Elisha Barker, Intermediate Student, 2011
Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.
The word “Eclectic” originates from the Greek word Eklego, which means to “choose” from. A physician named Constantine Samual Rafineque, who spent his time living among Native Americans and studied medicinal plants, devised the term. He formed this term to refer to those physicians who practiced whatever was found to be beneficial to the patients, as opposed to those who sought substances to heal the disease present, not the patient.
Back in the beginning of the 19th century, a group of doctors called themselves the Eclectics because they were physicians who practiced using a philosophy of “alignment with nature”. They used theories and concepts from regular medical schools, but combined the two philosophies together to create an unobtrusive approach.
They practiced a milder method of drug therapy and tried to find a radical simplification of the medical ancients like Hippocrates, Galen and Paracelsus. They studied and observed medicinal plants publishing many vital textbooks and significant Materia Medica’s. They opposed conventional techniques of bleeding, cupping, blistering, chemical purging, as well as the use of mercury compounds, which the prevalent doctors used at that time. They recognized the importance of being able to diagnose the disease in its entirety, but thought it better to forget the patient’s disease and focus on the conditions that were present.
Samual Thomson (1769-1843) was born just before the eclectic movement took off, he himself wasn’t an eclectic, however he was a influential person who practiced and taught alternative medicine using old geek methods, and he was the instigator of this eclectic movement. He repelled against orthodox remedies and employed using less harsh approaches to cure the ill. He studied Native American herb lore and learned from local root doctors as a young child. He created a “System of Botanic Practice” and created a network of salesmen who sold his theories through seminars to the public making a commission. He named his followers the Thomsonians. Thomson’s downfall was that he refused to have anything to do with modern science of medicine, and even looked down on the study of anatomy and physiology, he believed that his system was totally complete. Eventually he became arrogant and refused his followers to have anything to do with regular scientific medicine, estranging those who chose to branch off and continue a study of their own. One of his early, well known students was Whooster Beach. He believed and shared Thomson’s passion to for the most part but opposed the restrictive and authoritarian views Thomson had towards the scientific approach.
Whooster Beach was the founder of American Eclecticism in the 19th century. After studying botanical medicine, he also became educated as a regular medical doctor, both studying and practicing a combination of the old and the new theories of medicine. He got his doctorate in regular medicine so he could detect errors of the practice, and also because he wanted to practice without harassment. He used modern science to understand the body and used herbs to treat the diseases he diagnosed. He wrote a three-volume American Practice of Medicine which was published in 1833 and the foundations of his principles included warnings against mercury and other mineral drugs; opposition to salivation and long-continued treatments of depletion; disapproval of bloodletting in all forms; and rejected unnecessary surgery. His works in this volume became one of the most popular texts on botanical literature of that time.
Whooster Beach began instructing privately in his New York Home in 1825 and two years later opened a clinical school known as the United Sates Infirmary, which expanded and changed names many times, finally obtaining the title of Reformed Medical College of the city of New York. Eclectic Medical Colleges started to appear all over the United States after this initiation. As a result of the growing popularity of eclecticism, Beach opened the “Reformed Medical School of Ohio” in the winter of 1842-43. This collage was the best and most well known of it’s time. For the first few years it struggled against internal and external hostility, and the school was shut down and moved to Cincinnati. The school reopened where it was then called the “Reformed Medical School of Cincinnati” in 1845.
The eclectics were becoming more renowned for their works and a few substances they discovered was the resin of podophyllum which they used as a substitute for calomel; betony as an emetic and cathartic; maidenhair for pleurisy and jaundice; compound tar plaster in place of old school applications of croton oil, cantharides, tartar emetic; and compound tincture of sanguinaria for emesis.
The EMI wasn’t secure with the dignity and privileges that regular medical colleges had, so efforts were made to legally chart the institution starting with a petition which was signed by 1100 Cincinnati citizens…including the mayor. This petition was sent to Columbus along with a counter petition from the allopathic physicians. The allopathic practitioners were appalled at the success and popularity of the herbal healers. The allopathic doctors disagreed with their approaches and became hostile and resentful. There appeared to be a huge confusion and ignorance as to what the eclectics actually taught and practiced from the allopathic point of view. The opposing petition stated the aversion of their views in the extravagant statement which said “that the medical profession had reached the summit- the very acme of medical science- and that medicine does not need, nor is it susceptible to further improvement or reform”! ..haha Thankfully the bill was passed on March 10th 1845 in the eclectic favor, and the newly legal reform institution was renamed the “Eclectic Medical Institute”. The college changed names in 1910 when it reorganized as a non-profit educational institution to “Eclectic Medical College”. The school was the most popular and most successful of all colleges despite the external and internal indifferences. It enrolled a greater number of students that any other medical schools west of the Allegheny Mountains (a mountain range, part of the Appalachian system in the eastern U.S.) and was ranked high among the recognized medical colleges in the country.
In result to the regular doctors disagreeing with the success and popularity of the eclectic physicians and collages, an American Medical Association was founded in 1847 and it served to wipe out natural remedies in favor of the new drug medicines that were becoming more popular. The AMA initiated a study to go around to all the medical schools including the Eclectic and herbal schools to formulate a license which was issued to those who wished to practice or teach any form of medicine. Doctors then had to obtain this license before they could continue any practice or teach. This approval included laboratories and texts that were not used or needed by the herbalists. Eventually the AMA ran out of funding, but the Carnegie foundation stepped in and appointed Abraham Flexner to complete the study. Their report was released in 1910 and within 4 years, 29 schools closed down because they were not approved by the AMA, and (the gross part) no-one in the AMA was actually qualified to properly to asses the medicine they were teaching! The EMI School closed down in 1939 Herbal and Eclectic medicine effectively died out, only being preserved in folk tradition and by the Natives.
A few of many most respected Eclectics are briefly described below who devoted their lives and compiled the finest collections on medical botany, pharmacy, eclectic medicine, and horticulture in the world: John Milton Scudder (1829-1894) — faithfully obligated his life to rejuvenating the school in its hardships and rehabilitated the long lost “eclectic medical journal”, which later was subsequently put into book form called “specific medications and specific medicines”. One of his greatest works was called “specific Diagnoses” came out in 1874. He was made one of the most conspicuous men in the records of American medicine.
John king (1813-1893) — He was a prolific author and taught obstetrics for more than forty and was known as the father of the reform materia medica. He wrote the American Dispensatory (1852) which advanced the school dramatically in powder, infusion and decoction by introducing the resins of podophyllum and macrotys, which together with the alkaloids of hydrastis and sanguinaria became the foundation of eclectic practice. The book was first published in 1854 and it was co-authored by eclectic physician Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D. A reprint of the 1898 edition can be found on Henriette Kress’ encyclopedic herbal website along with other herbal compendiums.
Andrew Jackson Howe (1825-1892) — was the foremost and greatest eclectic surgeons of his day. He worked along side with scudder on the Eclectic medical journal for over thirty years and took over editing when scudder was absent. He wrote few but important text books which the school used. “Art and Science of Surgery” is his best known and most characteristic text written.
Harvey Wickes Felter — was a graduate from EMI in 1888 and was secretary and president of the Cincinnati eclectic medical society. He wrote “The Eclectic material medica, pharmacology and therapeutics” He published the works of “Locke’s Syllabus of Eclectic Materia Medica” in 1895. He is author of the “History of the Eclectic Medical Institute” He was the joint author with John Uri Lloyd of the two volume revision of the “American Dispensatory”.
John Uri Lloyd (1849-1936) — Developed a wide series of local description novels about the Northern Kentucky area. His innovations include a “cold still” for plant extractions and the first buffered alkaloid called alcresta (made with hydrous aluminium silicate). His research and writings on alkaloids earned him the title of “father of colloidal chemistry” and he wrote eight scientific books and six treatises. Lloyd and his younger brothers, both chemists aswell, Nelson Ashley Lloyd (1851-1926) and Curtis Gates Lloyd (1859-1926) eventually developed 379 “specific medicines” and was a major supplier to physicians of all types throughout the U.S. In 1919 all brothers established trusts to fund the Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, and this is where all the texts, journals, books and articles are kept today on eclectic medicine. Michael Moore, Heneriette Kress and David Winston all have scanned many texts and articles for a resource for all us practicing herbalists to use today.