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Medical Protestants

The Eclectics in American Medicine, 1825-1939

John S. Haller Jr.

Publication Year: 2013

John S. Haller, Jr., provides the first modern history of the Eclectic school of American sectarian medicine.

The Eclectic school (sometimes called the "American School") flourished in the mid-nineteenth century when the art and science of medicine was undergoing a profound crisis of faith. At the heart of the crisis was a disillusionment with the traditional therapeutics of the day and an intense questioning of the principles and philosophy upon which medicine had been built. Many American physicians and their patients felt that medicine had lost the ability to cure. The Eclectics surmounted the crisis by forging a therapeutics based on herbal remedies and an empirical approach to disease, a system independent of the influence of European practices.

Although rejected by the Regulars (adherents of mainstream medicine), the Eclectics imitated their magisterial manner, establishing two dozen colleges and more than sixty-five journals to proclaim the wisdom of their theory. Central to the story of Eclecticism is that of the Eclectic Medical Institute of Cincinnati, the "mother institute" of reform medical colleges. Organized in 1845, the school was to exist for ninety-four years before closing in 1939.

Throughout much of their history, the Eclectic medical schools provided an avenue into the medical profession for men and women who lacked the financial and educational opportunities the Regular schools required, siding with Professor Martyn Paine of the Medical Department of New York University, who, in 1846, had accused the newly formed American Medical Association of playing aristocratic politics behind a masquerade of curriculum reform. Eventually, though, they grudgingly followed the lead of the Regulars by changing their curriculum and tightening admission standards.

By the late nineteenth century, the Eclectics found themselves in the backwaters of modern medicine. Unable to break away from their botanic bias and ill-equipped to support the implications of germ theory, the financial costs of salaried faculty and staff, and the research implications of laboratory science, the Eclectics were pushed aside by the rush of modern academic medicine.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am particularly grateful to three individuals for their advice and counsel in the preparation of this manuscript. Glen W. Davidson, chair of the Department of Medical Humanities at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine was especially helpful in turning me to specific materials and themes. ...

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pp. xv-xx

In the freshness of its youth, the eclectic school of reform medicine stood as a symbol of America's optimism, imagination, enthusiasms, and eccentricities. Of solid Yankee inheritance, the school represented a powerful statement of the fraternity that its adherents felt with the great world movements of thought. ...

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1. The American Landscape

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pp. 1-30

The antecedents of American medical practice exist not only in the richness of European science and medicine but in the ideologically murky challenges of the New World frontier. From these sources, American colonists inherited an optimism that enriched them beyond measure and expanded their lives. ...

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2. Every Man His Own Physician

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pp. 31-65

By the opening decades of the nineteenth century, America's optimism about its future seemed limitless.1 From orators and poets to immigrants and frontiersmen, the United States had become a crucible of opportunity. In New England, hopes ran high that cotton manufacturing would absorb the full measure of America's domestic and foreign markets; ...

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3. Reformed Medicine, 1825-1856

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pp. 66-93

Although virtually unknown outside the United States, reform physicians independent of the Thomsonians emerged in the 1820s, emphasizing single remedies; they gave special attention to the plant materia medica and supported in theory the importance of education and a scientific approach to medicine. ...

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4. Buchanan's Feuds and Fads

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pp. 94-124

In a certain sense, eclectic medicine was less a school of thought than a temperament, disposition, or attitude. It stood squarely at the center of American intellectual thinking at mid-century. At once romantic and nationalistic, chafing at the confinement of orthodox medical thinking, it represented the right hopes, the shared vision, and the curiosity that invigorated much of America. ...

Gallery of Illustrations

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pp. 125-138

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5. Consolidation, 1856-1875

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pp. 139-166

As noted earlier, eclecticism was more than just an alternative approach to regular medical practice. It also offered itself to the American people as the common man's access to medical education-a topic hotly debated in the early years of the American Medical Association. ...

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6. Eclectic Materia Medica

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pp. 167-197

Although eclectics did not always agree on why or how their medicines worked, they held certain things more or less basic, that is, agents that impaired the vital power should be discarded; one disease could be cured by producing another; and noxious drugs should be avoided.1 ...

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7. Challenges, 1875-1910

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pp. 198-226

Throughout the nineteenth century, American medical education suffered whenever it was compared with the European system, which insisted on a strong preparatory education, demonstrated by rigorous examination. European medical schools offered more disciplines for study and four years of schooling, with each year's program lasting nine months. ...

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8. Malaise, 1910-1939

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pp. 227-254

However significant Abraham Flexner's report on medical education, its conclusions detailed changes that had already come with modern pathology and bacteriology and with the subsequent advances in pharmacology, in physiology, in anatomy, and especially in histology and embryology. ...


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pp. 255-296

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 297-324


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pp. 325-340

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About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 364-365

Johns. Haller, Jr., holds a dual appointment as professor of history at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and professor of medical humanities at the SIU School of Medicine, Springfield. He is the author of Outcasts from Evolution: Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859-1900 (winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Prize in Race Relations); ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780809381067
E-ISBN-10: 0809381060
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809331420
Print-ISBN-10: 0809381060

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 22
Publication Year: 2013