The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and
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.
2.3.1 (iii) Hospitals in the 1870s onwards
Other "independent" attempts (i.e., not connected with the activity of any society),
were made in the late 1860s and the early 1870s. Dr. Tadeusz Wieniawsky (1794—1884), who had
settled in Warsaw in 1865, enjoyed the benevolence of an influential Russian official in Poland, a
nephew of Alexander Pushkin, Lev Pavlishchev (1834—?), who edited the main Warsaw newspaper
"Dziennik Warszawski" (Warsaw Diary) during the period from 1865 to 1871 and provided
Wieniawsky with free access to it184. Wieniawsky did not fail to take this opportunity to propagandize
homeopathy as much as it was possible. According to a proposal of the medical faculty of the Warsaw
University, he got in 1867 a department for eight beds at the St. Spirit Hospital (Szpital S-go
Ducha) to treat with homeopathy. 106 patients were hospitalized in the department from September
11, 1867 to March 27, 1869; 93 patients recovered, 7 patients were discharged (?)185, whilst 6
patients died. The mortality rate was 5,66%. "This result seemed to the hospital authority to
be especially remarkable. It was thus decided to increase the number of beds... but a little later.
[...] The homeopathic department was closed"186.
The department was never opened again as a homeopathic unit. Worse yet, it was later transformed
into a room for lectures on physiology. When trying to explain those strange events, Bojanus refers
to Dr. Wieniawsky himself. According to Wieniawsky, he failed to be "politically
correct", as he noted in his report published in the press that some patients who had been
recognized in the allopathic departments as incurable, were successfully treated with homeopathy.
Bojanus tried to explain:
It goes without saying that such an 'indelicacy' on behalf of Wieniawsky
could not be disregarded by the faculty that so obligingly presented a department at
Wieniawsky's disposal. [...] There is nothing impossible in this story. We cannot expect
another policy on behalf of our opponents187.
It is known, according to the recently published article by B. Plonka-Syroka188, that the relation toward
homeopathy of the Polish university circles had been rather negative during the whole century,
being similar to that of the European universities circles in general. This story of a homeopathic
department in a university clinic can hardly be interpreted with great clarity. If we accept the
point of Bojanus that "we cannot expect another policy on behalf of our opponents", one
would find it difficult to explain why the faculty nevertheless initiated homeopathic treatment in
its wards. Neither Brzezinski189 nor Plonka-Syroka considered with one single line this story in their
papers on the history of homeopathy in Poland. The name of Dr. Wieniawsky was mentioned by both
authors only in connection with his activity in the late 1870s as Chief physician to the dispensary
at the Warsaw homeopathic pharmacy. I cannot assume either that the faculty was forced in some way
to open the homeopathic department. This assumption seems impossible not only because this would
have contradicted the policy of the government's non-intervention in the university's
professional matters (especially in Poland!), but also because Dr. Wieniawsky did not complain to
any obstacles he met during the period he was treating in the department. Thus, the decision to
found a homeopathic unit was absolutely spontaneous. Also the "politically incorrect"
behavior of Dr. Wieniawsky does not seem me to be sufficient to explain the decision to close the
department. Most probably, some important details of this story were omitted either by Bojanus or
by Wieniawsky. In any case, the results of the 1,5-year existence of the homeopathic department
should be recognized as doubtless satisfactory.
Another attempt of the establishing a homeopathic unit in a hospital was made in the Russian
Empire in 1871. Although this attempt is characterized by Bojanus as "one of the most
interesting episodes in the history of homeopathy in Russia"190, I found it interesting mainly as
related to the involvement of one of the most famous homeopaths of that time, Eduard von Grauvogl. Count N. Adlerberg (1819—1892), the governor-general in
Finland, which was then a province of the Russian Empire, offered Dr. Grauvogl to settle in
Helsingfors in order to deliver lectures on homeopathy at the university and to homeopathically
treat in a local military hospital. Bojanus published in his book a detailed report on the activity
of Dr. Grauvogl, including a report of the latter written by him in response to Bojanus'
personal inquiry191. Homeopathic treatment in two rooms of the hospital had continued for
some 7 months and was interrupted by a sudden illness of the Patron, Count Adlerberg. Grauvogl was
personally entrusted by the Tsar with the treatment of the Count and had to leave the hospital.
During the period of 7 months, 81 patients were treated. 52 recovered, 10 were passed to the
allopathic unit and 14 remained receiving treatment. This story is briefly described in the chapter
"Allopathy vs. Homeopathy".
Moreover, an endeavor by Dr. Vladimir von Ditman in 1882, proved unsuccessful. During an
epidemic of diphtheria, he requested the Russian Red Cross to open a homeopathical unit where he
would treat diphtheria with Mercurius cyanatus. Since several writings by him in
1881—83192, had been welcomed by an educated public and were discussed in the higher
the Red Cross satisfied his request, and opened a unit of 40 beds for homeopathic treatment at
Nicholaev hospital in St. Petersburg. Allopathic circles met this decision with extreme
indignation194. Accordingly, throughout the epidemic only one agonizing patient was
referred to Ditman's hospital by St. Petersburg physicians. In January, 1883, von Ditman
notified the Red Cross that since October 15, 1882, the hospital had had no patient referrals. It
was then decided to close the hospital.
Two other small facilities, one run by Dr. Mishin in Moscow in 1893, and one by the St.
Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians in 1895, were also to provide in-patient homeopathic
treatment. Nevertheless, I suppose they should be regarded as small in-patient facilities, not as
hospitals, both because of their small size and their location in some private accommodations.
There is almost no extant information about their activities.
2.3.2 Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital
Since 1884, after being convinced that no further unification with the "mother"
society was possible, the Board of the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy
considered the possibility of opening a homeopathic hospital.
[...] Recognizing that with the founding of a hospital [...] the Society would
bring a giant benefit to homeopathy and provide the means for the homeopathic method of treatment
to be spread more quickly and more successfully. [...]. Actually, one can expect from the clinic
results evaluated numerically [...] which may influence anyone who has neither time to study
homeopathy nor seen cases of its application [...]; in the homeopathic hospital those physicians
doubting about homeopathy, would have the possibility to be convinced of the veracity of the law of
Nevertheless, the Society would not have been able for long to afford the founding and
maintaining of such an extremely expensive facility as the hospital. The needed funds were received
rather suddenly. After the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II (on March 1, 1881) by the
terrorists of "Narodnaia Volia", the railway engineers Russia-wide initiated a collection
of money in order to build a hospital in memory of the assassinated Tsar. During a three-year
period the sum of 58,800 rubles was collected by the Temporary Committee. Although being
considerable, this sum was hardly sufficient for the building of a hospital. The Temporary
Committee had to assess the different proposals submitted concerning the use of the money, and to
choose the most appropriate project. This was fortunate for homeopaths for two reasons. First of
all, there appeared a theoretical possibility of getting such a considerable sum for the
establishment of a homeopathic hospital, whilst the sum was doubtless insufficient for the
establishment of a similar allopathic facility. Secondly, one should not forget that from the very
beginning the Society enjoyed a large representation of railway engineers of different
including the Ministers of Communications in 1880s-1900s (Possiet, Krivoshein, Witte, Khil'ko)
among its members. Thus, it was rather predictable that "The proposal to transfer money
collected to the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy met the greatest sympathy
[of the Temporary Committee]"197. After a round of deliberations, the Board of the Society and the
Temporary Committee worked out the conditions enabling the transfer of the money to the homeopaths.
The preliminary agreement had to be approved by the Ministry of Interior. It goes without saying
that the pro-allopathic medical representatives of the Medical Council at the Ministry of Interior
strongly resisted the transfer on the ground that this contradicted the initial intention. In turn,
the Temporary Committee found no contradiction, as it had not been announced beforehand what kind
of treatment should be provided at the facility. The problem was transmitted from the Ministry of
Interior to the Board of Ministers, then to the Tsar. On October 18, 1885, the Highest permission
to establish the Alexander II homeopathic hospital was received. On May 8, 1886, the final
agreement between the Temporary Committee and the Board of the St. Petersburg Society of the
Followers of Homeopathy was signed. According to that agreement, the Society pledged to have 6 beds
free for those people belonging to the Ministry of Communications (no difference in rank). The
Ministry of Interior approved this agreement on November 5, 1888198.
The Society spent the next several years in strengthening its connection with the Tsar's
court by attracting to patronize homeopathy Rear-Admiral Vladimir Basargin (1838—1893) and a
member of the General Staff, General Dmitry Tsikeln (?—1902) (both were elected to be members
of the Board of the Society in 1888). Also the appointment of Ivan Durnovo (1834—1903), who
had been an honorary member of the Society since 1886, as Minister of Interior in 1889, was of
great importance. In 1890, the Society, which had now the right to build a hospital but did not own
the land for this purpose, turned to the Tsar Alexander III asking him to cede a plot of land at
Litseiskaia Street, in the center of the city. Minister Durnovo submitted the request of the
homeopaths to the Tsar and the needed plot was obtained. The Tsar agreed to sell it for 6,000
rubles with the terms that building would start no later than 2 years after the plot's
transfer. Although the sum was not too considerable, nevertheless, it was nearly covered by a 5,000
rubles donation made by the Tsar several years later, in 1893, in order to promote the building.
The hospital was built according to the project and under the supervision of another supporter of
homeopathy, architect Pavel Suzor (1844—1919), an honorary member of the Society since 1899.
This person deserves several words. A recently published book "Architects of St. Petersburg of
the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries" devoted a
chapter to Pavel Suzor. Summering this chapter, its author V. Isachenko stresses: "In fact,
Suzor was the chief architect of St. Petersburg, representing the capital and Russia abroad. Being
French by birth, he was a real Russian patriot"199.
The general budget of the building amounted to 120,000 rubles. The rest of money needed was
collected by the Society during the 1890s.
The Alexander II Hospital comprised 35 beds, including men's and women's departments,
and a dispensary. It opened on April 19, 1898200. The first patients were received on October, 1898. The
full account of the hospital's and dispensary's activity is represented in the table
From the opening of the hospital to 1911, the Chief Physician of the Hospital was Dr. Pavel
Solov'ev. One should recognize that without Pavel Solov'ev and his private connections with
some important persons at the Tsar court, the hospital would never have been built. From 1911 to
1917, the hospital was managed by Lev Brazol. As distinct from stormy events which had happened in
the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy, the fate of the hospital was rather
quiet. I suppose that the presence of such a wonderful organizator as Dr. Lev Brazol together with
the need to employ doctors from the competing society, limited Solov'ev's aspirations to
dictate his will.
The last three years of the existence of the hospital are poorly documented. On September 27,
1914 the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy and the St. Petersburg Society of
Homeopathic Physicians established a military hospital (lazaret) in the Alexander II
Homeopathic hospital, while the doctors' society contributed 10,000 rubles for the managing and
further development of the hospital. From September 27, to April 18 1915, 147 soldiers and officers
were treated in the hospital. Naturally, the treatment was provided with homeopathic medicines.
Such medicines known as "traumatic" like Calendula, Arnica,
Lachesis, Echinacea, Symphitum and Hypericum were mostly used. The
hospital was ruled by the representatives of both societies, whilst the Ladies Charitable Committee
at the Society of Homeopathic Physicians collected money and gifts for the wounded201. Also in 1916 and
1917, the hospital was used in its military capacity. I succeeded in finding some documents in the
archive of Dr. Nicholas Gabrilovich, throwing light on what happened with the hospital in 1918.
Either in 1916 or in 1917, a new and very expensive X-ray equipment was purchased by the managing
board of hospital in order to promote more successful treatment of the wounded. This fact did not
remain unnoticed by Russian roentgenologists, in first Prof. Mikhail Nemenov (1880—1950).
After the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917, as soon as in April 1918, they decided to
abolish the hospital and transform it into a new facility of medical character. The building was
scheduled to become a branch of the Women Medical Institute. It is not known why the deal did not
go through. In the papers of Dr. Gabrilovich, who was the Chief Physician of the hospital in
1917—18, after Lev Brazol left this post, I found a sketchy copy of the letter which, most
probably, was sent by him to the administration of the Women Medical Institute. He asked them in
that letter not to accept this "gift", as the facility had been built on the money of
people who support an absolutely different system of treatment. I found also copies of the letters
sent by Gabrilovich and the Chairman of the Society of the Followers of Homeopathy, General Georgy
Burman, to the People Commissar of Education V. Lunacharsky (1875—1933), in which they tried
to naively explain him that the homeopathic hospital had never been a private property of some
kind, but exclusively a charitable facility supposed to satisfy the need for homeopathic treatment
of all those who wished; thus, the hospital should not be transferred to the managing of the
Communal commission for education. Although it is hardly believable that allopaths of the Women
Institute would take into consideration those "well-grounded" homeopathic arguments, the
hospital in 1918 became owned not by the Women Medical Institute, but by St. Petersburg
roentgenologists. The homeopathic hospital stopped its existence, and the State Institute for
Roentgenology, Radiology and Cancer was founded instead. The Alexander II memorial at the entrance
to the building was destroyed and a Conrad Roentgen memorial was erected instead. L. Lindenbraten
cited in his book "Essays of Russian Roentgenology" the words of Nemenov: "From dark
wet basements, where roentgenology had been huddled into Russian hospitals and clinics, had been
transformed to its own palace"202. He forgot to add that it was a stolen palace and a stolen
I visited this place recently. Nothing remains any more of what had been a place of
long-forgotten pride of Russian homeopaths. The department of X-ray and radiology of the St.
Petersburg Pavlov Medical Academy is located there. Corrupted balconies, dirty puddles and heaps of
putrid decomposed rubbish and refuse (maybe, even of radioactive kind too?) — are the only
decoration of that weedy place.
Table of Activity of the St. Petersburg Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital and the
||Number of patients
|Books sold (in rubles)
Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001