– The un-burial of Melanie Hahnemann (M. Grimes)

 Hahnemann became ill shortly after his 88th birthday with what had been his “usual spring malady, bronchial catarrh”(Haehl 1:242); however from the beginning, Hahnemann communicated that he felt his life force was used up. He passed away on July 2, 1843, at 5 a.m. , in his home in Paris.
 Hahnemann wrote in his will, “My mortal remains shall be left to my dearly beloved wife who is to have the free choice of the place of interment and of the funeral arrangements, unfettered by anyone.” After attaining permission from the police to keep his body at the house, Melanie had Hahnemann embalmed the 3rd of July, by a newly patented process. Melanie writes in her diary, “My despair can only be measured by the immensity of my devotion. I suffered the most terrible affliction, my sorrow was so intense that there can be nothing like it in store for me ever again. I had Hahnemann’s body embalmed in my own presence and I lay down on his bed for eleven days at the side of his inanimate body with which I should have liked to be laid out in the tomb. The tenderness which I felt for Hahnemann was moral love in its most powerful manifestation; a love so rare because to experience it one must be profoundly virtuous, the greatest physical love will never produce a devotion like it.” (Haele 2:325)
 Yet upon his death, the misunderstanding between Melanie and the homeopathic community escalated. On July 11, 1843, he was buried in Montmartre cemetery. A small entourage accompanied him down the streets of Paris to the cemetery. Hahnemann was placed in her family plot. Already buried there were her adoptive father, Lethiere, and Gohier. The lack of public announcement of his burial became a sore point for the homeopathic community, and turned many against the grieving widow. It was felt that Hahnemann had been deprived of the veneration and tribute that he deserved.
 In 1840, the Allentown Homeopathic Academy in Philadelphia, founded by Hering, had sent Melanie a diploma which Hahnemann had requested for her when he was alive. The diploma would make her the first woman with a license to practice medicine from an American medical school. This American degree was later disputed as the school had delayed sending the diploma until after its closure due to financial problems. Still, the accomplishment of being recognized as a woman with medical doctor status at this time was extraordinary. To wit: Florence Nightingale had just been born, and the age of emancipation of woman had not yet even begun. It was not until a generation later, in 1862, that a French woman was to have received a medical degree.
 After Hahnemann’s death, Melanie continued practicing as a homeopath. Less than a year after his death, her credibility as a practitioner was disputed. Claiming that women should not practice medicine, the editor of “Alleg. Hom. Ztg.” (1844) asks, “Shall we desecrate homeopathy to which Hahnemann had devoted the greater portion of his life, in this manner?” He goes on to state that now that Hahnemann has died, he may be seeing “more clearly” and may not be pleased with the “daring undertaking of his wife.” In 1846, action was brought against her for “practicing medicine with the assumption of a doctor’s title without having a diploma or certificate valid in France. And …for having sold medicinal preparations and remedies without lawful authority” (Haele 1:347). To make things worse, many testimonials were presented from patients; she was fined and told to discontinue practice, which she disobeyed.
 Many well-known homeopaths of the time, including Bönninghausen and Jahr, were not licensed doctors. Bönninghausen was a botanist and Jahr was a priest. That they had no credentials to practice medicine was not questioned. The laws that could be bent for Bönninghausen, Jahr and others, were still too rigid to allow a woman to practice medicine, even the “chosen disciple” of the founder himself. She had taken a step too far for a woman in the 19th century. Neither was Melanie respected by the French homeopathic community. In fact, she wasn’t even considered a colleague of the Association of French Homeopathic Physicians, and was asked not to attend their meetings. After it was announced that Madame Hahnemann planned to attend a homeopathic congress in Brussels in 1856, the Central Homeopathic Commission in Paris created and published a policy in their journal, mentioning her by name, and stating that one could only be a member of their society if they had a diploma from a recognized University. Count Edmund de la Pommeraid, a member of Gallic Homeopathic Society, wrote in her defense: “By replying to the impertinent article addressed to a woman of the highest repute, I think that I am honoring the memory of one to whom we owe what we are and what we know. Do we not actually owe to the unexampled devotion of this remarkable woman the whole reputation which the Founder had spread from Paris? Is it not she who took him away from the persecutions to which all intellectual men are submitted in their own country? Did she not procure for him that comfortable, peaceful and honorable life which he utilized so well by putting the finishing touches to that great work of reform, which today we allow humanity to enjoy? Has she not also shared his work, received his instructions and thus become equal in knowledge with most of us, if not superior to us? Therefore the dying master said, ‘I have long sought for a man and have found him in my wife” (Haehl 2:452).
 Madame Hahnemann responded to the Commission angrily.
 “What should I do there, I, one of Hahnemann’s pupils whom he endeavored to teach with so much zeal, because I understood his doctrines so well, I, whose works he constantly appreciated and praised, and showed them to his followers saying, ‘I have sought a man for fifty years and have only just found him in a woman.’
 She goes on to protest their lack of recognition of her educational certification. “If his wife had been so incapable medically, would Hahnemann himself have introduced to her his doctrines, of which he was so jealous? …He would certainly not have trusted her with the execution of his medical legacy, to which he justly attached so much importance. You therefore offend him, that great man, your master, without whom your society would not exist… Whilst you accuse him and try to take away the merits in my diploma, you are contradicting each other; because whilst you are examining with police-like accuracy the diplomas of your Congress, you seem to forget that the learned and famous doctor whom you will probably elect as Chairman of the Congress (Bönninghausen) is a physician by virtue of a similar document which he has obtained in a similar way to mine!” (Haehl 2:453)
 Melanie accomplished a great deal towards obtaining legal status for the practice of homeopathy, first for Hahnemann, and later for von Bönninghausen and others, though her own legal status was denied. She took the first step setting the groundwork for women in the 20th century. In 1857, Melanie arranged a marriage between her adopted daughter Sophie and Karl von Bönninghausen, who came to live in Paris. Arranged marriages were common at this time. Through Melanie’s political influence, her son-in-law, who was a physician, was allowed to practice legally in France. Melanie now practiced freely under his license, and she enjoyed some respite from the attacks against her legal stature as a practitioner. In 1872, a few years before her death, a document from the ministerial Office of Public Instruction a Versailles states that Melanie Hahnemann has been granted a license to practice medicine in the Seine department (county). Melanie had practiced until 1867, but by 1869 she had mostly stopped, before the final legality of her practice was ever recognized. She was forced to sell her home, and to sell some of her pictures, as the Franco-Prussian War had stripped her of her property. 

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