History of Medicine
HISTORY as Weapon
In the nineteenth century, contending factions in the deeply divided medical profession used history as a weapon. In this wear for survival, practitioners belonging to rival groups wrote histories that revealed their triumphs over the wrong-headed practices of their competitors or the inevitable progress of their own favorite ideas and institutions.
Many people viewed doctors' claims to professional authority as attempts to reconstruct European class divisions on free American soil. Instead of proceeding confidently with licenses granted because of approved levels of training, medical practitioners had to prove their ability within a bitterly competitive marketplace.
Medical sects proliferated, each claiming to have the most effective medical treatments. Homeopaths vied with naturopaths and hydropaths for the attention and financially loyalty of patients. In this cacophony of competing claims, a group of physicians founded the American Medical Association in 1847 to create an authoritative basis for the medical profession as we know it today. The members of the AMA, the "regulars" in their own eyes, were accused by rivals of being merely another competing sect, the hard drugging "allopaths."
The division of medicine into rival factions was not merely an American phenomenon. Here a French artist ridicules the supposedly gentle treatment of the homeopaths.
Les Homéopathes: 2ème Traitement-Similia Similibus, Courbatura Batonibus
Paris?, ca. 1880s
Prints and Photographs Call Number: WZ 336 J19 no. 5
As a rule and unlike the present day, physicians were not generally respected in the early nineteenth century. In this etching from the period, a British artist, highlighting the perceived and pretentiousness and pomposity of the medical profession, underscores widespread contemporary attitudes in his scathing caricatures.
A Consultation of Doctors on the case of Sr. Toby Bumper!!
London, February 26, 1807
Prints and Photographs Call Number: WZ 338 W91 no. 6
The title page of this nineteenth century medical tract captures the tensions, antagonisms and rivalries typical of the period. The author, a founder of the "physio-medicalist" school, is here responding to the "provocation" he detected in the remarks earlier delivered by a member of the "allopathic" school. The physio-medicalists, like the Thomsonians from whom they derived, relied largely on botanic ingredients, whereas the allopaths included metallic compounds in their often quite vigorous pharmaceutical preparations.
The Provocation and the Reply; or Allopathy Versus Physio-Medicalism in a Review of Prof. M.B. Wright's Remarks at the Dedication of the Cincinnati New Hospital, January 8th, 1869.
NLM Call Number: WBJ C978p 1870, Title Page
The Homeopaths (who believed in "like curing like") and the allopaths (who believed in remedies with properties opposite to the symptoms for which they were prescribed) were bitter rivals in nineteenth-century medical practice. In this amusing wood engraving, while the patient lies sick in bed, the homeopath grabs the allopath by the collar as a quarrel ensues of the proper method of treatment.
L'Homéopate et l'alléopate, en présence chez M. Jobard, se traient de polissons, se prennent à la gorge et le malade meurt faute de secours
Prints and Photographs Call Number: WZ 336 M71 no. 6
A sampling of cards for patent medicines used in the wide-open nineteenth-century medical marketplace.
United States, 19th Century
Prints and Photographs Call Number: QV 772 C25 no. 5a
Buffalo, 19th Century
Prints and Photographs Call Number: QV 772 C25 no. 6a
Puck Bldg., N.Y., 19th Century
Prints and Photographs Call Number: QV 772 C25 no. 13a
United States, 1885
Prints and Photographs Call Number: QV 772 C25 no. 57
Samuel Thomson was the founder of one of the earliest and most vigorous of the nineteenth-century medical sects, the "Thomsonians." As clearly indicated in the extended title of this tract, the Thomsonians believed in "curing Disease with Vegetable Medicine." They also believed in a more "democratic" style of practice in which, ideally, "every man [was] his own physician."
A Narrative, of the Life and Medical Discoveries of Samuel Thomson; containing an account of his system of practice, and The manner of curing Disease with Vegetable Medicine, upon a plan entirely new; to which is added An Introduction to his New Guide to Health, or Botanic Family Physician, containing the principles upon which the system is founded, with remarks on Fevers, Steaming, Poison, &c.
NLM Call Number: WZ 100 T4852n 1822, Title Page
A faculty member at Harvard Medical School from 1847 to 1882, Holmes had no patience with homeopathy, the leading mid-century sectarian challenge to "regular" medicine. He thought that homeopathy, derived from the late eighteenth-century writings of Samuel Hahnemann, represented a backwards-sliding regression in medicine, not an advance of any sort in either theory or therapy.
Homœópathy, and its kindred delusions; Two lectures delivered before the Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
NLM Call Number: WBK H752h 1842, Title Page
Originally devised by Silesian peasant Vincent Priessnitz, the "Water Cure" was another popular nineteenth-century alternative to regular medicine. Its proponents believed that the administration of water and baths of various kinds would purify and invigorate the body's physiology. The Water Cure-also called hydropathy-reached the United States in the 1840s.
The Practice of the Water-Cure
New York, 1846
NLM Call Number: WBF W749p 1846, page iv-5
"The Rain Bath," from Pleasures of the Water Cure
London, ca. 1857
NLM Call Number: WBF O56 1857
"Sitz Bath and Wet Sheet," from Pleasures of the Water Cure
London, ca. 1857
NLM Call Number: WBF O56 1857
Thacher's "history" leaves out mention of the Thomsonians, the Homeopaths and other sectarian challengers and concentrates on the organizational achievements of regular medicine.
American Medical Biography: or Memoirs of Eminent Physicians who have flourished in America. To which is prefixed A Succinct History of Medical Science in the United States, from the first settlement of the country.
NLM Call Number: WZ 140 AA1 T3a 1828, Volume 1, pages 78-79
A historically-based critique of the "mysteries" of homeopathic medicine.
Remarks on the Abracadabra of the Nineteenth Century; or on Dr. Samuel Hahnemann's Homœopathic medicine, with particular reference to Dr. Constantine Hering's "Concise View of the Rise and Progress of Homœopathic Medicine," Philadelphia, 1833.
New York, 1835
NLM Call Number: WBK L589r 1835, Title Page
Joseph Carson recounts the history of the Department of Medicine at one of the leading "regular" medical schools, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Like Thacher, he writes as if the Thomsonians, homeopaths, hydropaths, and physio-medicalists never existed or, at least, presented no serious challenge to the mainstream profession.
A History of the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania, from its foundation in 1765. With sketches of the lives of deceased professors.
NLM Call Number: W19 P418c 1869, Title Page
This book presents the history of medicine from the vantage point of a sectarian challenger. The history of medicine recounted here looks very different from the version presented elsewhere by "regular" physicians.
The Reform-Medical Practice: with a History of Medicine, from the earliest period to the present time, and a synopsis of principles on which the new practice is founded.
Macon, Ga., 1857
NLM Call Number: WBJ M171r 1857, Title Page