Spheres of Influences for all Medicines prior to the Civil War

(this is part of a larger review of the history of various schools from 1783 to 1860, posted on a separate page)

The year was 1875.  It was the 30th year that an Eclectic Medical School in Cincinnatti, Ohio was in operation and had graduates.  To honor this anniversary, the school published a blue octavo pamphlet about 20 pages in length for the mid-year graduation ceremony in 1875.  

This pamphlet included a list of the names for all of the students they had on record as graduating with an MD degree in Eclectic Medicine.  Most of these names also had the state or country from which they came.   This pamphlet was also published in the professional magazine for this profession, Eclectic Medical Journal.  The bound versions of this series contain this pamphlet as a supplement at the end of the year.

This pamphlet provides us with some of the most unique information on the distribution of the popularity of Eclectic Medicine.  For obvious reasons this information was therefore in need of exploration and review.  The following charts and graphs were produced due to this review.   Each graph is followed by notes of my personal take on these results follow each illustration.  (The names will be later posted on another page or two.)


This barchart might look better with a rolling average line added, but the attendance rates speak for themselves.  Each year consists of two sessions, a winter session using two years as its identifier (the method used in the pamphlet), followed by a single year date for the spring- summer session.  Due to the industries at the time, the spring-summer session tended to have less students due to their needs back home in their farming communities.  Since this particular school served the midwestern states, most of the students came from its home state, Ohio, followed by decreasing numbers and percents from the states neighboring Ohio.  

The peak year in winter of 1853/4.  It is preceded by its predecessor in winter of 1852/3. 

This confirms a suspicion I have held for quite a long time about non-allopathic medical trends and changes in popularity.   One of the primary reasons alternative medicines become quite popular throughout history is as a consequence of what the public perceives as a failure on behalf of regular medicine.  This failure is almost always related to some sort of epidemic striking the country, in a very effective and deadly fashion.

In 1852 and 1853 cholera struck the United States following a slight lag in its epidemic patterns once the 1849 epidemic passed.  There was a moderate return of Asiatic cholera by ships in 1850, and a lull in seasonaly epidemic behaviors in summer of 1851.  The even more aggressive return of cholera in 1852 is what led to some of the largest migrations in Overland history up until this point in American history, mostly in 1853.

The cholera epidemic, especially along the Bible Belt, was given the same attention paid to the Yellow Fever epidemics that struck the east coast from the late 1790s to about 1820.  It was God’s rendering of a new version of the Plague many Bible Belt people felt.  Regular physicians had no explanation for why the cholera had returned.  The only thing that could stated with certainty was that regular medicine was not working.  As a result, irregular medicines became popular, especially those that hinted at teaching their students medicine in some more theological-respecting fashion than allopathy.  For this reason, Eclectics finally became as popular if not more popular than regular medicine.   During this time, a perusal of the medical journals provides substantial evidence for the various theories out there about the causes for this epidemic, and the best way to deal with it.  In an article published about one southern Illinois community during the cholera years, the inability of physicians to stop the plague caused windows to remain shut on houses, and spirit rappers to take to the streets in search of their own means for finding the cure.  The only way that regular medicine could fight back against the displeased citizens was to get law on its side, and so this is what the struggling physicians did.

Since 1834, states in the midwest like Illinois had been changing their laws back and forth between supporting and then not supporting the regular doctors.   Three Bible Belt states in particular came to be the main sources for many of the Eclectic Medical School graduates, as noted in the next figure.  Illinois, Indiana and Ohio were the main supporters of the teachings of this school.  Since there were several other schools in the Cincinnatti area teaching Eclectic Medicine at least during the early years, the years of high and low attendance for this school reflect much the same for the other schools out there at the time.  In large part it was the geography of this region that defined it’s semi-isolation as the Bible Belt during this time.  These regional cultural trait in turn made this region a partially isolated Eclectic Medical region in the young Midwestern States.


From left to right, the home base state for this school, Ohio, starts the curve.  These figures graphed are the average number of students enrolled per year over the 30 year, 61 seasons of classes this school provided for its students.   There are two definite foci in the US where eclectics was strongly promoted, and resulted in providing the Cincinnatti school with several students each year of the average, in spite of the travelling distance.    Georgia was the location for another Eclectic School in this county, which was a little more traditional Thomsonian in heart than the Cincinnatti schools.  (there was a political split in this profession I reviewed elsewhere).  These people were also very religiously-minded like the Bible Belt students in and around Ohio. 

There is a third region that should have been impacted by this school that does not appear in the above states.   In Memphis, Tennessee, a school had opened around 1852, but had a considerable amount of political problems and disagreements internally.  As a result of this turmoil, the school never really fully opened, and closed just ten years later (1860).  One might expect these Bible-thumping students to have also made their way to this Cincinnatti school, which they did, and so we see Kentucky and Tennessee students demonstrating a considerable average number of students in attendance at this school.  Those potential students residing further east of these states, had other options to purse, mostly in regular medicine though.

There is also a peaking of students in New York State.  This may just be due to New York’s population size.  But we have to remember that New York City is where Eclectic Medicine was first born, in 1824, when it was referred to as Reformed Medicine by its founder Wooster Beach.  Wooster Beach was forced to leave New York City and the state after just a season or two of classes due to a mob that attacked his teaching institution in downtown New York City.  (This school later started back up in Columbus, Ohio, with its most successful followers and instructors residing in Cincinnatti.)


By using a rolling 3-year averages (except year 1 and final year, which is the original 1-year number) for attendees of the schools on a yearly basis, to get rid of that growing season depression in counts seen each year, we find that there was a considerable surge in students.  The above graph only covers those states considered most indicative of any significant counts in students, in particular those with the largest numbers of attendees.

We find in the above graph that Ohio is the peak state, of course (Alva Curtis’s state), followed by Indiana and Illinois.   But also notice there are two peaks in the Ohio attendance patterns (early 1850s, late 1860s).  The second peak occurred around 1868-9, just about the time that the bacterial/germ theory of disease was about to take hold.   It is possible that the return of cholera in some regions of the country in 1866 also helped lead to this upwelling in support once again, although by now the government had developed some effective programs for dealing with diseases apparently brought in by ships and rapidly dispersed due to poor sanitation practices.  (Of all things to happen around this time, a fully devoted homepath and editor of a primary homeopathic journal in the US,  converted to allopathy around 1860-3 due to the government teachings of sanitation and disease, and was now in charge of the national equivalent for a department of public health overseen by a someone akin to today’s Surgeon General.)  One possible reason for the very rapid decline in students after this peak could very well be the sanitation theory for disease in combination with increasing evidence for Pasteur’s and Lister’s work as proof of the bacterial theory of disease.

Also note in the above graph, that in spite of this reduction in Ohio student participation, Illinois and Indiana attendence continued the steady rise in enrollments it developed throughout the history of this school.  This could be the effects of the Bible Belt teachings, and the desires of families in this region to adhere to their religious upbringing, in spite of results of the scientific studies now being published.  By 1872/3, Illinois demonstrated a slight decline, as Indianans continued to engage more in this alternative medical program.


Similar behaviors are seen as well for the Georgia-Mississippi part of the states.  Alabama showed some moderate behavior that was pro-eclectics; Texas was very much a late-comer.  (Texas became one of the first Pre-Eclectic-Naturopathic states to try to open an accredited school of this sort during the early 1900s and in recent decades.)  Louisiana, being a large urban setting, probably had political pressures getting in the way of Eclectic medicine becoming too popular there.  The reason for low activity in Arkansas is uncertain.



To complete this part of the review, notice the behaviors of people from other countries and traditions regarding Eclectics.  These numbers are too low to draw any conclusions, but they are very inviting to speculate about.  The one possible conclusion we can draw from this that does have follow-up documentation supporting the claims is in regard to the alternative medical profession trends involving Canada.  Presumably Western Canada refers to the Victoria-Vancouver-areas close to the Pacific Coastline.   Nova Scotia refers to the eastern edge of the country, and “Canada” itself to the central continent.  I note this because in Toronto, Canada, an offshoot of eclecticism, naturopathy*, has schools that are still licensed and functioning, and the Vancouver region of Canada played a pivotal role in providing Pacific Northwest naturopaths with a means to practice without fear of US governmental control. 


*Afterthought: I call it an offshoot, but it had its own founders, and teachings; it simply took on the Old-time Eclectic doctors and tried to recertify them in whatever way that it could.  Eclectic schools remained active into the 1930s (Sierra, California).  Naturopathy had developed its own niche in schools alongside the chiropractors (Western Chiropractic, Portland, OR).  By the 1950s, federal laws and a review of Naturopathy forced this profession to leave the Western College; for a while they held classes at home.  This separation was forced through legal actions, and supported by the national Chiropractic Associations, forcing the naturopathic profession to develop its own licensure and accreditation program, and to separate itself from the chiropractic schools completely.  [Much more on this interesting piece of recent alternative medical history still to come!]