Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann was born April 10, 1755, in Meissen, Saxony (now in Germany). As a child, Hahnemann studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history, physics, botany, and medical science, taken under the wing of teachers who recognized his academic gifts.
His father, who disdained formal education, would often withdraw his son from these “thinking lessons.” But Hahnemann persisted, drawn to the study of medicine, a challenge given his family’s humble financial standing (Hahnemann would continue to struggle with financial issues throughout his medical studies).
At age 20, Hahnemann managed to study medicine for two years at the University of Leipzig, where he got by working as a translator. Already proficient in many languages, Hahnemann also gained knowledge in Arabic, Syriac, Chaldaic and Hebrew.
Two years later, he moved to Vienna, Austria to further his education. He studied and practiced at the hospital of Brothers of Mercy where he found a mentor in the prominent physician Dr. von Quarin. In 1779, Hahnemann received his doctor of medicine from the University of Erlangen. His thesis was titled “A Dissertation on the Causes and Treatment of Cramps.”
After giving up his practice, Hahnemann began working as a translator of scientific and medical textbooks. While translating William Cullen’s Lectures on the Materia medica into German, Hahnemann began to doubt Cullen’s theory about cinchona bark, so he conducted his own experiments, using himself as a subject.
The positive effect of quinine on fever was well known in Hahnemann’s time. Quinine is an alkaloid derived from cinchona bark, and until World War I was the only effective means for treating malaria. Taking large doses of the substance, Hahnemann developed the fever, chills, thirst, and throbbing headache that characterize malaria.
This experience convinced Hahnemann that small doses of the same substance would prompt the body’s own immune system to fight off the disease (in much the same way a flu shot carrying deactivated germs wards off the flu). This led to his theory that “likes are cured by likes,” similia similibus curantur, i.e., diseases may be cured by those drugs that produce in healthy persons symptoms like the diseases.
In 1796, Hahnemann promulgated his similia similibus curantur principle in a paper. Four years later, convinced that drugs in small doses effectively exerted their curative powers, he advanced his doctrine of their “potentization of dynamization.” In 1811, he was given a professorship at the University of Leipzig. Between 1811 and 1821, he published six volumes of his “Doctrine of Pure Medicine.”
father of Homeopathy
In 1781, Hahnemann was appointed a village doctor in Mansfeld, Saxony. He practiced at a few more places before moving to Leipzig in 1789. Fascinated with science, especially chemistry, Hahnemann further immersed himself in the study of pharmacy.
The young doctor, however, soon became disillusioned with his profession, which he found to be fraught with superstitions and illogical methods of treatment. Hahnemann believed that the common modes of treatment like purgatives, bloodletting, emetics, etc. caused more harm than good, and abandoned his medical practice.
He met Johanna Henrietta Leopoldina Küchler and the two were married December 1, 1782. They settled in Gommern, where they welcomed the first of 11 children in 1783, and moved back to Leipzig in 1789.
“similia similibus curantur”
Hahnemann was not the first to arrive at the idea that “likes are cured by likes.” Philosophers and physicians had advanced the idea from time to time for thousands of years. The philosophical basis of this idea has been ascribed to the Greek Empedocles (ca. 490-430 B.C.), and Hippocrates (ca. 460-377 B.C.). There is also mention of this phenomena in ancient Indian and Chinese medical texts.
Hahnemann spent years conducting experiments on the healing properties of various materials. He enlisted his family for experiments that involved inducing various symptoms, testing out more than 2,000 substances ranging from herbs to snake venom, and carefully recording the results. Finally, he began to apply his remedies to actual sick people, administering concoctions he hoped would mimic the symptoms already being exhibited by the patient.
At first, Hahnemann noticed that his patients became sicker from his substances. This prompted him to dilute his medicines into smaller and smaller doses to find the tiniest possible portion that would still trigger the body’s response. To his own surprise, Hahnemann discovered that the more diluted remedies were more effective at treating diseases.
This became his Law of Infinitesimals, which holds that even though none of the original molecules may remain in a dilution, the vital forces, or healing power, of the substance remains.
Assisted by his four grown daughters, Hahnemann conducted hundreds of experiments, or “provings,” which he collected in his landmark 1810 book Organon der rationellen Heilkunde, or Organon of Rational Healing.
The book, which explains every one of Hahnemann’s discoveries and experiments, is widely considered Hahnemann’s most important work. In it, he titles his practice homeopathy, from the Greek words homoio, or similar, and pathos, disease or sickness. Hahnemann called other medical practitioners “allopaths.”
In 1821, the hostility of apothecaries forced him to leave Leipzig, and at the invitation of the grand duke of Anhalt-Köthen, he went to live in Köthen. There he achieved much success in his practice and continued further research on homeopathy. In 1828, he published his work “Chronic Diseases” in five volumes.
In 1830, Hahnemann’s wife, Johanna, died at the age of 66. A year later, Hahnemann’s long-time protector and patron, Grand Duke Frederick, also died. Hahnemann remained in Köthen, lecturing, writing, and receiving students. One of these students was a 35-year-old French woman by the name of Marie Melanie d’Hervilly, whom Hahnemann married in 1835. At the request of his new wife, Hahnemann moved to Paris, where he intended to retire.
Hahnemann, however, was too well known and his knowledge of homeopathy too in demand. Within a few years, Hahnemann had a larger practice than ever, and students visited from around the world. He spent the last several years of his life visiting patients, lecturing, and revising a sixth edition of his Organon, all the while battling a chronic lung infection that reoccurred each spring. He died July 2, 1843, at the age of 88.
After his death, the practice of homeopathy grew from this theory, based on Hahnemann’s thesis that “like cures like.” As a consequence, homeopathy flourished around the world. Philadelphia’s Homeopathic Medical College was opened in 1848, founded by Dr. Constantine Hering. In 1884, the school merged with the Homeopathic Hospital of Pennsylvania under the name of Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital.
By 1900, America was home to 111 homeopathic hospitals, 22 homeopathic medical schools, and 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies. At the turn of the 19th century, a quarter of urban physicians practiced homeopathy.
Non-homeopathic medical practitioners, however, opposed homeopathy, as did numerous influential industrialists of the early pharmaceutical industry.
Eventually, the American Medical Association issued a report ordering all accredited medical schools to be modeled after the conventional Johns Hopkins University, an allopathic model. Homeopathic schools lost funding and went bankrupt. The number of American homeopathic medical schools dwindled to two in 1923. None exists in the U.S. today. However, homeopathy has remained immensely popular in many parts of the world, including India, Latin America, and Europe.
The United Kingdom has five homeopathic hospitals, where homeopathy is covered under the National Health Service. France is home to eight schools offering advanced homeopathy degrees, and nearly all French and German pharmacies carry homeopathic medicine along with conventional medicines. In India, there are more than 100 homeopathic medical colleges and more than 100,000 homeopathic physicians.