Baltimore Homeopathic Study Group

To understand the history of homeopathy in Maryland, you must first understand the history of allopathic medicine. in the early nineteenth century, when Samuel Hahnemann first developed homeopathy, if you were seriously ill, you were in a lot of trouble. Benjamin Rush, a leading allopathic physician of the same time, advocated blood letting and dosing with calomel, a mercury compound as medical treatments. Rush bragged that he bled his patients until they were as white as Jersey veal. When George Washington came down with a high fever, he was bled three times and dosed with calomel. As a result of this treatment, he passed away that evening. Doctors of the time were held in low regard and poorly trained. The University of Maryland medical school was an eight month course taught to high school graduates., and the second four months was a repeat of the first. Hospitals were only used by the poor, other patients were treated in their homes. A diseases such as appendicitis was a death sentence.

Partly as a reaction to the low regard of the public for allopathic medicine, other practitioners flourished. The leading system of herbal medicine was founded by Samuel Thompson and known as Thompsonianism. It was especially popular in Baltimore Part of its appeal was that it could be practiced by lay persons, which appealed to the spirit of self-sufficiency fostered by Jacksonian democracy. Advocates of Thompsonianism abolished the Maryland State Medical Board in 1838, leaving medicine free to be practiced by anyone. By the 1840's every state medical board in the United States had been abolished. The greatest period of popularity of Thompsonianism was between 1805 and 1840. After 1840 other systems of practice, especially homeopathy replaced it in popularity.

Homeopathy was founded by Samuel Hahnemann, who sought to replace the dangerous and ineffective medical practices of his day with a medical system founded on clear principles and based on the observation of the action of medicines on healthy persons, where it could be seen unmodified by disease. Though criticized and attacked by regular physicians, a group of practioners adhering to his principles grew up in Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Several of these, emigrating to America, brought homeopathy to this country. Hans Burch Gram, imigrating to the United States in 1825, was the first homeopathic practitioner in this country. The first homeopathic medical school was founded in 1834 in Allentown Pennsylvania. Homeopathy developed a sound reputation after it proved effective in treating the cholera epidemic in New York in 1832 and after treating similar epidemics in 1848 and 1852. The American Institue of Homeopathy, the first national medical society was established in 1844.

The first homeopath to practice in Maryland was the Reverend Giger, who started practice in 1833 in southern Maryland. Although he was the first to practice, he had little contact with and little influence with other homeopaths in the state. More influential was Dr. Felix Mcmanus, an allopathic doctor who was converted to homeopathy by a Catholic priest in 1837 and purchased Hering's Domestic Physician at Wesselhoeft's bookstore in downtown Baltimore. Other notable homeopaths of this period were Dr. Elias Price, who was the first homeopath in Baltimore County in 1848 and Dr. Adolph Haynel, an immigrant from Germany and personal student of Hahnemann, who practiced homeopathy in Baltimore for thirty years. Homeopathy grew in numbers and influence in Maryland and by the 1860's was especially popular among the wealthy and the intelligentsia.

The history of homeopathy in Maryland was marred by political infighting and bickering. There were several competing homeopathic medical societies in Maryland. These societies would last for a few years, break apart because of fighting between the doctors, and new societies would be formed. Enoch Pratt offered to give a million dollars to found a homeopathic hospital in Baltimore on the condition that all the competing medical societies would agree to work together to support it. When he saw that any such agreement was impossible, he changed his will instead to leave the money to the Sheppard-Pratt Hospital. Despite this bickering homeopathy continued to make headway in Maryland.

In 1877 Baltimore homeopaths founded the Baltimore Free Homeopathic Dispensary as an outpatient facility for the poor. In 1890 they founded the Southern Homeopathic Medical College and Hospital of Baltimore. Even here there was bickering and opposition between the doctors who had founded the two facilities. The hospital took both paying and charity patients. There was great hope that the medical school would attract students from the South, where homeopathy up until then had little institutional support. In 1895, the city gave $800 annually to the school and it became a four year school, unusual at the time. The city raised its support to $1000 and then the state took over supporting the hospital, giving $5000 a year.

While all this was happening, allopathic medicine was not standing still. The state reestablished the state medical boards in 1892. There were two medical boards, one for homeopathic and one for allopathic medicine. In 1893 the Johns Hopkins Medical School was founded. It was the finest medical school in America and raised the standard on what was considered a good medical education. Johns Hopkins comined a research institution with a medical school for the first time and required its students to have a bachelor's degree. The AMA changed its tactics from opposing homeopaths and punishing allopathic doctors who consulted with homeopaths to wooing them and allowing them to join the AMA.

In 1904 the great fire of Baltimore swept though downtown. Although the Southern Homeopathic School and Hospital were not touched by the fire, in 1905 they lost the state stipend, which went instead to rebuilding downtown. The hospital was further weakened when a group of homeopathic doctors founded the Saint Louis Homeopathic Hospital and then another group founded the Maryland Homeopathic Hospital. Southern abandoned teaching homeopathy and reformed as the Atlantic Medical college, an allopathic medical school. Its students were drawn from the ranks of those who had failed to gain admission to other schools. The school received a scathing review in the Flexner Report in 1909 and closed in 1910. Saint Louis Hospital closed a few years later and the Maryland Homeopathic Hospital closed in 1921, the last homeopathic medical institution in the state.

Although the school and hospitals had closed, there were still a number of homeopathic doctors practicing in Maryland. But with no new doctors being trained, their numbers slowly dwindled to just a few by the fifties. The remaining homeopaths recommended in 1952 that the homeopathic medical board be eliminated. The state, however, hesitated, leading to a strange episode in the history of homeopathy. In 1954 Dr. Robert Reddick joined the homeopathic medical board, and the other doctors resigned in protest. He stocked the board with his cronies. and started issuing medical licenses for a $500 fee. This spawned an enormous political controversy and there was talk on convening a special meeting of legislature, but this was not done. The homeopathic medical board was disbanded in next meeting of the legislature in 1957, ending the formal recognition of homeopathy in Maryland.

The Ruscombe Center was founded in 1984 as a center for the practice of alternative medicine. Today seveal homeopaths practice there. The grounds of the Ruscombe Center was originally a commune founded by Bob and Zoh Hieronymous whose members were interested in the study of Western esoteric traditions. To support themselves, they founded the Beautiful Day nursery school and kindergarten. The school teachers were influenced by the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, whose Anthroposophic Society was an offshoot of Theosophy. Rudolf Steiner lectured widely on many subjects, including education and medicine. In the late 1970's the commune fell apart as constuction of a large housing development surrounded it, though the school survived and became the Baltimore Waldorf School. Zoh Hieronymous came down with Crohn's Disease and after allopathic treatment failed to resolve the problem, flew to Switzerland to be treated by Anthroposophic Medicine. The treatment was successful and she decided to turn the commune property into an alternative medicine center and invited Peter Hinderberger, the doctor who treated her, to come to Baltimore and head the new center. Dr. Hinderberger was trained as an allopathic doctor, but grew disillusioned and studied Anthroposophic medicine as well as studying homeopathy with Vithoulkas and Imbrechts. He was the first of the new generation of homeopaths to practice in Baltimore.


This essay is based on a paper by David Willard, with additions from Medicine in Maryland by Jane Sewell and The Faces of Homeopathy by Julian Winston.