The same sorts of medical systems that haunted Hahnemann with bad dreams were at work with some differences in the New World. The nineteenth century found chiropractic, osteopathy and naturopathy gaining popularity. Opium, liquors, hot baths, garlic, mercury, and wine were used by the gallon as stimulants for phlegmatic ailments. Fads which oversimplified the practice of medicine led to a reduction in recognized diseases and a corresponding reduction of medicines. Benjamin Rush, the most respected American physician was a strong advocate of mercury and bloodletting. Calomel, mercurous chloride, was a stimulant for treating just about anything. Mercury poisoning was common at this time and many mothers would not let their children be treated. Medical historians see the introduction of homeopathy as stopping the harm of this corrupt medicine which was the only good it could do.
Homeopathy was introduced into the USA by Hans Burch Gram in 1825 and many German immigrants took to the system. Constantine Hering, a graduate of Leipzig University, founded the first American school of homeopathy in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1835 with instruction in German. After six years, it was replaced by him with the Homeopathic Medical College in Philadelphia. In 1844, licensing standards were put together by the newly founded American Institute of Homeopathy. The AIH also was the clearinghouse for the provings of North American native plants and other new remedies. Later the American Medical Association (AMA) would form in reaction to growing popularity of homeopathy as a business guild in order to protect the interests of its physicians with the help of the pharmacies who supplied calomel and the like.
The formal counterattack against homeopathy grew slowly as the system became more apparent through translations and increasing practitioners who used sweet tasting globules instead of foul preparations. In 1842 the New York State Medical Society ruled that homeopathy was a form of quackery. The members believed that the success of homeopathy was only because of their poor marketing and public relations and decided that medical education needed a revamp as long as they could get rid of the homeopathic community. The pretentiously named sugar pills under the guise of pharmacy shouldn’t allow homeopaths immunity as practitioners of other medical system. This is the groundwork that the AMA was formed on in 1847. In 1856 the AMA banned any discussion of homeopathic medical theory in their journals and threatened expulsion of any doctor who even consulted with a homeopath. You were expelled even if you were married to a practicing homeopath. Even though the official stance is that they were trying to eliminate quackery, the records show that their main target was homeopathy, the only other major force in American medicine.
Eclectic medicine was widespread in nineteenth century medicine, one of the greatest homeopaths, J. T. Kent had originally been an eclectic. The effect of homeopathy on the general medical community created a bridge for many eclectic practitioners to become allopaths. They could choose to back their choices of a homeopathic remedy with allopathic philosophy. The patient didn’t care about the esoterica; the results were creating sympathetic adherents in many influential areas. Calomel, quinine and jalap as well as bleeding finally passed out of fashion.
By the Civil War in America, homeopathy was the American medicine and standard medicine Using bloodletting and large mercury doses were gradually eliminated. Much of Hahnemannian thought was adopted by the developing modern medical system except for the homeopathic principles including diet, hygiene, immunization, preparation of medicines, the origin of germs, and the techniques of surgery. Hahnemann would applaud the system of controlled laboratory experiments with a clear-minded procedure but scorn the principles on which they were based.
The cholera epidemic of 1849 was a resounding success for homeopathy claiming a 97% cure rate by the Cincinnati physicians in over a thousand cases. The medical establishment openly admitted it had no cure and went through major excuse production to cover their beliefs. Housewives picked up Hering’s The Homeopathic Domestic Physician along with a homeopathic kit with numbered remedies and understood how to protect her family without a knowledge of physiology or chemistry. The New York Times, powerful politicians, and business interests all supported homeopathy during the peak of popularity in the 1870s and 80s. The yellow fever epidemic in the South during the 1870s was treated successfully and the homeopaths left their mark in recommending sanitary corrections in the water systems. Hundreds of homeopathic hospitals, clinics, insane asylums, nursing homes, orphanages and schools were in operation.
But as quickly as the popularity increased, once modern medicine learned to adopt many of the homeopathic practices, it kept in touch with the American public by providing a standardized medicine while homeopathy was perceived more and more as an old-fashioned system. The mobility of the American public worked best with the specialization of the modern physician and the fundamentalists of homeopathy did little to keep up as they were bickering ideology couched in rigid anti-modernist terms amongst themselves.
The AMA at first did not like the introduction of pharmaceutical proprietary medicines, the formulations that doctors knew almost as much as their patients did, from companies such as Parke-Davis. But under pressure from the common enemy of homeopathy, the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical firms aligned through a continued business relationship. Parke-Davis created and supported a number of medical journals including American Lancet and Medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was supported by the advertising of proprietary medicines. AMA’s resistance to the drug machinery quietly subsided.
The International Hahnemannian Association split from the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH) in 1880.
One of the people who severely weakened homeopathy was George H. Simmons, general secretary of the AMA (1899-1911) and editor of the JAMA until 1924. As a previous ardent homeopathy from Nebraska, he welcomed the estranged homeopaths caused from the internal disputes into the AMA depleting the homeopath ranks and lessening the demand for homeopathic remedies. The AIH began a counter-movement in 1910 but lacked anything more important than a name ignoring training and subsequently letting the practice die. Materia medica chairs in medical colleges were kept but seen as historical interests. Names were gradually changed eliminating the words homeopathy and Hahnemann. The change of the last school’s name occurred in 1996.
The policies of the American Medical Association and Abraham Flexner’s Report on Medical Education in the United States and Canada (1910) took away homeopathy’s professional sanction and was isolated it as a non-scientific medicine. Under the direction of the AMA, policies concerning the criteria of medical schools were formed terribly biased against homeopathy. These were included in the temporary survey know as the Flexner Report that became official policy for denying lower schools the power to give medical licenses. Those schools became known as sectarian schools, lost enrollment, and lost financial support from the government which eventually put them out of business. Modern medicine was created and homeopathy and allopathy were seen as outdated systems to discard while incorporating what was useful. Until the late 1960s few new homeopaths entered the practice.
In the 1918 Flu Epidemic allopathic death rates were 30%, while the homeopathic rates were 1%.
Sulfanilamide kills enough people that they become the impetus for the stricter regulation of drugs by the government, as embodied in the FDA Legislation of 1938.
Homeopathy in the USA was in steep decline from the 1920s to the 1960s but has had a strong recovery since the 1970s. A new clinic, the Hahnemann Clinic, in Berkeley, California, was the first one in operation in decades with patients numbering two thousand and growing. The Greek George Vithoulkas revitalized a group of California homeopaths with the help of Bill Gray, his Mill Valley physician and editor of his The Science of Homeopathy, the first major work in over 50 years. He formed the International Foundation for the Promotion of Homeopathy with the intention of raising standards of homeopathic practice and publicizing homeopathy in North America and the world. He first restricted his education to licensed physicians as they were the only legal ones allowed to practice in order to start things out on the right foot.