Alternative Visions of Scientific Medicine – Homeopathic Medical Education in the Post Flexner Era


Professor Nadav Davidovitch (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)


Alternative Visions of Scientific Medicine – Homeopathic Medical Education in the Post Flexner Era


Paper given at the symposium, ‘Medical training, student experience and the transmission of knowledge, c.1800-2014’, organised by Laura Kelly, at CHOMI, UCD, October 2014


The Battle of the Pills, Boston Evening Times, 25 November 1871

‘The Battle of the Pills’, Boston Evening Times, 25 November 1871. Published at the height of the controversy over the expulsion of the homeopaths from the Massachusetts Medical Society. Courtesy of the Center for the History of Medicine: OnView

In an editorial published on September 15, 1921 in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, John P. Sutherland the Dean of Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) announced, “Reorganization, which for three years has been in progress in Boston University School of Medicine, is practically completed.” BUSM, a homeopathic medical school until then, went through a reorganization process that included the renouncing of its sectarian title. The decision was adopted in 1918 and was supported by most of the faculty and alumni. BUSM decision of relinquishing their homeopathic identity overwhelmed the American homeopathic profession. In these years the derogatory term “To Bostonize Homeopathy” was coined meaning “to act dishonorably, to give up a sacred trust handed down from one‟s predecessors.”

The aim of this paper is to follow the debate over what should be the relationship between science and homeopathic medical practice. The questions of what is the relevance of the new laboratory discoveries to the bedside and how the ethos of medical research should be incorporated into homeopathy tormented the homeopathic profession at the turn of the century. The development of Boston University School of Medicine, since its foundation in 1873, would serve as a case study focusing on these questions. A comparison would be made to another closure of a homeopathic school of medicine that was followed by a very different reaction of its alumni. University of Michigan Homeopathic Department was merged with the orthodox medical department in 1922. The amalgamation program involved a bitter struggle from the local homeopathic profession and active alumni that perceived the merger as a humiliating plan of extinguishing homeopathy. The different visions of how scientific homeopathy should be taught and practiced and the relationship of homeopathy to the orthodox medical profession will be compared and situated in the different local mode of homeopathic practice.

These ideals of scientific medicine will be considered in the context of the Flexner Report on the status of medical education in the U.S. and Canada, published in 1910 and broader changes in the American perception of science in the Progressive era.

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