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.

1.5 From the 1890s to the First Russian Revolution (1905)

Tsar Alexander II

This was the most attractive period of Russian homeopathy within the period under study. Almost all Russian homeopathic societies had been opened during the 1890s. The Russian Orthodox Church, having developed further its previously established tight connections with homeopaths on all its levels, including the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, became the main supporter of homeopathy in the 1890s onwards88. The St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy succeeded to open Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital, which had been built during almost 12 years89. The homeopathic propaganda, forwarded by homeopathic societies, brought its fruits. The Novodevitsk zemstvo decided to invite a homeopathic doctor (see chapter "Homeopathy and zemstvo medicine"). Although this attempt proved unsuccessful (no homeopathic doctor expressed his wish to pass to the zemstvo), the regular profession certainly became anxious about this precedent. Since around 1890, the struggle of Russian regular medical profession, whose professionalisation as a separate occupational group with its own aims and interests, was completed at the beginning of the 1890s90, with homeopathy, became irreconcilable. Homeopathic doctors were expelled from allopathic societies. Some professors delivered lectures in the 1890s, in which homeopathy was condemned; later on, these lectures were published as brochures and pamphlets (see the section "Contra homeopathy: anti-homeopathic publications" in this chapter). Those allopathic physicians, who ventured to consult with homeopaths, were attacked in the allopathic press. Ultimately, homeopathy was condemned "a wizardry" at the 9th Meeting of the largest Russian medical society, namely the Pirogov Society of Russian Physicians, in 1904 (see the section "The 9th Meeting of the Pirogov Society" in this chapter).

By the First Russian revolution, homeopathy in the Russian Empire had virtually exhausted the reserves for any further "natural" spread. The number of new converts to homeopathy, although being represented (as distinct from the 1830—1860s) by native Russian doctors, was hardly sufficient to keep up the same number of homeopathic professionals, namely more or less one hundred individuals. The examples of the Novodevitsk zemstvo, of Chernigov, Yalta, Belostock and even Kiev, which unsuccessfully sought for a homeopathic doctor, confirmed the fear that even in the most assured conditions (guaranteed position and salary) it would be difficult to find homeopathic physicians to answer the need. At the same time the Russian medical profession gradually became overcrowded. On announcements "a doctor needed" dozens of physicians responded. While speaking of "overcrowding", I mean that the number of doctor's positions remunerated by the State by no means met the actual demand of physicians.

A bitter irony of medical work in tsarist Russia was that underemployment and even unemployment coexisted with a desperate need for medical services. According to data published in 1896, Russia had 16,400 physicians for a population of 92 millions, a ration of 9,2 physicians to every 100,000 inhabitants in European Russia, compared with 31,1 per 100,000 in France and 63,8 in England91.

Although the fast capitalization of Russia (since the 1860s) provided much more opportunities to get a sizeable income from private practice, the vast majority of doctors continued to consider themselves as servants of the society in whole, whose salary should be secured by the State. The inability of the latter to develop the latest achievements of science and introduce them into life, led Russian physicians to the radical camp92, opposite to the "old" Russia, represented also by homeopaths and their aristocratic and clerical supporters. Thus, the conversion to homeopathy was not only considered as betraying the profession, but also as cheating "new" democratic Russia.

1.5.1 Expulsion from allopathic societies

In the 1890s homeopathy spread outside St. Petersburg and became institutionalized. Although homeopathy never represented a real threat to the Russian regular profession, it nevertheless continued to recruit new followers from amongst regular doctors. The Russian regular profession was not consolidated to such an extent that it was able to work out its anti-homeopathic laws; there was no such influential organization like the College of Physicians in Britain or the American Medical Association in the USA, which could establish once and forever a certain policy toward irregular practice. Nevertheless, hostility toward homeopathy was common in Russian regular societies. Whenever they found out that some member had practiced homeopathy, the society's members made all the efforts to get rid of him.

I bring below two examples demonstrating the situation in which homeopaths found themselves after they had recognized openly their belonging to the homeopathic stream in medicine.

The earliest example known to me, goes back to 1892, when Dr. Lev Frenkel (1858—ca.1917), a future convert to homeopathy, was sent by the local administration to Dzygovka, a little town in the Podolian province (Ukraine), to fight against the epidemic of cholera. When he realized that all allopathic medicines were powerless, he applied homeopathy and obtained, according to his own words, fine results. After having completed his mission, he prepared a report on the treatment of cholera with homeopathy, to be delivered at a periodical meeting of the Kamenets-Podol'sk Society of Physicians, whose member he was. In reply, he was invited to leave the society for being a homeopath93.

This was my first example; the second one follows.

1.5.1. (i) The Affair of Dr. Laur (1854—1901): Homeopathy and the Bicycle

This affair was the subject of long court examinations. "Vrach" referred to the reports received from the St. Petersburg district court as follows:

At one of the meetings of the 'Society of physicians promoting physical exercise and bicycling especially', a member of the Board reported that it had become known to him that one of the members of the Society, Dr. Laur, occupies the post of physician in a homeopathic dispensary. The same member asked the Meeting whether homeopathic doctors are allowed being members of the Society according to §1 of the [Society's] Regulations? The Meeting decided unanimously that homeopaths should not be accepted into the Society and ordered the Secretary to send Mr. Laur [...] a letter inviting him to resign from the Society. After having received the letter [...] Dr. Laur replied 'I do not perceive any connection between my theoretical views and the aims of the Society, [therefore] I am going to remain a member of the Society henceforward'94.

This Society manifested no tolerance, therefore the problem was solved immediately and decisively:

At the annual meeting of the Society which was held on April 30, [1897] Dr. Laur was expelled from the Society according to the proposal of the Board and was that same day informed by the Secretary of the Board. A registered letter and notarial declaration by Mr. Laur were left unanswered. Recognizing this decision to be wrong, and contradicting the Regulations and violating his rights and interests, Mr. Laur sued the 'Society of physicians promoting physical exercise and bicycling especially', through his lawyer, Osetsky, on March 17, 1898. [Mr. Laur] demanded that the Court recognize the decision [concerning the expulsion] as being illegal and invalid, that he be restored to his rights as a member of the Society, and that the Society be required to give him his membership-card95.

This was for Dr. Laur a matter of principle. The hearing of the case took place on September 21, 1898.

In order to make a point, lawyer Osetsky compared the Regulations of several St. Petersburg societies and concluded that, according to the terms common to all these societies, a member may be expelled from a society only because of a deliberate violation either of the Regulations or of the common norms of honor and propriety, thus one should recognize that the expulsion of a member is a severe measure of punishment.

However, it turned out that Laur was expelled from the society for [...] adhering to homeopathy. This expulsion is wrong both from a general as well as from ethical and legal points of view, in a State, where homeopathic doctors are counted by the dozens. In the capital city in which there are 5 homeopathic hospitals and dispensaries; where the Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital was established and the land for it was granted according to the Highest Will; in such a State, being among the number of homeopathic doctors should not be viewed as a deed contradicting the rules of honor and propriety and, thus, homeopathic treatment may not be considered as a shameful deed96.

After referring to the legislative documentation concerning homeopathy and its status in Russia, Osetsky stressed:

Nevertheless, if it could be proved that the 'Society of physicians promoting physical exercise and bicycling especially' had the right to expel Dr. Laur according to its Regulations, [...] one should obey the law. [...]. It would be lawful to exclude Dr. Laur if it was stated in the Regulations that only allopaths are allowed to be members of the Society. [...]. [There is however no mention that] belonging to that or any other school [of medical thought] makes it possible to expel a member! The decision of the Society is a delusion concerning the Society's rights [...] and it does represent an assault against Dr. Laur and all homeopathic doctors. [...]97.

The lawyer N. Shulepnikov represented the Society. He stressed that the expulsion of Dr. Laur should not be considered as a personal assault; only his belonging to the homeopathic school caused it. One cannot compare Regulations of different Societies, as the Regulations of this Society does allow two thirds of the votes of those present at the Common meeting to expel an undesirable member.

It goes without saying that no unity is possible between two very different systems like allopathy and homeopathy. [...] No allopathic society allows homeopathic doctors to join; for example, this is true for the oldest medical society in Russia, the Society of Russian physicians. When entering the Society, Dr. Laur hid his membership in a Society of Hahnemann's followers. [...]. When this fact became known [...] and was discussed at the common meeting held on November 8, 1896, Dr. Laur was requested to resign, and after he refused [...] he was expelled98.

Lawyer Osetsky called 'shameful' the intolerance which was demonstrated by the Society; he also objected to the point concerning of the Society's right to expel a member. In his opinion, if the Society has a right not to accept a new member, an expulsion should be made exclusively in full accordance with the Regulations. The court decided to recognize the decision concerning the expulsion of Dr. Laur as invalid. "Vrach" remarked in its characteristic spirit:

We have heard that the Society passes the affair to the Senate. Nevertheless, in order to avoid future incidents like that of Laur, one should recommend to all Russian societies composed of scientific doctors, to add to their Regulations a paragraph prohibiting the acceptance of homeopathic doctors99.

It turned out that the affair was passed on to the St. Petersburg Chamber [Sankt-Peterburgskaia sudebnaia palata]; the latter annulled the decision of its judicial predecessor100. The further development of the affair was rather tragic. Dr. Laur submitted an appeal to the Senate, but was not successful in reversing the decision: he died in 1901. His wife continued to fight for the rehabilitation of the good name of her late husband. In 1904, the Senate finally decided: the decision of the Society concerning the expulsion of Dr. Laur was recognized as unlawful and illogical. The newspaper "Svet" (Light) commented on this decision:

To accept a man amongst its members, to give him a membership card and then suddenly to defame him, to expel him only for his belonging to the followers of homeopathy - all these are the Hercules pillars of absurdity [...] behind which pure insanity starts!101

There is no shadow of doubt that the expelling of Dr. Laur was not only an act of extreme intolerance toward "unscientific" homeopathy, but also an act of absolute lawlessness. Nevertheless, the Society spent money to hire lawyers, spent time for trials, etc. Moreover, after Dr. Laur died, the Society did not yield to his widow and continued the struggle till the end. Thus, this dismal controversy between a homeopathic doctor and a Society lasted eight years!

1.5.1. (ii) The Affair of Dr. Zeman (1898)

This affair is also cited according to a report in the weekly "Vrach".

Dr. A. Zeman (born in 1864, graduated in 1888) who has been a member of the Caucasus Medical Society, sent to the Society the following letter: 'After having converted to homeopathy on the grounds of my scientific beliefs, I find it to be my duty to justify myself before the Medical Society, as well as [...] before Drs. [...] who vouched for me when I entered the Society. I am attaching a document in which one will find the scientific grounds that led me to this [my present homeopathic] conviction. I trust that the Society will treat my paper critically, but without bias, as it befits an educated Society. Thus, I dare hope that I will not be considered to be a wizard or a quack, as homeopaths have often been treated102.

These were the facts. Naturally, "Vrach" could not present them without commenting:

After having received this letter, the Society behaved correctly, when it appointed a special committee to discuss the paper by Mr. Zeman. One hopes that Mr. Zeman will not convert the members of the Society to homeopathy, and that the only result of his letter will be that our colleagues Drs. [...] will next time be more careful when choosing the members of the Society103.

Five weeks later, "Vrach" came back to this story, referring to the "Protocol Kavkazskogo Meditsinskogo Obshchestva" (Transactions of the Caucasus Medical Society) dated March, 2:

The committee which had been appointed to discuss the paper by homeopath Zeman [...] of the Caucasus Medical Society, informed the Society that this paper may not be published in the publications of the Society. It was decided by closed vote to return the paper to the author104.

Nevertheless, this was not the end. In 1899, "Vrach" returned to this story:

Some homeopathic doctors have a very strange fantasy concerning their participation in societies: after having been accepted as members of a Society of scientific doctors (only because those who elected them did not know that they are homeopaths), they remain in the Society by force, despite the obvious resistance of its other members. [...]. Unfortunately, there is no paragraph in the Regulations of the Society allowing it to exclude candidates for homeopathy105.

I find it important to mention that there was no explanation of why the paper was not allowed to be published, neither in the "Protocol" of the Society, nor in "Vrach". Did they see the matter as not deserving to be explained? It seems strange indeed: a full member of the Society declared himself to be a homeopath; he submitted a paper. Neither publication, nor any discussions are allowed without explaining why! An interesting detail: Dr. Zeman was a physician in the Tiflis military hospital, where Dr. Pribyl's homeopathic heritage had been established since the 1820s, was probably still alive (see the chapter "Homeopathic facilities")!

Eventually, the full member of the Society, N. Parysky, raised a question at the meeting which was held on January 2, whether it is compatible with the goals and tasks of the Society, to have homeopathic doctors amongst its members. Those present at the meeting decided, in order to avoid any misunderstandings, to ask the chairman to turn to Dr. Zeman to check whether he is prepared to resign the title of a full member of the Society. The chairman conveyed this decision to Dr. Zeman. Dr. Zeman refused106.

This "eventually" is very demonstrative! One should understand this as indistinct murmur showing that the members of the Society became so tired of Zeman's attempts to discuss his paper and/or conversion that "eventually" they decided to exclude him from the Society. And what if Dr. Zeman was sitting silent?

The further development of the controversy is particularly instructive:

Thus, the present meeting has to solve this problem. The chairman supposes that the Regulations of the Society do not allow the members to exclude Dr. Zeman [...]. One should encourage the group to change §13 in order to prohibit homeopathic doctors from being made members of the Society. A. Zeman, who did not come to the meeting, sent the following letter: '[...]

Before you decide to exclude me from your society for the charge of quackery, let me tell you in several words that one may be called a quack if he, knowing the inefficiency of the method he applies, nevertheless exploits a light-minded public. If I would have been such a person, you would be right to expel me from the Society. Yet, on the contrary, [...] I am sincerely certain of the great benefit that can be brought by this method to sick human beings [...]. There is nothing to be ashamed of by practicing homeopathic medicine. Thus, I do not deserve to be called a quack. For what reason are you going to expel me from your society? Because I subscribe to the homeopathic method of treatment, which has not yet been recognized by you as scientific, or to be among the rational methods of treatment; thus, reflecting my difference of opinion? [...]. However, the Regulations of our Society do not require that all the members have to be of one opinion on all matters [...]. If I am mistaken, your duty is to correct me and not to exclude me. [...]'107.

This letter, although cited in the "Protocol", was not discussed. Those present first deliberated on the problem of whether they should turn to the authorities, for this might lead to giving the Society 'normal Regulations' (one can understand from this discussion that the members did not wish to change them entirely). Later the meeting again returned to homeopathy:

N. Parysky said that [...] the problem of the expulsion of a homeopath may be solved even on the basis of the present Regulations. The main tasks of the Society are as following: §1 - the scientific investigation of different medical problems and §7 - the struggle against quackery and wizardry. A member of the society who follows homeopathy cannot fulfil these tasks; on the contrary, he is an example of the use of an unscientific [...] method of treatment, for it is well-established that homeopathy is not a method of treatment, but a full denial of science. Thus, even if homeopathy has been considered harmless and may be allowed to be used, this is a scientific Society which cannot accept the presence of a homeopath among its members. [...]. Nevertheless, the problem whether Dr. Zeman could be expelled on a legislative ground continued to be discussed at the meeting [...]. Y. Karpovich suggested that one should stress the difference between homeopathy and wizardry, as the latter brings harm, whilst homeopathy is harmless. No seriously ill person turns to a homeopath, he declared108.

These debates demonstrate that there were a number of opinions at the meeting about how homeopathy should be considered. The discussion continued as following:

Dr. Artem'ev opined that there is no need to speak of the significance of homeopathy, as this has been known for a long period. Homeopathy is not quackery, under which a fraud with mercenary ends is understood; this definition is inappropriate for homeopathy as many of its followers sincerely believe in it. Homeopathy cannot be compared to wizardry either, for wizardry has never had a scientific ground. Homeopathy is a scientific delusion, which it is impossible to exclude from among the members of a medical society, especially when our Regulations do not give us the right for doing so109.

It thus seems that there were neither legal, nor any sensible grounds to exclude Dr. Zeman. Nevertheless...

N. Parysky remarked that one may draw the conclusion from the speech of A. Artem'ev that homeopathy has scientific grounds; N. Parysky had never heard such an opinion before. If there is no mention of homeopathy in the Regulations, this is probably because the author of the Regulations did not foresee the presence of a homeopath among the Society's members. The homeopathic business is considered by N. Parysky as one of the possible reasons enabling members [...] to be expelled from the Society. [...]. The chairman of the Society [...] proposed the question whether the Society finds it possible to vote the expulsion of Dr. Zeman from among the members of the Caucasus Medical Society. The voting answered this question in a positive sense. The next question was whether Dr. Zeman should be excluded from the Society? The secret voting provided the following results: 11 votes subscribed to the expulsion, and 8 voted against this motion. As no less than two thirds of all the votes were required, according to §24 of the Regulations, to exclude a full member from the Society, it was decided that Dr. Zeman be maintained as a full member of the Society unless the Regulations of the Society would change. [It was decided] to envisage the changing of the present Regulations110.

So, one single homeopath was felt to be so intolerable for the Society's members that the Society decided to seek ways to change the Regulations. In the same year the Society achieved its goal:

The Caucasus Medical Society decided to change § 13 of its Regulations so that homeopaths cannot become members of the Society [Protocol of the Caucasus Medical Society, November 23, 1889] 111.

One must conclude that the Society was allowed by the authorities (the Ministry of Interior) to change its Regulations.

How great must have been the intolerance toward homeopathy within the Society, to change the Regulations for one single member! I believe that if Dr. Zeman would not have openly declared that he converted to homeopathy, he could have continued to be a member. After his declaration concerning his newly adopted belief, the Society decided to demonstrate that a "scientific" (how many times was the word "scientific" repeated in the proceedings!) organization will not tolerate the adherents of "non-scientific" streams within medicine to be admitted as members.

In my opinion, these examples of Drs. Frenkel, Laur and Zeman clearly demonstrate that Russian medical societies at that time were hardly prepared to the presence of homeopaths and spared neither strength nor resources to expel them.

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