History of Medicine in America
Ⅱ : The Early Years
From the pivotal year of our nation’s birth in 1776 through the 1800s was a time of great diversity of medicine in America. This diversity was cherished by Americans. In the early 1800s Americans remembered the price of freedom and desired a free medical marketplace where a practitioner’s ability to heal was proven by reputation and standard economic laws of supply and demand. This marketplace comprised of an environment where “regulars”, as they called themselves, fought with “irregulars” for market share. This created a very competitive environment for all practitioners.
The “regulars” consisted of the early beginning of what we now call “Western” or “Allopathic” medicine. Back then, they also called themselves “Orthodox Medicine”. In the early 19th century, the “irregulars” were primarily comprised of Midwifery, Indian Herbalism, Thomsonian Herbalists and Homeopathy.
The Thomsonian medical movement, among the top of these competing disciplines, was birthed from a difficult personal event of the founder, Samuel Thomson. Thomson witnessed the dramatic decline of his beloved spouse after the birth of their first child. He sought help from six different doctors to cure her of this serious illness, each of whom all had different treatments, all of which failed.
Thomson had always had a deep reverence for herbal medicine. From childhood, he had many experiences with herbs, some of which were experiments that he tried on himself and others.
When none of the “regular” doctors could help his wife, he turned to two “root” doctors, or herbalists, who were able to cure her within a day.
Thomson was later taught by the two “root” doctors, and later developed a system of medicine unto his own that many people followed. Some people of his era even called him a medical reformer as he was very successful in his day.
Another top competitor in the field of “irregular medicine” was Homeopathy. Homeopathy came to American in 1825 and was very easily accepted. Its focus was on gentle exercise, getting plenty of rest in addition to its unique remedies. When compared with Orthodox medicine’s tools of the trade such as bloodletting, early surgery (which was often quite painful to endure with the lack of anesthetics), and the widespread use of toxic minerals like Mercury and Arsenic, (though they didn’t know it), the public considered Homeopathy to be a refreshing alternative.
Around the same time, another Alternative Medicine that sprung up in this diverse marketplace was Osteopathic Medicine. It is currently not considered an Alternative Medicine at all, and has been absorbed into our current modern system. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of Osteopathic Medicine who was a physician of Orthodox Medicine in his day, actually thought the common avenues and treatment methods were ineffective and even harmful. Still was a surgeon during the Civil War and was quoted as saying of the event,
I began to see during the civil war, in that part of the states of Missouri and Kansas where the doctors were shut out, the children did not die. Still was inferring that the presence of doctors in certain areas of the war led to the eventual deaths of many children.
Later in life, Still’s wife and three daughters all died of spinal meningitis. It was their impactful deaths that caused him to re-think medicine and healing on the whole. In 1874, Still started his new practice and approach to medicine and called it Osteopathy. From there, it slowly gained popularity. Eighteen years later, in 1892, the first school of Osteopathic Medicine was opened.