Women and homeopathy in the nineteenth century (A. Taylor Kirschmann)
“Women in homeopathy” has been an unpopular topic in the annals of homeopathy for most of the the past 150 years. Since the beginning, women have been either ignored or discouraged, or simply cut-off from access to higher learning in our community. This has now stopped. The fact that the majority of skilled attendees at most international schools and conferences of homeopathy today are women is a testament to the simple fact that women, as well as men, can make excellent homeopaths.
In 1868 a guilder at the well-known firm of Child’s and Co. on Tremont Street in Boston was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital with severe pain in his lower spinal column and hip. After receiving morphine injections, tincture of aconite, suppositories of opium, and enemas of turpentine, the man not surprisingly returned home in far worse condition than when he left it. A neighbor lady, a zealous believer in the doctrines of homeopathy, insisted that he give that system a try and introduced him to John Heber Smith a homeopathic physician from Melrose, Massachusetts. Smith promptly diagnosed the fellow’s problem as probable metallic poisoning from a workplace atmosphere impregnated with minute particles of gold and, according to his account, the patient was returned to health in slightly less than six weeks. 1
The history of women in homeopathy is not just about women physicians but, perhaps more importantly, about women advocates and patients. The above story and many others like it illustrate the vital role women played in the popularization and acceptance of homeopathy. As the caregivers of the family, women often turned to the more gentle therapeutics of homeopathy for their own, as well as their children’s, health problems and would often urge reluctant husbands and neighbors to give it a try.
The importance of eliciting the support of America’s women in the new system of medicine was acknowledged early on by those in the profession. From the beginning of its history in the United States, homeopathic physicians had claimed women’s and children’s diseases as special arenas for the efficacy of homeopathic therapeutics. Authors of domestic manuals allocated the largest amount of space to the subject of women’s diseases and a review of the literature shows that those in the profession believed that women’s “conversion” was critical to the survival and growth of homeopathy. As Dr. Ruddock, author of The Stepping Stone to Homeopathy and Health aptly put it, providing lay persons with advice in self treatment would pay in the long run, “for there is no better proselyte-maker than a lay-woman who has performed some miraculous cure with Aconite and Chamomilla.”2
Ruben Ludlam acknowledged homeopathy’s debt to women in his keynote speech at the AIH convention in 1869 where he stated: “Many a woman, armed with her little stock of remedies, has converted an entire community. 3 As Ludlam confidently put it, all the opposition and ridicule of regular physicians would amount to nothing against the “settled reliance of the women of this and other countries upon the merits of homoeopathy.” Driving the point home, he claimed: “And if they are for us, who can be against us?”4
Undoubtedly one of the best known “lay-woman” advocates of homeopathy was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. A religious liberal, health reformer and of course, a major figure in the struggle for women’s suffrage and equality, Stanton was introduced to the new medical system by her brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, who had renounced law for the practice of homeopathic medicine. While living in Seneca Falls, New York and raising her own considerable brood, Stanton set up a small gymnasium in a barn for neighborhood children and organized evening discussion groups. Irish families who had settled in the area for the building of the Erie Canal, consulted Stanton for various medical problems. Armed with her homeopathic manual and various herbs, she doctored her friends and neighbors and even delivered babies from time to time. 5
Stanton’s advocacy for homeopathy extended beyond the boundaries of her neighborhood. In 1863, along with her friend and fellow social activist Dr. Clemence Lozier, she lobbied the New York State legislature for a charter for Lozier’s newly founded New York Medical College and Hospital for Women. Stanton was a long-time member of the board of trustees of this institution which became the most important homeopathic medical college for women in the country. When Lozier wanted to replace a particularly intractable male physician with a woman for the position of chair of obstetrics at the college, Stanton and Lozier again made the trip to Albany to present the “woman’s side of the question” to the regents of the university, returning with a decision in their favor. 6
Lozier’s importance to women in the profession cannot be overstated. Her college was instrumental in educating hundreds of women for the homeopathic profession and for providing much needed teaching and clinical opportunities throughout its over forty-year history. Proud of the strict homeopathic procedures practiced in the hospital’s surgical clinic, one woman physician remarked that “under no circumstances are carbolic acid, bichlorides or any so-called antiseptics allowed to enter the surgical ward.” She enthusiastically invited members of the International Hahnemannian Association to call at the hospital and see the “cleanest and sweetest hospital to be found …and homeopathic surgery taught as nowhere else.”7
Pioneer women physicians -those seeking formal medical education around the mid-nineteenth century -were barred from attending all-male institutions of the orthodox school. The only medical education open to them was available in newly established female medical colleges or in sectarian institutions which were generally more liberal on the question of women’s attendance. Although it is generally acknowledged that the homeopathic medical community accepted women into their colleges earlier than did the regular profession, in some places women seeking a homeopathic education struggled under sexual barriers similar to those facing women in regular medicine.
The largest and most important homeopathic medical school in the country, Hahnemann Medical College of Philadelphia, did not open its doors to women until 1941 despite persistent appeals from prominent women homeopathic physicians in that city. In New York, several male faculty members of the New York Homeopathic Medical College served as lecturers, consulting physicians, and board members of Lozier’s New York Medical College and Hospital for Women, but until 1918 when the two schools merged, men and women received separate homeopathic educations in New York.
Co-education gained ground first in the midwest. During the 1870’s, when tax-supported land-grant colleges were established, women were welcomed as tuition-paying students. Between 1872 and 1879 the issue of co-education was vigorously debated in the newly founded homeopathic Pulte Medical College of Cincinnati. In fact the arguments for and against admitting women into classrooms alongside men spilled out into the daily press of Cincinnati where it was referred to as the “Homeopathic War.” This battle was the cause of mass resignations by faculty and trustees and generated a bevy of lawsuits for slander and libel. At Pulte, one member of the faculty most opposed to women, Seth R. Beckwith, was a graduate and former faculty member of the Cleveland Homeopathic College. Although the Cleveland Homeopathic College graduated twelve women throughout the 1850’s, Professor Beckwith was a leading force in their sudden exclusion in 1863. Despite vigorous protest by the women students calling for the decision to be overturned, the faculty was not inclined to reverse its action until five years later. By then, women physicians had established a separate homeopathic college under the leadership of Drs. Myra King Merrick and Cleora Augusta Seaman. In 1871 the two institutions merged. 8 By the late 1860’s, the importance of accepting women into homeopathic medical societies was articulated by a number of leading homeopaths. The need for more and better provings was of great concern to them and they were worried about the weakness of the homeopathic materia medica in respect to the physiological effects of drugs upon “the peculiar organism of women.” These physicians believed it unlikely that women physicians would be convinced to take up this important task “unless they were recognized and received by us as fellow-workers on an equal footing in every respect…”9 Not only would the qualities of superior patience, persistence, and natural tenderness supposed to be especially present in women make her particularly fit to practice the art of homeopathy, but intelligent, educated women would contribute to its science.
In an 1870 address to the Massachusetts Homeopathic Medical Society, Dr. David Thayer argued the folly of only involving “one-half the brains of the race” in improving the “indispensable science” of homeopathy. “Science,” he said, “accepts help from every quarter.” It would be “miserably unphilosophical” to run the risk that by excluding women from the development of the science, the contributions of a female Boerhaave, Hunter, Jackson, or Hahnemann would be lost to the profession. 10
In 1867 the AIH had voted against the admission of women, however the vote was a close one and by 1869 advocates of women’s inclusion had convinced the majority of members that the help of educated women in the study of the materia medica was indispensable to the growth of the new school of medicine. Although a few homeopathic medical societies had already opened their doors to women by that time, most followed the lead of the AIH and during the 1870’s invited women to membership.
Despite their early struggles, the last two decades of the nineteenth century was a time when women enjoyed unprecedented access to regular as well as homeopathic medical schools. And although the large majority of women chose a “regular” medical education, the number of women attending homeopathic colleges continued to increase. Between 1870 and 1880, 258 women graduated from homeopathic medical schools; the number increased to 775 graduates between 1890 and 1900.
Although women homeopaths were overall much fewer in number than their orthodox sisters, in some important locations they held a majority. For example, in 1890 there were 34 women homeopaths and 13 women regular physicians in practice in Brooklyn, New York.
Walt Whitman, who was raised in suburban Brooklyn in the early part of the nineteenth century, referred to his community as “Brooklyn the Beautiful.” From his office which overlooked the Fulton Ferry slip, he could witness the twice daily rush of commuters to Manhattan from their suburban homes. Brooklyn at that time was home to the families of wealthy businessmen who escaped to its tree-lined streets from hectic city life across the river. By 1900 suburbanization had transformed Brooklyn into the fourth largest city in the country. Several women homeopaths had large and lucrative practices there during this period.
Brooklyn homeopath, Dr. Susan Smith McKinney (later Steward), was born and raised not far from Walt Whitman’s former office in what is now referred to as Weeksville in Brooklyn. She was the first African-American female physician in New York State and an 1870 graduate of Clemence Lozier’s college in New York City. Biographers attribute Steward’s choice of a homeopathic college to the fact that it was “easier for women to be admitted to homeopathic facilities.” But this was not always or even often true, and in Dr. McKinney’s case it definitely lacks validity. McKinney could just as easily have chosen to attend the regular Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Founded in 1868 by the first woman to graduate from a regular medical college in the U.S. , Elizabeth Blackwell’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary was located within three blocks of Lozier’s institution in Manhattan.
Dr. Lozier had been very active in the cause of abolition and racial equality. She became a mentor and friend to McKinney over the years. Similar to the experience of many women physicians at the time, McKinney’s practice was slow in the beginning, as people took time to adjust to the idea of patronizing a woman doctor. In fact for many people adjusting to the idea of a woman physician was often more problematic than adjusting to the “new system” of medicine. By 1900, however, McKinney’s patients, both white and black, female and male, had made her a wealthy physician. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of August 18, 1891 listed her as one of the city’s “famous doctors,” and in an effusive tribute to Brooklyn’s prominent doctors in The Brooklyn Daily Times of June 17, 1891, she was called “the most successful practitioner of medicine of her sex and race in the United States.” The reporter went on to say that “it was an allopathic physician of highest standing who bade me by all means to see Dr. McKinney.”11
The relative ‘invisibility’ of important women homeopaths in history is often the result of a general lack of knowledge of medical divisions so prevalent at that time. I recently viewed the excellent PBS documentary entitled ‘One Woman, One Vote’ which chronicles women’s 72-year struggle for the franchise. Quite a bit of coverage was given to Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, a very prominent suffrage orator and one-time president of the National Association for Women’s Suffrage. Although it was noted that Shaw was a physician and graduate of Boston University Medical School, the fact that she was a homeopathic physician was not mentioned, nor would that information necessarily have meaning for many people today. In a similar vein, I recently spoke with an author of ‘black romance novels’ whose upcoming book involved stories of African-American women physicians. She asked specific questions relating to women’s medical education in the nineteenth century and despite her awareness of Susan McKinney’s successful practice in Brooklyn, she was surprised to learn that McKinney was a homeopathic physician. McKinney’s homeopathic affiliation, and that of other women physicians, is often not acknowledged and perhaps lacks meaning to many of their biographers.
The importance of acknowledging physicians like Clemence Lozier, Anna Howard Shaw, and Susan McKinney lies not only in making visible their important achievements but in showing a more complex and accurate picture of women in medicine and medical history itself.
The second generation of women seeking medical education appeared during a period of heated debate within the homeopathic profession over what constituted proper homeopathic practice. New organizations and educational institutions were formed by those who advocated adherence to the philosophy and therapeutics of Samuel Hahnemann as stated in the Organon. Similar to the choices women pioneer physicians made between homeopathy and allopathy, women in the second generation of homeopathic medicine allied themselves with either the “pure” or “eclectic” factions within the profession. Though much smaller in number, the Hahnemannians, or those who promoted homeopathy “pure and simple,” exerted an influence disproportionate to their numbers. Many became important teachers and practioners far into the next century.
As Julian Winston notes in his article in The American Homeopath, Vol. 2, 1995, James Tyler Kent’s Post Graduate School of Homeopathics in Philadelphia was small and short lived, yet its influence surpassed the relatively small number of graduates. During the ten years this school was in existence it graduated thirty people. Sixteen were women, and several were awarded important faculty positions in the school and became clinical instructors after their graduation. But not all the women who attended Kent’s school were graduates of homeopathic institutions. Four who desired post-graduate education in homeopathy had graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia, the oldest women’s regular medical college in the United States. 12
Amelia Hess, an 1892 graduate from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, graduated from the Post Graduate School of Homeopathics in 1896. Hess was appointed to the staff of the Women’s Southern Homoeopathic Hospital in Philadelphia, served as president of the Women’s Medical Club in Philadelphia, and was a member of the International Hahnemannian Association. She opened a dispensary for the poor in South Philadelphia which later became the Broad Street Hospital and retired in 1939 after 45 years of practice.
Dr. Mary Ives practiced homeopathic medicine for 46 years in Middletown, Connecticut and was a past-president of the Connecticut Homeopathic Society. Ives was very active in social work and served as director and president of several important organizations which provided family services. Socially prominent, she maintained her connection with the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia as a member of the alumni organization and attended the fiftieth reunion of her graduating class despite her long practice of homeopathy and dedication to that system.
Julia Loos graduated from WMCP in 1894 and two years later received her Masters degree from the Post Graduate School. Loos, along with Kent, founded the Society of Homeopathicians in 1912. An off-shoot of the IHA, the new organization’s small but dedicated membership considered Dr. Kent the new leader of true homeopathic healing. Under its by-laws, eligible members had to have been pupils of Kent, or followers of his teaching, evidenced by four years of practice consistent with them. Out of its initial thirty- nine members, eleven were women physicians and several were associated with Kent’s Post Graduate School. Alice H. Bassett, Fredericka E. Gladwin, Margaret C. Lewis, Julia Loos, and Carrie E. Newton all were graduates; Florence Taft was an honorary member of the school. 13
To the majority of homeopaths, this group represented an extremist view. A contributor to The Medical Century, in January of 1896, argued: “To them the ordinary homeopath is a gross mortal, a mongrel physician, half allopath and half nothing. To them the International Hahnemannian is but one remove from his cruder colleague. Fortunately there are not many of them.”14
Although there weren’t “many of them,” Kent’s pupils and other ‘zealots’ of homeopathy were influential far beyond what their numbers suggest. By 1923 all homeopathic medical colleges, with the exception of Hahnemann of Philadelphia and the New York Homeopathic Medical College, had closed their doors. Although Boston University Medical College did not drop its homeopathic designation until 1918, Julia Minerva Green, an 1898 graduate, complained that she received a “mongrel” education at that institution. Without the institutions which had fostered interest and support for the homeopathic system of medicine, the survival of homeopathy in the twentieth century rested very heavily upon individual physicians and patients. And if women played an instrumental role in the rise of homeopathy in the nineteenth century, in the twentieth they were crucial to its survival. As founders and members of the American Foundation of Homeopathy (1921), as participants in laymen’s leagues and study groups, and as patients seeking homeopathic physicians, women contributed greatly in the transmission and sharing of homeopathic knowledge, a knowledge which no longer enjoyed a place in the major medical institutions of the United States.
Anne Kirschmann is a doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester majoring in American History. Areas of particular interest include women’s history and the history of health reform, medicine, and science. Her upcoming dissertation will explore women in homeopathy, both as physicians and as patients, from 1850 to 1930. Her great grandfather, William Gardiner Taylor, was an 1870 graduate of Hahnemann University and practiced for thirty years in Columbia, Pennsylvania. His son (her grandfather) Gardiner Pratt Taylor, was a 1904 graduate who also established a practice in Columbia and practiced there for many years.
1 J. Heber Smith, “Sciatica from Gold Poisoning,” Transactions of the American Institute of Homeopathy 1869 (Alfred Medge and Son, 1870), pp. 262-267
2 North American Journal of Homoeopathy November 1870, Vol 1.11, p. 280
3 R. Ludlam, “Woman and Homoeopathy,” Transactions of the Twenty-Second Session of the American Institute of Homoeopathy 1869. (Boston: Alfred Medge and Son 1870) p. 367
4 Ibid. p. 362
5 Lois W. Banner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: A Radical for Woman’s Rights, (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company 1980)
6 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Tribute to Dr. Clemence S. Lozier.” Address delivered before the Woman’s League of New York City, June 7, 1888 two months after Lozier’s death
7 E. J. Myers, M.D. , “New York Medical College and Hospital for Women: Surgical Clinic,” Proceedings of the International Hahnemannian Association 1890. p. 173-175
8 Sources used for information on the Cincinnati and Cleveland schools include: William Barlow and David O. Powell, “Homeopathy and Sexual Equality: The Controversy over Coeducation at Cincinnati’s Pulte Medical College, 1873-1879,” Ohio History 90 (1981) and minutes of the Cleveland Homeopathic College
9 Carroll Dunham, “Lilium-Tigrinum -A Summary of a Few Provings Upon Women,” North American Journal of Homeopathy, Vol 1, no. 11 (November 1870): p. 160
10 David Thayer, Annual Address, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting 1870. Publications of the Massachusetts Homoeopathic Medical Society 1866-1870, (Taunton, Massachusetts: Hack, 1875), p. 528
11 Newspaper quotations are cited in William Seraile, “Susan McKinney Steward: New York State’s First African-American Woman Physician,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History
12 Information on the Post Graduate School of Homeopathics comes from minutes to the meetings of this institution located at the Hahnemann University archives. Information on individual students was obtained from the Archives of Women in Medicine at the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Rosalie Stankowitz was the fourth WMCP graduate who attended Kent’s school, however, I have found no biographical data on her
13 Information on the Society of Homoeopathicians was taken from various issues of their publication, The Homoeopathician beginning with Vol 1.1, January 1912 up through Vol 3.4, April 1913
14 Medical Century, Vol 4.2, January, 1896
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is now acknowledged as the last century’s most important feminist and suffragette. The New York Times recently referred to her as a “truly extraordinary woman.” Her life, together with that of Susan B. Anthony, will be the subject of a forthcoming Ken Burns’s documentary. Her many biographies inform us of the extent of her achievements for women’s rights, but little is mentioned of her efforts for medical reform and her involvement with homeopathy.
It was her older sister Tryphena Cady Bayard that perhaps introduced homeopathy to the family in the late 1830’s. Tryphena was returning from New York City with her husband, attorney Edward Bayard, who had just been consigned to the life of an invalid by Professor Stevens, an eminent heart specialist. Undaunted, Tryphena urged her husband to consult with Dr. Auigustas P. Biegler, a student of Hufeland and graduate of the University of Berlin, who had just settled in Albany in the fall of 1837. Biegler was a homeopath who would later stay with Hahnemann in Paris for a year, remaining his close personal friend after his return to America.
The doctor found Tryphena’s husband to be suffering from the effects of massive doses of coffee. The proper dietary regimen and a few carefully selected remedies were prescribed and her husband quickly regained his health. He was greatly impressed with the remarkable recovery he made and began the study of the history and philosophy of homeopathy. So convinced was he of the efficacy of the new system, that while still an attorney in Seneca Falls, he became a lay practitioner. He was the first homeopath in the area and shortly after he started he introduced the system to a local physician. The latter had charges of quackery brought against him by the local medical society. Bayard defended the doctor, defied the judges and medical society and won restoration of rights to the physician.
Bayard later left the practice of law, studied medicine, and graduated from New York University in 1844. He joined the newly formed American Institute of Homeopathy and became one of New York’s foremost Hahnemannians. In 1881 he joined the International Hahnemannian Association.
He had been the college classmate of Elizabeth’s brother Eleazar while they were at Union College. When he married Tryphena, they became the acting parents to the younger Cady children. Bayard is acknowledged as having had a profound influence on young Elizabeth, and, no doubt, his experience as an eminent homeopath led her to adopt the system and advocate it throughout her life.
Elizabeth had married and lived in Seneca Falls by 1847. She was to treat her children with the remedies and also the Irish immigrant families that had come there to work on the reconstruction of the Erie Canal. She was often visited by members of that community to attend their various medical problems and she also served as a midwife.
When Mrs. Stanton moved to New York city she worked closely with Dr. Sophia Clemence Lozier in medical reform work. She and the doctor went to Albany to win the Board of Regent’s sanction of the newly established New York Women’s Medical College. Mrs. Stanton Served on the board several years as recording secretary, while her sister Tryphena was trustee and officer of the college for many years. Edward Bayard served on the board of censors until 1870.
It is interesting to note that Dr. Bayard was preceptor to Sarah Jane White, who graduated from the college in 1873. She served on the faculty in 1881, but of more interest is her founding of a free women’s college in New York following a liberal plan of embracing all schools of medicine.
Mrs. Stanton spent six weeks with Dr. Lozier and was so much impressed with her busy medical practice that she took an entire course of lectures at the college and “gained much valuable information which, in season and out of season, I have given to other women.”
It was Mrs. Stanton, in place of Dr. Lozier, who accompanied the first class of thirty women to attend clinical lectures at the ampitheatre of Bellevue Hospital. One thousand jeering male medical students pelted them with spitballs and the lecturer picked “the most offensive subject and disease for the day, thinking thereby to end the experiment.” As they left the ampitheatre, they were again jeered and pelted with pieces of gravel. Many of the notable reformers of the nineteenth century with whom Mrs. Stanton was closely associated were patients, patrons, or champions of homeopathy: Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, William Lloyd Garrison, Gerritt Smith, Susan B. Anthony, Julia Holmes Smith, and Horace Greely.
Written by Chris Ellithorp
Chris lives and works in Johnstown, New York, and can be reached at (518) 762-4569 (voice).
Women and homeopathy in the nineteenth century (A. Taylor Kirschmann)