February 6, 2013 [ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE]
Can be defined by characteristics such as technologies, railroads, communications (telephones
and telegraphs), etc.
Travel, communication, and many other things are now instantaneous – things that used to take
days, weeks, or months. Political organizations, economies, social movements, free trade, and the
arts are also elements of modernity.
Shift away from religion – people view their body scientifically instead of spiritually.
Populations begin to take an interest in the life sciences (e.g. biology). During the modern
(Victorian) period, people study how these different elements and life types are interrelated.
People turn to technology and mechanisms to help explain and understand the inner workings of
their human body.
Pluralistic nature characterized science at this time. It would not have been uncommon for
patients to seek treatment from a variety of doctors. There are no regulatory processes, allowing
for the flourishing of other forms of medicine and practise to take place. This begins to wane by
the 1920’s. For most of the general public, there was no distinction between the educated
medical man and the fakes. Their success rates of treatment was still quite low, so patients would
go elsewhere. This is the focus for the lecture.
Samuel Thomson (1769 to 1843)
First systematized alternative medicine, whereas previously, people would rely largely upon old
wives tales or experiences.
An American born into a farming family, and became increasingly interested in botany and
botanical medicine. Interested in the therapeutic skills of physicians. Two major events in his
life leading to his investigations:
o At the age of 19, he badly wounded his ankle with an axe. Originally contacted an
orthodox doctor, which prescribed a treatment that caused his situation to worsen. The
second treatment was amputation. He discovered that the comfrey root (research).
o The second event was the death of his mother when he was 21. She developed a cough
that regular physicians treated with mercury and opium. He subsequently got the same
cough, but after witnessing his mother`s declining health, he declined the physicians
prescriptions. Took a botanical root and once again regained health.
Through personal observation and practical trials, he found traditional remedies to several
illnesses. He developed a reputation amongst his community to cure. He tests many different
botanicals and comes up with an inventory of about 5 dozen different healing plants.
Thomsonian Theory of Disease
o Devises a theory of disease, and finds that a majority of botanicals that he has highlighted
perform an evacuative function on the body – removing the bad. Those that work the best
are the spiciest, leading him to link heat to wellness. Determines that the body is
energized by the power of heat.
o For life to be sustained, an adequate supply of heat must be generated within the body.
Burns inefficiently if it is fed too much or too little. Proper nutrition leads to health and
effective performance of the body. Once cold takes over (from lack of nutrition), the February 6, 2013 [ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE]
body will rot from the inside out – however, he never fully explained this theory. A
clogged body would be flushed out by heat.
o An important reaction for the body was to have a fever. This is in contrast to the orthodox
medical community, who viewed fever as symptomatic for something worse.
System of Treatment
o 6 Categories:
1,2,3: fought against cold via evacuation, cleansing, heat retention and
4,5,6: restore digestion, strengthen stomach, and remove pain.
Could be argued that his greatest successes were actually in his marketing – he exploited sales of
Calomel (used as treatment for cholera – a mercury solution leading to facial deformity, oral
degeneration, hair loss, swollen tongue, etc.). Thomson argues that this is a kill-all rather than
cure-all. He starts an advertising campaign, separating the world of medicine into two realms:
Orthodox and Irregular/Alternative (like himself).
Argued that vegetables were safe as they were keeping with nature. This would’ve resonated
with those more interested in the prevailing idea of life sciences. Mineral concoctions were not
natural and led to further harm of the body. The orthodox community emerges with anti-
Thomsonian and anti-vegetable campaigns. The reality was that vegetable treatments were so
infused with their natural qualities that people associated them with soothing relief and healing.
Argues for a common sense approach to medicine and disease.
Specific to the United States.
Under Jackson, there is a flourishing of democratic ideals and principles. This is when the
“American Dream” emerges – every commoner could achieve whatever they wanted to achieve.
This Jacksonian spirit promoted alternative medicines (like Thomsonian) in two ways:
o Jacksonianism was anti-intellectual. There is a wave of criticism of the educated
(lawyers, bankers, and especially doctors).
o Economic freedom relating to the American dream. All citizens should have equal
opportunity, and be able to rise as far as common sense will carry them. The medical
profession was in violation of this spirit, because it advocated legislation and registration.
Dr. John Corr was an untrained physician (Thomsonian). He was arrested several times for
“sending obscene matter to the mail,” and ended his life in an insane asylum.
Thomsonianism declined from the 1860’s-70’s.
Thomson’s patients begin dying. Thomson promoted steam therapy, which was made out to be
terrible and deadly by orthodox practitioners. Thomson actually died from his own remedies in
1843, causing people to further question his own remedies. After this internal fighting between
his followers began.
They can’t agree on what times of botanicals they should use, and lack cohesion. Further botanic
movements also emerge.
One movement is known as the Eclectics.
o They borrowed from all tools of medical practise, taking anything that experience
showed them to be effective and safe. Used some Thomsonian botanical remedies, as February 6, 2013 [ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE]
well as Native remedies, non-mineral remedies from Orthodox practices. They also
rejected evacuative herbs – too draining on the body’s life force.
Wooster graduated from medical school in 1825, and opened a school in NY city to educated
students in the full range of botanical medicines in 1827. Gains popularity and became widely-
sought after care.
Samuel Hahnemann 1755 – 1853.
While Thomson was an American, Samuel was German.
Started off his career as a medical translator, translating medical works into German. He once
translated a text about the cinchona plant (the bark treats malaria). He had taken cinchona
remedies, and found that the original texts’ description varied, and argued that the plant countered
fever because of its tonic effect on