The Development of New Systems of Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Chiropractic Medicine, and Hydrotherapy

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The Development of New Systems of Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Chiropractic Medicine, and Hydrotherapy


Alternative medicine enjoyed considerable popularity in the 1800s. Both medical practitioners and patients began to understand the possibility of healing the body without invading it, and all the common methods of alternative medicine approached healing in this noninvasive way. The most popular and prevalent alternative medicine of the nineteenth century was homeopathy. Osteopathy also grew to be an accepted alternative to traditional, or allopathic, medicine. What is now considered chiropractic medicine was created in 1895. The benefits of hydrotherapy were also enjoyed in the nineteenth century.



A German physician named Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) founded the practice of homeopathy near the beginning of the nineteenth century. He joined the Greek terms homoios and pathos, meaning, respectively, "similar" and "suffering." This juxtaposition is the basis of homeopathy, which treats disease by introducing remedies that create symptoms that are similar to those caused by the disease itself.

Hahnemann made this discovery while he was translating a book written by Scottish physician William Cullen (1710-1790). In the book, Cullen explained that a certain herb, Peruvian bark, was useful in treating malaria because it was bitter. This didn't seem logical to Hahnemann, since many other herbs that were bitter did not aid in the curing of malaria. He experimented on his own body by taking doses of Peruvian bark. After repeating the dosage, he began to suffer from fever, chills, and other symptoms usually associated with malaria. From this he deduced that Peruvian bark helped treat malaria because it and malaria had similar effects on humans. This is where the "similar" or "homeo" part of homeopathy originated.

Almost since its creation, homeopathy has been controversial. Traditional physicians, whom Hahnemann named "allopaths," disliked the practice because it contradicted their own, which was then partly composed of a practice known as "bleeding" the patient with leeches. Allopathic physicians felt threatened by the encroaching homeopathic physicians, and some traditional doctors admitted that they feared economic repercussions due to the competition. Pharmacists, then called apothecaries, also resented the evolution of homeopathy. Allopathic medicine demanded that more intense and frequent drugs be used to treat patients; this meant more profit for the apothecary. Homeopathic doctors prescribed simpler remedies, never in combination.

One apothecary so disliked Hahnemann and his work that he began deliberately filling Hahnemann's prescriptions incorrectly. When Hahnemann discovered this, he began dispensing the remedies himself, which was at that time illegal in Germany. Hahnemann was discovered, tried, and found guilty. In order to continue practicing homeopathy, he moved to Kothen, where the Grand Duke, himself a supporter of homeopathy, allowed him special permission to practice and dispense.

A Dutch homeopath named Hans Gram emigrated to the United States in 1825, bringing with him his medical beliefs. The practice of homeopathy flourished in the United States, and in 1844 the nation's first medical society, the American Institute of Homeopathy, was created. Two years later the American Medical Association was founded. These two organizations helped fuel the increasing animosity between homeopaths and allopaths. Homeopaths were spurned from professional medical societies, and physicians even created an ethical code that prohibited professional contact with homeopaths. This antagonism spread to Europe, and the future of homeopathy was threatened.

Perhaps one of the reasons why homeopathy was controversial was its inclusion and acceptance of women practitioners decades before woman's suffrage. Boston Female Medical College, founded in 1848, was dedicated to the study of homeopathy. The college merged with another homeopathic institution, Boston College, in 1873. The American Institute of Homeopathy admitted female homeopaths as early as 1871; the American Medical Association did not follow suit until 1915.

Homeopathy survived the approbation of medical doctors in large part due to its effectiveness. Death rates for epidemics such as cholera and yellow fever were 30% lower in homeopathic hospitals. The knowledge that homeopathy was effective was indicated in the policy of several insurance companies to offer discounts to their patients who chose homeopathic medicine.

In 1899 there were in the United States over 20 homeopathic medical schools, 100 hospitals, and 1,000 pharmacies. Homeopathy was praised by famous nineteenth-century American writers such as Mark Twain, Henry James, Louisa May Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.


The osteopathic philosophy states that if the body is functioning in harmony, no disease or discomfort will occur. Should disease occur, regaining the body's harmony should cure the ailment. Osteopathic doctors liken the human body to a machine. The founder of osteopathy, Dr. Andrew Still (1828-1917), wrote: "As long as the human machine is in order, it will perform the function that it should. When every part of the machine is properly adjusted and in perfect harmony, health will hold dominion over the human organism by laws as natural and as immutable as the laws of gravity." "Nature knows perfectly your powers, plans, and purposes," he asserted.

Still founded osteopathy in 1874, when he opened his practice in Kansas. He opened the first school of osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri, in 1892. Four years later, Vermont became the first state to declare that osteopathy was legally its own school of medicine. Still was motivated to find an alternative to conventional medicine when, as a trained doctor, he watched three of his children die of viral meningitis. His religious and spiritual beliefs led him to develop osteopathy, which he named after the Greek word osteo, meaning bone. Since his theories revolved around the structure of the body and the relationship of the body's structure and function, "osteopathy" was a logical choice.

Osteopathy differs from conventional medicine because it asserts that, rather than expose the body to outside or unnatural remedies in order to cure it, the osteopathic doctor should seek to regulate the body's functions by natural means. Rather than focusing on the sickness, an osteopath focuses on strengthening the healthy parts of the body by increasing nutrients, blood flow, and nerve impulses.

Osteopathy maintains that certain elements called life essentials are needed to maintain harmony in the body. These life essentials are food, water, light, air, heat, exercise, protection, and rest. The study of osteopathy integrates a thorough knowledge of pathology, anatomy, and physiology. Osteopaths believe that the body functions as a unit, and that its structure and its function are inexorably intertwined. Osteopaths also assert that, given the life essentials to maintain balance, the body is capable of regulating and, ideally, curing itself.

After being founded by Still in the United States, osteopathy was carried to Australia and Great Britain in the last years of the nineteenth century.

Chiropractic Medicine

Unlike homeopathy and osteopathy, the history of chiropractic medicine dates back to the early Egyptians, who routinely practiced spinal adjustments.

In 1895, however, an important change in the philosophy of chiropractic medicine occurred. Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913), a physiologist and anatomist, founded what is considered modern chiropractic medicine. He believed that all living creatures are endowed with an "innate intelligence" that regulates the body's vital functions. Rather than treat symptoms, Palmer sought to remove interference within the nervous system, thus allowing a being's "innate intelligence" to function operatively. This belief system became popular with those who wished for less invasive procedures than were offered by conventional medicine. Palmer stated that chiropractic medicine revolves around "the science of life, the knowledge of how organisms act in health and disease, and also the art of adjusting the neuroskeleton."


Like chiropractic medicine, the use of hydrotherapy dates back to early civilizations. Romans built spas for therapeutic baths and utilized natural mineral water to aid in healing.

In Europe in the nineteenth century, intricate spas were built amid beautiful settings with lakes, mountains, and forests. Mineral baths became common cures for a myriad of ailments. People believed that the minerals magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and calcium were particularly beneficial. The mineral baths in Bath, England, became incredibly popular. The rejuvenating possibilities of hydrotherapy spread to the United States as well. Like other avenues of alternative medicine, hydrotherapy offered a noninvasive method of healing.


Alternative medicine affected thousands of people in the nineteenth century, people who sought to heal themselves without the more drastic approaches of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine did continue to be the most common wisdom sought by the ill, however, and conventional doctors, under the umbrella of the American Medical Association, increasingly gained respect and power as the century progressed. The animosity between conventional and alternative medicine caused the latter to slip into obscurity as the next century began. Still, the teachings of Hahnemann, Still, and Palmer affected large numbers of people throughout the world, and set the stage for a resurgence of alternative medicine in the future.


Further Reading

Cook, Trevor M. Samuel Hahnemann: The Founder ofHomeopathic Medicine. Wellingborough, UK: Thorsons, 1981.

Kaufman, Martin. Homeopathy in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971.

Palmer, Daniel David. The Science of Chiropractic: Its Principles and Adjustments. Davenport, IA: The Palmer School of Chiropractic, 1906.

Sutherland, William Garner. Teachings in the Science ofOsteopathy. Edited by Anne L. Wales. Cambridge, MA: Rudra Press, 1990.

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The Development of New Systems of Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Chiropractic Medicine, and Hydrotherapy

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The Development of New Systems of Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Chiropractic Medicine, and Hydrotherapy