By Liuba Seaboyer.
In the 19th century, homeopathic medicine was much more popular than today. From 1865-1900 there is a clear increase in homeopathic physicians and dispensaries paralleling industrialization. But let’s start with a better understanding of what homeopathic medicine is and how it was portrayed during this time period. Homeopathic medicine is a type of remedy that uses the supposed source of the infection, which includes minerals, plants, and sometimes animal, to help cure those with the diseases by diluting the cause with varying amounts of alcohol (Haller Jr. 2005, 69-70). From advertisements in the local Allentown newspapers, homeopathic remedies were often referred to as being a type of miracle drug; as the last result in some medical cases.
Taking a look back at homeopathic history in Allentown, the original North American Academy of the Homeopathic Healing Art (also known as the Allentown Academy) was open in Allentown from 1836-1841 (Haller Jr. 2005, 51). After the closing of the North American Academy of the Homeopathic Healing Art, there was an increase in homeopathic doctors in Philadelphia and New York due to the opening of several homeopathic medical colleges.
During this time period, homeopathic doctors increased in major cities like Philadelphia and New York. At this time, there is also a homeopathic doctor increase in Allentown with an overall population increase in the city as well. The rise in population is directly related to the industrial revolution of iron mills and silk mills. With an increase in population, comes an increase in health problems, work related accidents, and overall a call for more medical attention.
From the map in Figure 1, it can be analyzed that the introduction of homeopathic doctors to Allentown, led to an increase in practice near the center square area of Hamilton Street and 7th street (Aschbach 1870). The four doctors’ offices/dispensaries seen in the map are all near the center square and are located in the 3rd and 4th wards instead of the projects focused 1st and 6th iron wards. A possible explanation of this placement could be to cater to wealthier areas of the city unlike the iron mill areas; where people received very minimal wages and were often without incomes at certain points in the year.
Figure 1. Locations of homeopathic offices and dispensaries that resided in these locations for a period of time with an opening date between 1883-1898 (all information for plotting taken from clippings of The Allentown Democrat and The Allentown Leader).
The offices, in clockwise order stating at the easternmost office, were run by dedicated homeopathic physicians. The first office, at 34 North Seventh Street, was a combined effort of seven doctors in which several were members of the Lehigh Valley Homeopathic Medical Society (LVHMS) (The Allentown Democrat Dec/12/1883, 2). Those who were members of the LVHSM had been exposed to great knowledge of other doctors in the area, including up to date research on disease and techniques when caring for patients with disease; as well as conferences that took place in Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and other large cities. The office of Dr. F. D. Koons is located to the south on the map at 827 Walnut Street (The Allentown Democrat Sep/28/1892, 3). Next was the popup office of Dr. Ballentine, a physician from Philadelphia, at the Grand Central Hotel (The Allentown Leader Mar/31/1896, 4). At this time, Dr. Ballentine was a prominent name in the homeopathic community with the publication of two detail oriented pamphlets of diseases and homeopathic cures. Lastly, was Dr. Arthur’s Homeopathic Institute at 127 North Eighth Street and was advertised as a free dispensary on Tuesdays and Saturdays (The Allentown Democrat Nov/9/1898, 3).
Although the homeopathic doctors were not located near the homes of iron works, workers were often plagued with multiple health issues directly caused by the working conditions. For iron workers, “Most deaths were credited to respiratory diseases, including pneumonia, pulmonary phthisis, and the ‘indefinite’ killers called ‘consumption,’ ‘inflammation of the lungs,’ ‘lung disease,’ etc.” (Anne Knowles 2013, 74). These conditions were some of the most common diseases as can be seen in Figure 2 which represents the most common remedies prescribed by Dr. Humphreys of New York who regularly advertised in The Allentown Democrat (July/17/1889, 1).
Although there were treatments for such work related diseases, the affordability of these remedies were often the issue holding individuals back from better health. In a newspaper article from 1892, iron miners were experiencing very low wages ranging “from 80 to 90 cents per day” (The Allentown Democrat Mar/30/1892, 2). The article later goes on to demonstrate how the possibility of iron workers retrieving homeopathic remedies were low, by stating that workers had “scarcely enough to pay for the making of homeopathic soup, and as a consequence they are having hard time in keeping body and soul together” (The Allentown Democrat Mar/30/1892, 2).
If iron workers of the time had very little pay and treatments ranged from $0.25 to $1.00 it would have been a financial burden on some to buy remedies that were the equivalent of 25% or greater than a daily wage. Those in the 1st and 6th wards with such restrictions would have also had trouble in reaching these other wards to receive such medicines. However, it is very likely that since other important businesses could have been located in the center square area and not in the first and 6th wards like these doctors; those family members or those with the disease would have traveled to retrieve these remedies. Between a need for remedies and an increase in knowledge by homeopathic doctors including those of the LVHMS there would have been a popular use for such medical practices during the iron working age.
1896. The Allentown Daily Leader. Allentown, PA.
1881-1898. The Allentown Democrat. Allentown, PA.
Aschbach, 1870. Allentown Topographical and Property map of Allentown. National Library of France. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b531026477
Haller Jr., John S 2005. The History of American Homeopathy: The Academic Years, 1820-1935. New York: Pharmaceuticals Products Press.
Knowles, Anne Kelly, and Chester Harvey 2013. Mastering Iron: The Struggle to Modernize and American Industry, 1800-1868. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.