by Lia Bello RN, FNP, CCH
Homeopathic nursing is the nursing that takes place with patients who are being treated homeopathically or in a homeopathic hospital or homeopathic doctor’s office. I include the work of a nurse who educates her patients in the basics of homeopathy and uses homeopathic remedies in their healthcare. The story begins hand in hand with the history of nursing–which closely follows that of women’s’ rights in America and England.
The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital was founded in 1850 in Golden Square in London by Dr. Quinn–who was then King Leopold’s physician. Before that time nurses were not paid or trained and were simply part of the domestic staff like cleaners and cooks. Over the next 50 years, nursing reform in England took place, spurred on by Florence Nightingale and Elizabeth Twining and by 1890 most of the hospitals in London had training programs for nurses and nursing management departments, though they were not always considered part of the medical staff. The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital was thought to be modern and progressive, having an elevator, separate bedrooms and bathrooms for nurses, who traditionally lived in the hospital and quit nursing if they got married.
Florence Nightingale,1820 – 1910, founder of modern nursing, used and recommended homeopathy. Homeopathy and Nightingale’s life intersected in several ways. Sue Young’s Histories says “Florence Nightingale lived at a time when allopathy and homeopathy were competing for dominance in medical care. Nightingale’s philosophy of health and healing was more similar to the holistic philosophy of homeopathy than to the mechanistic philosophy of allopathy.” She was a patient of homeopathic physician, James Manby Gully and she called him a “genius”, and she also had homeopathic nurses with her in the Crimea, and she mentored Linda Richards, an American nurse who trained at the Brooklyn Homeopathic School. Nightingale also wrote to her mother that she hoped her father would try homeopathic treatment for an eye problem.
In America, the same reforms were taking place. There were scores of Homeopathic Hospitals with nursing staffs from as early as 1848 in the case of Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. Metropolitan Hospital on Blackwell’s Island in New York City opened in 1875 and Dr. S.H. Talcott attempted to start clinical and scientific lectures for nurses as early as 1876, but the training of nurses was postponed until 1892. Hahnemann Hospital on Park Avenue in New York City, founded in 1869, had a Nurses Training School from 1895. The lectures at Metropolitan were given by staff doctors like Dr. Guernsey, Samuel Lilienthal and J.H. Demerest. with lecture titles like: Nursing the Insane and Delirious, Management of the Female Breast, Conduct in Accidents and Emergencies, Hemorrhages, Catheters, Diet and Cookery for the Sick.
As was the tradition until approximately 1950, nursing schools before that time were 3 year live-in/work/study arrangements, staffing the hospital with students working long hours, while providing training and an acceptable female career in a supervised environment for single women. Student nurses staffed the hospitals and graduate nurses went on to work in private homes or with doctors. A report of the Hahnemann Hospital Nurses training home in 1910 recorded that a hospital shift was 12 hours–day shift -7 am to 7 pm, and night shift -7 pm to 7 am. No tuition was required–because of this work study structure and each student nurse received an allowance of $7 /month for books and uniforms. In 1920 a student nurses allowance was $25 / month. In 1895, a student nurse who was lent out by the school to do private duty at a patient’s home received $1 for day shift, $2 for evening shift and $3 for night shift.
A list of rules to be followed at the Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital included: “Nurses are not permitted to do do the doctors sewing or mending”. “Nurses are to see that no games are played on the Sabbath Day”, “ Any bottles found in patients possession are to be brought at once to the supervising nurse, with the name of patient.”, “ The face and hands of all patients shall be washed each morning and a general bath given once each week”, “Nurses shall not accept any gift, bribe or special compensation from any patient”
It seems that homeopathy was not well thought of by the U.S. government during the Civil War and so was not part of the medical care of the soldiers. An exception was one hospital base in Mound City, Missouri, that had a doctor who was adamant enough to create a homeopathic ward of patients who were beyond hope of recovery with conventional methods. 30% of them did recover after having been given up. So there was some homeopathic nursing going on during the Civil War.
An outstanding figure in homeopathy at that time was Susan Edson MD, who graduated from from the Western College of Homeopathy in Cleveland in 1854 and practiced in Washington DC. Though she could not practice medicine at the Civil War frontlines–she chose to forego medicine and serve as a nurse at the Meriden and Fortress Encampments for two years during the Civil War. Though she was ill and could not work for 3 years after this experience she went on to an eminently successful practice in Washington DC and was President Garfield’s family doctor. She was distinguished enough to be asked to attend the birth of the child of the Chinese Ambassador in Washington. Again homeopathy was discriminated against when she was not allowed to doctor President Garfield after he was shot in an assassination attempt. He lived for 80 days after the shooting and Dr. Susan Edson nursed him during this time.
Homeopathy lent itself well to a phenomenon which took place in the second half of the 1800’s called the Popular Health Movement. These facts were taken from the book “Woman as Healer” by Jeanne Achterberg (Shambala, Boston 1990). This was a movement in which formerly repressed, post Victorian wives and mothers found creativity and freedom of expression in domestic health practices. Social reforms started to allow for education in nutrition, hygiene, temperance, and new cures. Women flocked to learn about pregnancy, birth,, women’s diseases and birth control. In short they were being taught the facts about their own bodies so that they could better care for themselves and their families. This new freedom within the middle class, combined with an active dislike for the existing standard of heroic medical care which included blood-letting, opium, purgatives and harsh chemicals spurred this movement in reaction to allopathy.
During this time many women obtained a mahogany box of homeopathic remedies and a book on their domestic use. The American Institute of Homeopathy, the oldest medical association in the U.S., was founded in 1844, several years before the AMA, reported that “many a woman, armed with her little stock of remedies, has converted an entire community”. These women nursed their families and used homeopathy to be self-sufficient because they were more trusting of nature’s laws and the promise of health in this era of optimism and social reform. Homeopathy was carried across America with women whose families pioneered west in wagons and needed to be self-sufficient and prepared for the harsh conditions away from civilization.
The Popular Health Reform Movement opened the doors for women to enter the public sphere into the healing professions of nursing, medicine and the ministry, while remaining true to traditional healing themes of prevention through healthy lifestyle, treatment with natural remedies and compassion as a healing modality. Women made up 2/3 of the followers of the natural health care movement and this statistic remains true in today’s surge toward complementary and holistic health.
Many early feminists and suffragettes supported and learned homeopathy. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one who learned homeopathy and other health techniques taught by Dr. Clemence Lozier, the female founder and head of New York Medical College for Women, and used them in her work as a lay nurse helping Irish immigrants in western New York.
By coincidence, a neighbor of mine in Questa ,New Mexico, told me that her great aunt, Miss Kitty Herrer, was the nurse for Mark Twain, the famous author, a great proponent for homeopathy, when he lived in upstate New York before he died in 1910. Perhaps she administered his remedies.
World War I saw many nurses who had been trained in the homeopathic hospitals volunteering and being sent over seas–usually in groups made up of doctors and nurses from the same hospital or at least the same city. Many of the nurses were decorated and honored for their service as part of the Red Cross attached to the Army. This information came from a book titled “American Homeopathy in the World War” by Dr. Dearbourne and, though we have little information, we know that some of the Army Base Hospitals were supplied with a full armamentarium of remedies by the Boericke and Tafel pharmacy. One statistic contended that the death rate in Army Base Hospital #48, which was staffed with homeopathically trained doctors and nurses, was only 1.6% and that they treated 38,000 patients. The nurses wore long black dresses and large black hats as their uniform.
There seem to be only two books which were written specifically for homeopathic nurses. One is quite obscure and I was unable to find it in the National Center Library. It is “The Nurse, or Hints on the Care of the Sick” by Charles T. Harris, from 1879. The other book is “Homeopathic Materia Medical for Nurses” by Benjamin C. Woodbury, from 1917. It included chapters on: Essentials of Correct Homeopathic Prescribing, Value of Careful Observation in Obtaining Symptoms, Isopathy, Nosodes, Remedy Selection and Action, Preparation of Medicines, Scales of Attenuation, and Rules of Administration. Other chapters in this book were titled: How Homeopathic Nursing Differs From Regular Nursing, General Rules Regarding Diet and Care of Homeopathic Cases, Electricity, Relations Between Nurse and Physician, and the Necessity of the Proper Understanding of Homeopathy.
Information on about thirty homeopathic remedies was included in the materia medica section. These topics were merely brushed upon and were hardly a way to learn anything but the very introductory knowledge of materia medica. But the thought was there that nurses should know the basics of prescribing for the patients for which they were caring. These excerpts from this book, “Materia Medica for Nurses” are very interesting: “In homeopathic hospitals the official drugs, both materia medica and dosage are most carefully studied and this is required. Yet after all, when we consider it from the nurse’s standpoint, anything more would seem almost unnecessary, for it is only exceptionally, outside of institutional work that any mention is made to the nurse as to what homeopathic remedy is being prescribed (page 7)…..This volume has been prepared with the intent to stimulate an interest in this subject among the nursing profession as a whole, and to offer to those particularly interested, a book of reference, wherein may be found some of the fundamental principles of Homeopathy, and a requisite knowledge of the most frequently used remedies, their dosage and indications. Furthermore its aim has been to show why many procedures peculiar to the practice of homeopathic physicians are so little understood by the nursing body at large (page 9)….The selection of the remedy is not a part of the nurse’s duty. It is essential for her to know, however, that in no other way can she render more valuable service to the physician than in the cultivation of careful observation regarding the development of the disease. The physician bases his prescription upon the totality of the symptoms. No one, not even the physician himself, has so good an opportunity to observe the development of the patient’s symptoms as the careful trained nurse. Careful attention and observation of the details of the patient’s illness will be of greatest value to the physician in his selection of the remedy (page 30)…..The nurse should be sure that the medicine is given at the exact intervals directed by the physician. During treatment by a homeopathic physician the nurse should never venture to prescribe or suggest any other kind of medicine, or any measure not in accord with the strict practice of Homeopathy (page 37)….The nurse’s equipment should include a small set of homeopathic remedies…including phials of the commonly prescribed remedies. This does not mean that the nurse is ever to prescribe for the patient, at any rate not upon her own responsibility,m but only under the direction of the physician, when absent or unavoidably detained (page 38)…..Dietetic modalities may prove most useful to the physician in prescribing. Hence it is most valuable for the nurse to note carefully the immediate and remote effects of different diets as well as aggravations from strong odors, music, cold and heat, emotional excitement and sexual excesses, etc. (page 43)…..Without a proper understanding of Homeopathy and an abiding faith and confidence in the physician, the patient and family will not find in their nurse a common sympathizer .“ (page 45)
Chris Ellithorpe, a homeopathic historian in upstate New York, was very helpful in helping me research this topic and he gave me an old yearbook from the Nursing School at Hahnemann Hospital from 1930 which made very little mention of homeopathy, but showed well how modern and mainstream the Hahnemann Hospital was during those years before its transition away from homeopathic training.
The professional nurse is a modern development. Education of nurses has advanced greatly and is part of the history of the homeopathic hospitals and their training schools. Homeopathic nursing went into dormancy along with homeopathic medicine during the time between 1930 and 1970–except for the domestic nursing that happens in every homeopathic household. But in the 1970’s a resurgence of interest in natural and holistic medical techniques started a growth in homeopathic education and practice that nurses and nurse practitioners have been a large part of. A good percentage of all students in professional homeopathic schools are nurses and many go on to practice privately or under the supervision of an MD. Some advanced practice nurse practitioners are fully licensed to diagnose and prescribe and can accept insurance and Medicare payments.
The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital–now called Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine has adapted to the times and operates many outpatient clinics staffed by doctors and nurse clinicians. Their inpatient ward nurses are very familiar with homeopathy as well as offering reflexology and therapeutic touch to their patients.
The Homeopathic Nurses Association (HNA) was founded in 1984 by myself and Richard Evans, BSN. Sidney Skinner, an advanced practice nurse has written a homeopathic textbook, “An Introduction to Homeopathic Medicine in Primary Care”. The Homeopathic Nurses Association supports nurses in their transition toward homeopathic education and practice. Many nurses teach homeopathy in their communities and there are quite a few homeopathic courses which confer continuing education units to nurses.
I have personally taught 2000 nurses the basics of homeopathy and homeopathic history was made in 1997 when I taught an introductory homeopathic course at Ohio State University Nursing School. That school had been a homeopathic nursing school from 1914 to 1922. They had an old diploma on display from 1921 with the inscription ”Ohio State University Homeopathic Nurses School”, though they didn’t know what that meant. History is coming back around!
Many nursing and nurse practitioner conferences now include lectures about homeopathic healthcare. More homeopathic history was made in 1998 when the American Institute of Homeopathy voted to allow advanced practice nurses and physician’s assistants to join as associate members. This bastion of MDs, DO’s and dentists opened itself partially 14 years after we, the nurses, asked to be admitted in 1984.
I expect homeopathic nursing to flourish–it is a worldwide phenomenon and is quite alive in Europe and will advance in other countries as women’s rights progress. The announcement in 2000 of the research project showing that nurse practitioners provide equal quality health care when compared to physicians can only help the acceptance of nurses as competent and professional healthcare providers. A smart integrative physician is one who makes a bold move and hires a homeopathic nurse to partner in their practice. Homeopathy is well suited to the training and sensitivity that nurses bring to healthcare and our listening skills, compassion and holistic and preventive ideas create homeopathic practitioners of high caliber and skill.