The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and discrepancies

by Alexander Kotok, M.D.
On-line version of the Ph.D. thesis improved and enlarged
due to a special grant of the Pierre Schmidt foundation.

2.3 Russian homeopathic hospitals

The managing of their own hospitals or units at hospitals has always been a matter of the highest importance for homeopaths. Hahnemann dreamt that

If we only had a homeopathic hospital, under State protection, with a teacher attached to it, who could instruct students in the practice of homeopathy, the rapid propagation of our science, as well as a solid education for the young homeopaths of the future would be assured151.

Not only Hahnemann, but also his disciples and followers thought so. One should not forget that

In the nineteenth century homeopaths were almost the only non-regular sect to establish private hospitals and to be placed in charge of state and municipal hospitals152.

Nevertheless, except for the USA where homeopathic hospitals were comparable with allopathic ones both in the hired medical staff and the number of available beds, the homeopathic hospitals were usually short-lived facilities with an insignificant number of beds and a limited number of medical staff. There is no doubt that the main reason for these problems was the lack of financial support. While allopathic hospitals enjoyed State support, the homeopathic hospitals remained constantly dependent upon donations, charity, membership dues, etc.

2.3.1 Less important Russian homeopathic hospitals

The Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital in St. Petersburg.

In describing these as the "less important" Russian hospitals I mean all but the Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital in St. Petersburg. I believe that I am correct in doing so, for all those hospitals were either extremely short-term facilities or they hardly provided any information about their activities. Usually the short-term character of the hospitals was combined with poor information about them. In the present section, the homeopathic departments or units in allopathic hospitals will also be discussed. Although they cannot be described as "pure" homeopathic facilities, I have to consider them as well, in order to have a complete picture. Apart from this, one should note that Russian homeopaths never had sufficient funds to build and maintain any serious hospital facilities like those of the allopaths; the Alexander II homeopathic hospital in St. Petersburg was the only exception.

2.3.1 (i) At the beginning — the 1820—1830s

Analyzing the story further, Bojanus refers to several sources which were difficult to obtain and were often incomplete, like the report submitted by Herrmann to the Medical Department at the Ministry of Military Affairs, an article "written by Dr. Carl von Seidlitz in the early 1830s (no exact year is noted) "Über die auf allerhöchsten Befehl im St. Petersburger Militärhospitale angestellten homöopathischen Heilversuche", published in "Heckers wissenschaftlichen Annalen der gesamten Heilkunde", Bd. XXVII, Heft 3153, as well as the report of Herrmann in Latin, published in "Annalen der homöopathischen Klinik von Hartlaub und Trinks", v. 2, pp. 381—390154.

According to Seidlitz, during two months 128 patients were hospitalized in the homeopathic department. 65 of them recovered, 5 died and 58 remained receiving treatment. During the same period, in the allopathic department 457 patients were hospitalized; 364 of them recovered, 93 remained receiving treatment, while nobody died. According to Herrmann's reports cited by Bojanus, the experiment continued for some three months (April 5 to July 10, 1829). 164 patients were hospitalized, 123 of them recovered, 6 died, 18 improved their health conditions and were prepared to leave the hospital, whilst 18 remained receiving treatment155.

While comparing the statistics by Seidlitz, to the statistics published by Herrmann himself, Bojanus concludes that 1. Seidlitz did not provide the reader with the true figures 2. Seidlitz's assertion that "nobody died" during a period of 2 months can hardly be trustworthy. 3. The final statistics of the homeopathic department's activity are splendid156. Moreover, referring to Herrmann's report written in Russian, Bojanus informs us that many obstacles were put in the way of the right management of the treatment. For example, according to Herrmann,

[...] Many patients had long been treated, poisoned [sic!] and weakened allopathically; there was no supervision over patients, they were allowed to eat garlic, onion and horse-radish [i.e., the food which is absolutely forbidden when receiving homeopathic treatment]; patients had caught cold going to the toilets, etc157.

Fortunately, in the German version of his book, Bojanus refers also to the detailed report of Dr. Herrmann regarding the patients who were treated homeopathically by him. This allows us to acknowledge the diseases.

Sixty-seven patients [...] were transferred from others hospitals, where they had been treated [...] allopathically, including the giving of large doses of Quina-bark, they thus were suffering both from their idiopathic and medicinal diseases [...]. Six patients suffered from typhus, 3 of them were recognized by allopaths as incurable [...]. Two patients suffered from tuberculosis [...]. Eight patients suffered from rheumatic fever, one patient was hospitalized with diarrhea, one patient with gangrene, one with necrotic edematous scurvy, one with liver- and spleen hypertrophy. Of the 6 patients who died, 2 had been suffering from tuberculosis, 1 from typhus, 1 from diarrhea, 1 from gangrene and 1 from liver and spleen hypertrophy158.

It was not explained from which diseases suffered other patients.

The experiment was abandoned by the direct order of the Tsar Nicholas I. Probably, Bojanus was rather confused with the reasons that led to this decision. He writes:

The medical authorities which observed the results of his [Herrmann] activity, reported that homeopathic treatment has had no advantages over allopathic ones. The experiments of Herrmann, which had been performed during three months, were stopped according to the Highest order159.

It is beyond any doubt that allopathic reports influenced the decision of the Tsar to stop the experiment, despite the fact that Herrmann himself submitted reports every month. Did the Tsar distrust him? This would seem logical, if I did not know that Herrmann was later proposed to continue with his treatment in St. Petersburg. I suppose that it was Herrmann who initiated the decision that the experiment in Toulchin cease. I hope that some of the missing details of this story may be captured from the Russian archives later on. I can imagine the situation of Dr. Herrmann in Toulchin. A foreigner, who had no common language with his patients, in a rather hostile professional environment, in some god-forsaken small Ukrainian town (especially after St. Petersburg) — he found it difficult to continue his labors. At least I may assume that he turned personally to the Tsar, insisting to be given a chance to prove the effectiveness of homeopathy in St. Petersburg. In any case, Dr. Herrmann continued treating with homeopathy in the St. Petersburg Military hospital during a period extending from November 1829 to March 1830. Here Bojanus has no "homeopathic" sources at all but only the above mentioned article by Seidlitz "Über die auf allerhöchsten Befehl..." and a report which was provided by Dr. Giegler, who had been in charge of the supervision over Herrmann's homeopathic treatments, without being himself involved in them. Later this report was cited in the "Conclusion of the Medical Council Regarding the Homeopathic Treatment" published by the Medical Council in "Zhurnal Ministerstva Vnutrennih del" (Journal of the Ministry of Interior); this report is analyzed in the chapter "Allopathy vs. Homeopathy". According to Seidlitz, 431 patients were received in the homeopathic department, whilst 31 of them died160. Other statistics were presented by Giegler: 395 patients were receiving the treatment, whilst 341 of them recovered and 23 died161. The interpretation of those results by the medical authorities is also found in the chapter "Allopathy vs. Homeopathy".

Another homeopathic experience was just accidental; this to say that there had been no previous administrative approval. I mean Polish Dr. Valenty Cherminsky. The story of and proposals submitted by Dr. Cherminsky as well as the reaction of the establishment are also analyzed in the chapter "Allopathy vs. Homeopathy".

The next two years were decisive in the history of Russian homeopathy for all the period under study. In 1832, the Medical Council at the Ministry of Interior published its negative "Conclusion..." discussed in the chapter "Allopathy vs. Homeopathy", whilst in September 1833 the State Council finally defined the status of homeopathy in Russia. While speaking of these resolutions in detail also in the chapter "Allopathy vs. Homeopathy", I have to briefly note here that homeopathy became forbidden to be used freely in the State medical facilities, like hospitals. Homeopathy could only be used with special permission of the highest medical authorities. Since it was evident to everybody that the medical authorities would never give such permission, thus, any further promotion of the idea of homeopathic hospitals or departments became dependent upon the Minister of Interior. This was true generally speaking, but in reality there were some exceptions. Homeopaths might have felt relatively free in those places where pro-allopathic official control over medical matters was weakened or absent, and where homeopaths had a strong support from the local officials. Usually such places were located in recently occupied or annexed territories. Owing to the lack of physicians even for long-established facilities throughout Slavic Russia, the authorities could not control the activity of the individual physicians in the frontier areas. The story of Czech Dr. Ivan Pribyl' (1772—1866), who had graduated from Vienna University and who arrived in Russia in 1808, in order to work by contract with the Russian government and remained there till his death, may be seen as an example. When Dr. Pribyl' was working in different military hospitals in Caucasus, he had become interested in the law of similarity and tested it in practice, while treating fevers and plague in soldiers with arsenic. He was awarded the Order of Vladimir, Fourth Class for this successful treatment. In 1822—1849, Dr. Pribyl' had been appointed Chief Physician in the Neftlugi military hospital and there practiced homeopathy openly, having learned it from books and periodicals he subscribed to from abroad. Moreover, all the Russian military administrators, starting with the governor-general of that period in Caucasus, General Alexey Ermolov (1777—1861), and members of his family, were treated homeopathically by Dr. Pribyl'. While seeing Pribyl's successes, General Alexey Vel'iaminov (1788—1832), the second figure in the Russian military administration after Ermolov, proposed to Dr. Pribyl' that in the whole Neftlugi (Tbilisi) military hospital all the patients should be treated homeopathically. Pribyl' rejected this proposal on the ground that only himself was familiar with homeopathy and, thus he was afraid of discrediting the method if it would be applied in the whole hospital162.

2.3.1 (ii) The favored homeopathy — the 1840—1850s

After an adherent of homeopathy, Count Lev Perovsky (1792—1856) had been appointed Minister of Interior in 1840, Russian homeopaths succeeded in opening several short-term homeopathic hospitals in the 1840s.

1. In 1842, a Khar'kov landlord named Shcherbinin, opened a small homeopathic hospital, where Dr. Andrey Gastfreund (1911—1891) was working, in his country property Babaii. The hospital existed during 1842—43, and offered treatment to 1048 persons. 981 of them recovered, 61 died and 6 people remained in treatment163.

2. In 1847, Dr. Vladimir Dal', a convert to homeopathy in the 1830s, working in the Ministry of Interior during 1841—1849, proposed to Minister Perovsky to open two departments, one homeopathic and one allopathic, each with 50 beds, at the St. Petersburg Hospital for non-qualified workers. The simultaneous opening of two departments was to enable a "fair" comparison between the two methods. The homeopathic department was headed by Dr. Stender, whilst his assistants were Drs. Lindgren, Johansen, Rosa, Gastfreund and Villers. Describing the results of the eight-year long competition between the two departments, Bojanus noted that 5900 patients were treated during that period in the homeopathic department (2782 in the allopathic one), the mortality rate was 12% (14% in the allopathic department), 960 rubles were spent for the purchase of homeopathic medicines (5,660 rubles for purchase of allopathic medicines), whilst an average homeopathic patient had been treated during 24,7 days (his allopathic counterpart had been hospitalized for 27,5 days)164. Although, according to the results, homeopathy proved to be preferable over allopathy, nevertheless, Bojanus charged that Dr. Stender "cared less for the interests of homeopathy than of keeping the comfort of his official position. This circumstance led him to compromise, which badly influenced the responsibility with which he had been charged"165. According to Bojanus, after Minister Perovsky died, the homeopathic department was immediately closed.

London Homeopathic Hospital

3. In 1845, Prince L. M. Golitsyn opened a homeopathic hospital with 10 (later 20) beds in Moscow. In charge was Dr. Julius Schweikert (1807—1876), who had previously (in 1832) been invited by Count Boris Kurakin to serve as his house physician166. It is interesting to note here that Prince Golitsyn attracted other noble persons to supervise the hospital. Those who paid 100 rubles a year, were granted with the title of warden [popechitel'], whilst those who paid 10 rubles a year, were granted with the title of philanthropist [blagotvoritel']; the latter were allowed to place poor sick into the hospital. This structure recalls the system of hospitalization adopted by the London Homeopathic hospital, where a potential in-patient had to bring a letter of recommendation written by a hospital's Donor in order to be hospitalized. Bojanus failed to find any official statistics about the activity of the hospital, therefore he was forced to rely upon the statistics provided by Schweikert himself, whom Bojanus clearly disliked (see below). According to these statistics, during 14 years some 1000 persons were treated in the in-patient unit, whilst some 3,000 patients sought consultation without being hospitalized. 148 of those hospitalized died (7,5%), whilst others recovered or significantly improved167. As to the reasons why the hospital closed, Bojanus wrote that at the same time Schweikert was working as a regular physician at the Widow House (a charitable hospital in Moscow) where he practiced allopathy. Thus,

To be a homeopath and at the same time an allopath, is a rather bad recommendation for a physician. In practice, this duality leads to one of two possible conclusions: either the physician does not understand the truths of Hahnemann's doctrine or he sacrifices them to gain everyday benefit, making a shameful deal with his conscience168.

Bojanus attributed to Schweikert's behavior the reason that "damped the ardor" of Prince Golitsyn and his friends. Lacking financial means, the hospital was closed in 1860.

4. In 1847 or 1848, there was a homeopathic room at the Moscow Police (i.e., jail) Hospital. This hospital was headed by Dr. Fedor Haas (see the chapter "Homeopathy and clergy") who probably sympathized with homeopathy169. In that room the treatment with homeopathic drugs was performed by the German Dr. Ivan Goldenberg during the epidemic of cholera in 1847—48.

5. In 1848, Miklashevsky (no information about this person is available) opened a homeopathic hospital for workers in St. Petersburg. Bojanus, when he wrote his book, although being close enough to that period, found no data regarding this facility. The only detail Bojanus noted was "Until June 3, 1848, 30 people had been hospitalized there, whilst one patient died"170. It is also unknown during what period the hospital existed.

6. The joint work of two such distinguished persons like Drs. Vladimir Dal' and Carl Bojanus, was embodied in the 10 year long existence of a homeopathic hospital in Nizhny Novgorod (1853 to 1863). Vladimir Dal', who as stated above supported the opening of a homeopathic unit in St. Petersburg Hospital for non-qualified workers, left St. Petersburg in 1849, for a new high appointment in Nizhny Novgorod. Although his everyday business (inspecting and managing land appanages) was not connected with medicine, Dal' tried to introduce homeopathy in the Nizhny Novgorod area171. As a local hospital with 22 beds lacked a physician, he entrusted a well-educated Englishman then living in the city, Edward Stroubing, with providing homeopathic treatment in the hospital. In 1853, Carl Bojanus moved to Nizhny Novgorod from the Kazan province and was appointed physician at the hospital. Bojanus managed the hospital, which had been enlarged to 40 beds, until July 1863, when all the appanage hospitals were closed. The results of homeopathic treatment which Bojanus had offered during 10 years, were summarized in two of his books in German and Russian172. Briefly citing the summary of those results in Bojanus' "Gomeopatiia...": 1766 patients were treated, 147 of them died, most of them caused by neglected malignant cholera. There is no doubt that during all that period Bojanus had been actively supported by Dal'. The latter even secured the future of Bojanus' and his family in Russia, by obtaining for him Russian citizenship.

Dr Martin Mandt (1800—1858)

Another story can hardly be considered as "pure homeopathy" but cannot be overlooked either. I mean the story of German Dr. Martin Mandt (1800—1858), the founder of the so-called "atomistic" system of treatment173. He arrived in Russia in the late 1830s. Describing those events, Bojanus wrote:

Mandt's treatment during the epidemic of cholera in 1848, and later similar treatment in some military hospitals, had had such a success that the Emperor Nicholas, who had never been indifferent to the treatment of soldiers, became interested in this method. He ordered the translation of Mandt's brochure, in which Mandt's theory was exposed, from German into Russian, and had it distributed to the management of all the military hospitals as well as to all the staff-physicians174. The Tsar's will was carried out. However, for the zealots of the purity of medical education the 'atomistic doctrine' and homeopathy were the same, hence it goes without saying that this method could provoke neither approval nor encouragement [...]. As soon as the Emperor died [in 1855], both the authority of Mandt and his method of treatment disappeared. Moreover, the death of the Emperor was ascribed to Mandt's poor treatment...175

Most probably, Bojanus was not aware that the sympathy of Nicholas I toward "atomistic treatment" went further than ordering the translation and the distribution of Mandt's writings. A prominent Russian physician, Dr. Yacov Chistovich, left his diary where he strongly criticized Nicholas I and his son, Emperor Alexander II, for their "blind atomistic dispositions". From his diary it turned out that Nicholas I had ordered to establish an "Exemplary Hospital" where atomistic treatment was offered by Mandt and his closest Russian followers in 1853—1856.

Virtual blindness of the deceased [i.e., Nicholas I] extended to such a rate that he brought in his pockets boxes with atomistic powders to guards' hospitals (would our posterity believe that the terrible Nicholas delivered such boxes with medicines?) [...]176.

Dr Nicholas Pirogov (1810—1881)

According to Chistovich's diary, the activity of the hospital was examined by the committee appointed according to a personal order of Alexander II. One of the members of the committee was Nicholas Pirogov (1810—1881), who

Read over with maximal attention about 2,000 patient files of the Exemplary hospital [...] and looked over the same number of the files in the atomistic department of the St. Petersburg Hospital for non-qualified workers177.

Further, [Based on his labor] the Committee concluded:

1. The rate of the ill patients to those who died was 1:7,7 whilst the rate of the ill patients to those who recovered was 1:6,5.

2. The periods of the treatment of diseases were longer than when treating with usual therapy; also the periods were different and inconstant.

3. This [atomistic method] omits many of those medical means whose necessity and usefulness are well established [...]; at the same time, it introduces into practice some medicines which were abandoned by all because of their uselessness and provided at such small doses are indifferent to the organism.

4. It turned out that so-called atomistic treatment couldn't be recognized as profitable [...].

5. There is nothing in the theory of the atomistic method but complete denial of the facts, doctrines and laws of modern science. [...]. The administration of the same drugs for different diseases is alien to [...] common sense178.

I have some serious problems with Chistovich's diary, called by Pavlovsky "intimate" [intimnyi]179.

First of all, the style in which the diary was written. I cannot believe that someone in his/her personal and "intimate" diary cites as a whole the conclusions of State committees or uses such sentences like "I speak exclusively of the things I am familiar with"180. Moreover, there are many examples in that part of the diary cited by Pavlovsky, which lead me to think that either the diary is a falsification or it was written in the intention of being read by a wide public. The second problem is that Chistovich makes no difference between homeopathy and atomism, although Mandt himself never pointed out that he adopted anything from homeopathy. Probably, Chistovich indeed was unfamiliar with homeopathy and its kindred methods. The department at the St. Petersburg Hospital for non-qualified workers had never been called atomistic, but homeopathic. Why did Chistovich decide that the treatment provided in that hospital was atomistic as well? Moreover, Chistovich repeatedly demonstrates his especially negative attitude toward homeopathy and atomism on the one hand, and toward Dr. Mandt personally on the other hand. All that brings me to regard the diary of Chistovich as an especially unreliable source.

Although the Emperor Alexander II rejected the conclusions submitted by the committee181 and appointed a new one, this could not change the situation. Mandt left Russia in the spring 1856 for Germany, where he died two years later. The atomistic treatment was forever forgotten.

In fact, there were no other attempts at the establishment of homeopathic hospitals in the pre-homeopathic societies era. Analyzing the fate of these short-lived homeopathic institutions, I think that homeopathy as a doctrine was not really guilty for their decline and the fall of these facilities. Even in the most auspicious conditions created by Minister Perovsky, the fate of these hospitals, at least in the metropolitan cities, was easily predictable, enabling only discussion about the number of years a facility would survive. They were managed by foreign doctors, almost exclusively of German origin, who were strange to the native customs and language. They tried to behave "politically correct" and save themselves from being involved in open conflicts with Russian medical administration as well as with their Russian allopathic colleagues whose bread they took. In reality this behavior was reflected in a mixture of "homeo-allopathic" treatments (Dr. Schweikert), and in the inclination toward making concessions (Dr. Stender) — probably, the same "mixed" treatment. Another factor is also of importance. There were no organized bodies staying behind these homeopathic institutions. Therefore, the existence of homeopathic hospitals or units in the pre-homeopathic societies period was dependent upon fragile conditions: 1. the benevolence of the Tsar or Minister of Interior at least 2. firm financial support provided by the State, by single persons or by an aristocratic group over a long period of time. Significantly, after Minister Perovsky died, and the new Minister Lanskoy was appointed in that same year (1856), homeopaths felt the change immediately:

When after Perovsky, the Ministry of Interior Lanskoy was put in charge, homeopaths not only lost all the privileges they had enjoyed during his predecessor's period, but distinctly felt the turn to the reaction182.

Thus, homeopaths had to wait for a new Minster of Interior to attempt the opening of new homeopathic hospitals. After the appointment of Timashev in 1868, the situation changed. In September 1873, the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians opened its hospital. Nevertheless, any steady support was virtually absent. The hospital was closed after a 3-year long existence183.

Previous Home Next

Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001