By Dana Ullman, MPH
Excerpted by “The Homeopathic Revolution” (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2007)
Abraham Lincoln and homeopathy
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) himself showed a special interest in homeopathic medicine. In 1854, before Lincoln was elected president, he was retained as a lawyer to prepare a state legislative proposal to charter a homeopathic medical college in Chicago. Because Chicago was the home of the American Medical Association, which had been founded in 1847 in part to stop the growth of homeopathy, Lincoln’s job was no simple effort. However, many of Chicago’s most prominent citizens and politicians participated on the board of trustees of the proposed Hahnemann Medical College, including Chicago’s mayor, two congressmen, an Illinois state representative, a Chicago city councilman, the co-founder of Northwestern University, the founder of Chicago Union Railroad, and several medical doctors who were homeopaths (Spiegel and Kavaler, 2002). Despite significant opposition, Lincoln was successful in obtaining a charter for the homeopathic college.
Today, the Pearson Museum at Southern Illinois University has an exhibit of a nineteenth-century doctor’s office and drug store; included in this exhibit is a homeopathic medicine kit from the Diller Drug Store of Springfield, Illinois. The exhibit notes that Abraham Lincoln was a frequent customer of the drug store and a regular user of homeopathic medicines (Karst, 1988, 11).
Susan B. Anthony’s Homeopath and Her Connection to Chicago
Most of the 19th century feminists and suffragists were advocates of homeopathic medicine. It is therefore not surprising that Susan B. Anthony was a homeopathic patient. Her homeopathic physician was Julia Holmes Smith, MD, another activist in the social reform movement. Further, Dr. Smith established the first kindergarten, in New Haven, Connecticut, was the first woman elected to a deanship of a coeducational medical school (the National Medical College of Chicago in 1898), the first woman to be appointed trustee at the University of Illinois, and the first woman to be placed on a political ticket in Illinois.
The First Female Surgeon in the U.S.
Mary Harris Thompson, MD (1829–1895) was a graduate of the New England Female Medical College (1863). She founded Chicago Hospital for Women and Children in 1865 and later became the first female surgeon in the U.S. Initially, the hospital was sustained through private benefactions, and through Dr. Thompson’s efforts, a college was organized in 1870 for the medical education of women exclusively. The hospital building was totally destroyed in the great fire of 1871, but temporary accommodations were obtained. The following year, with the aid of $25,000 appropriated by the Chicago Relief and Aid Society, a permanent building was purchased. In 1885, a new commodious and well-planned building was erected on the same site, at a cost of about $75,000.
After Thompson’s death in 1895, the hospital was renamed the Mary Thompson Hospital for Women and Children. It continued to provide otherwise unavailable clinical opportunities for medical women until 1972, when men were integrated into the medical staff. Financial problems contributed to the closing of the hospital in 1988.
The Famous, Wealthy, and Powerful Supporters of Homeopathy in Chicago
In 1871, it was estimated that more than half of the families in the wealthiest part of the city were advocates of homeopathy (Rothstein, 1972, 234). While homeopathy was more popular among the wealthy and the educated classes, conventional medicine was considerably more popular among the poor and uneducated classes. When one AMA member suggested the medical society should induce Chicago’s newspapers to work to change this “problem,” he was informed that the newspapers were owned and largely edited by advocates of homeopathy.
Many of Chicago’s most prominent 19th century citizens and politicians participated in the creation of the Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago, including:
- Orrington Lunt, a businessman and co-founder of Northwestern University.
- William H. Brown, founder of the Chicago Union Railroad. Later, he had a U.S. Navy ship named after him.
- Joseph B. Doggett, an Illinois congressman.
Later, other well-known and respected Chicagoans supported the development of three other homeopathic colleges in Chicago, plus several hospitals (Renner, 1974; Spiegel and Kavaler, 2002). These advocates included:
- Edson Keith, a successful hat merchant who sat on the board of Marshall Field, the department store.
- Benjamin Lombard, a successful farmer and businessman who created Illinois Liberal Institute (later, Lombard College), which ultimately closed during the Depression.
- Victor Lawson, owner of the Chicago Daily News. He also funded the Daily News Sanatorium, a 350-bed hospital entirely run by homeopathic physicians. It was located in Lincoln Park on the shore of Lake Michigan.
- Robert Sanderson McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune.
- Van H. Higgins, a Superior Court judge.
William Wrigley and Homeopathy
William Wrigley (1861–1932), of chewing gum and Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field fame, was a major advocate for homeopathy. His personal homeopath was Julia Clark Strawn, MD, an 1897 graduate of Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago. She sought to obtain his financial support for various homeopathic causes, but he declined, not because he didn’t appreciate homeopathy but because he felt that the homeopathic colleges were not teaching “real” homeopathy. Instead, the homeopathic colleges had been forced to teach so much conventional physiology and pathology in order for their graduates to pass the state medical exams that they were not teaching homeopathy in adequate depth or breadth (Kirschmann, 2004, 153).