Popular Health Movement (1830s-1850s) arose shortly thereafter with the goal in mind to repeal all medical licensing laws that had been established thus far. By the end of the 1840s, they had nearly accomplished that end.
In the midst of this tense situation, homeopathy strode onto the landscape with the aim they could cure disease from within, at its source, and not simply suppress symptoms.
Does that line of thinking sound familiar to you?
Battle Lines Are Drawn
The allopaths finally organized themselves and developed a strong, effective political lobby which we know as the American Medical Society (1846).
The AMA produced a Code of Ethics in 1847 which contained the “consultation clause”: “No one can be considered a regular practitioner, or a fit associate in consultation, whose practice is based upon an exclusive dogma, to the rejection of the accumulated experience of the profession.”
Note: The term “exclusive dogma” targeted homeopathy because therein existed the threat.
Oliver Wendell Holmes (professor at Harvard Medical School) wrote a pamphlet in 1842 entitled “Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions” to redefine the name (allopathy) which Hahnemann had given regular doctors. The term was offensive to conventional doctors and they wanted to “rebrand themselves”, as we would say today.
The AMA became militant and exclusive. In 1855, they demanded all state medical societies accept the Code of Ethics and required them to expel any homeopathic members.
Shortly thereafter (1860), the AMA brought charges against those doctors who continued to consult with homeopaths. https://goo.gl/IhNDSa
Then city hospitals and boards of health were taken over and threatened to boycott hospitals that gave privileges to homeopaths. The AMA even managed to keep homeopathic physicians from joining the Army Medical Corps during the Civil War, but in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill for some civil war military hospitals to be allocated to homeopaths, especially since they experienced tremendous success in treating cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria and influenza while allopathic medicine didn’t fare so well.2
Following the Civil War
Following the War, the AMA refused to admit well-qualified women MDs and to seat delegates from racially integrated medical societies. The Massachusetts Medical Society was also refused admittance unless they purged themselves of homeopaths.
In 1871, the District of Columbia Medical Society refused to admit an MD who was accused of violating the Code of Ethics because he served on the same board of health as a homeopath.
A New York Times editorial wrote: “There is no stronger tenet in the orthodox creed than that it is better the patient should die under the old remedies than recover under homeopathic treatment.” (Quoted in Kaufman, Homeopathy in America, 87).
Even a Connecticut doctor was expelled in 1878 from his county medical society for consulting with his wife (a homeopath).
By this time in American history, all the advances of the Popular Health Movement receded. Licensing laws were back on the books in all states. Homeopaths were systemically hounded out of positions of power and importance.
Why The Shift in Thinking?
The political coalition responsible for the Popular Health Movement dissolved. Thinking shifted.
Regular doctors modified their practice of medicine to not include such heroic practices as before. They started using narcotics and alcohol instead of bleeding and calomel, because the opiates and alcohol didn’t kill patients outright, but made them feel better…if only temporarily.
Modernization of Homeopathy
Finally, homeopathy had problems within their own ranks which eventually weakened them as a political force. Many of them began to change their ways, wanting to “modernize” and be able to consult with their allopathic colleagues.
By the end of the 19th century, the dissidents were mostly turned into allopaths and absorbed by the AMA. However, surviving homeopaths became more respectable because now new “medical heresies” were on the horizon:
Osteopathy and chiropractic.
11849 – George Bigler Ehrmann 1858 – 1886, homeopath, treated the cholera epidemic in Cincinnati. The Board of Health issued an order calling for physicians to report all cases of cholera. The Board received reports of a high mortality rate from the city hospital and allopathic physicians. However, six homeopathic physicians attracted national attention when they reported not one single death out of their first 350 cases of cholera. Two of these homeopathic physicians, Joseph Hyppolyte Pulte and George Bigler Ehrmann would eventually report treating 2,646 cases with 35 deaths, or a mortality rate of 1.3%. Allopaths reported fatal outcomes in 50% of their cases.
1849 – As a result of Jules John Mabit’s statistical studies into cholera in 1836, in 1849 American audits on cholera were collected from all American hospitals, showing an allopathic mortality rate of 60%, and a homeopathic mortality rate of just 3%.
1854 – Hugh Cameron 1810 – 1897, homeopath, Physician at the London Homeopathic Hospital,
Dr Macloughlin, one of the medical inspectors appointed by the General Board of Health, visited the wards, examined the cases under treatment, and watched their progress. His statement, addressed to Hugh Cameron, a member of the medical staff, was as follows :
“You are aware that I went to your hospital prepossessed against the homeopathic system, that you had in me in your camp an enemy rather than a friend… and I need not tell you that I have taken some pains to make myself acquainted with the rise, progress and medical treatment of cholera, and that I claim for myself some right to be able to recognise the disease, and to know something of what the medical treatment ought to be, and that there may, therefore, be no misapprehension about the cases saw in your hospital, I will add that, all I saw were true cases of cholera, in the various stages of the disease, and that I saw several cases which did well under your treatment which I have no hesitation in saying would have sunk under other.
“In conclusion I must repeat to you what I have already told you, and what I have told everyone whom I have conversed, that although in allopath by principle, education and practice yet were it the will of Providence to afflict me with cholera, and deprive me of the power of prescribing for myself, I would rather he in the hands of a homeopathic than; in allopathic adviser.”
2 The public today does not adequately understand the degree of animosity that conventional doctors had toward homeopathic physicians. The reasoning for this animosity is probably best described in the words of one doctor to an AMA meeting:
“Too many wives of conventional physicians are going to homeopathic physicians. And to make it worse,” he added, “they are taking their children to homeopaths too.”
Homeopathic physicians were not simply competitors to conventional physicians; homeopaths were medically trained and could not be considered “uneducated” or under-educated. Further, inherent in homeopathy is a profound respect for the “wisdom of the body,” and therefore, homeopaths tend to maintain a significant skepticism of and criticism for using powerful drug treatments that tend to suppress symptoms and push a person’s disease deeper into his/her body and mind.
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