James Smart's Philadelphia
Of All Things
July 17, 2019
by James Smart
The doctor whose name was Hahnemann
There have been news articles and broadcasts almost daily for weeks about the controversy over closing Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see anything about the history of the hospital. Or, who was Hahnemann?
The institution’s roots date back 170 years. It was named for Samuel Hahnemann, who originated the concept of homeopathic medicine.
Christian Friederich Samuel Hahnemann, if you want the full dose of name, was born in 1755, the son of a Meissen, Germany, porcelain designer.
Biographies say Samuel Hahnemann was a linguist, proficient in English, French, Italian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldaic and Hebrew! He made his living at times as a translator and a teacher of languages. I couldn’t find out how he acquired that knowledge. But he somehow found time to get a medical degree when he was 24 from the University of Erlangen in Bavaria.
He practiced medicine briefly, then moved from town to town in Saxony, working at translating scientific and medical textbooks. He also got married, and eventually had 11 children.
From books he translated and his own research, he evolved the theory that a substance that can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy person can treat a sick person with a similar set of symptoms. He first published his idea that “like cures like” in a German medical journal in 1796. He continued experimenting and writing about the subject.
And in in 1807, in a medical journal essay entitled “Indications of the Homeopathic Employment of Medicines in Ordinary Practice,” he gave his method its name: homeopathy.
In 1811, Hahnemann moved with his family to Leipzig, where he taught his new ideas at the university there. He spent most of the rest of his life practicing and teaching homeopathy.
In 1835, he moved to Paris. He died there in 1843, and was entombed in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris’s largest, also burial place of Jean-Pierre Aumont, Balzac, Beaumarchais, Sarah Bernhardt, Bizet, Chopin, Molier, Yves Montand, Edith Piaf, Proust, Simone Signoret, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Ben Franklin’s grandson Temple, and a bunch of other well-known dead people. But, I digress.
Homeopathy today is defined on the web site of the American Institute of Homeopathy as “the practice of medicine that embraces a holistic, natural approach to the treatment of the sick. Homeopathy is holistic because it treats the person as a whole, rather than focusing on a diseased part or a labeled sickness. “
The Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1848, only five years after
Hahnemann died. It was the first homeopathic medical college in the United States. It became Hahnemann University Hospital in 1885.
It was based on N. 15th St. at Vine St. until 1928, when it expanded a block east to Broad St. It added another big building in 1979, and acquired others.
In 1993, it was purchased by Allegheny Health Education and Research Foundation, and combined with the former Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, founded in 1850, to become MCP Hahnemann University School of Medicine.
It has gone through many variations and affiliations and official names, but the Hahnemann name always stuck, though most Philadelphians probably couldn’t identify Samuel if asked.
In 1998, Tenet Healthcare Corporation acquired Hahnemann and several other regional teaching hospitals. At this point, the complicated ongoings are more news than history. For the current uproar about changes, consult the latest news reports.
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