Although homeopathy has its roots in ancient Greek medicine and in the work of the 16th-century physician Paracelsus, modern homeopathy dates back 200 years to the work of the German doctor and chemist Samuel Hahnemann. Hahnemann qualified as a physician but ceased to practice as a doctor because of what he saw as the barbaric medical practices of his day – which included bloodletting and the overuse of toxic medicines, leading to horrific side effects.
A brilliant linguist, he earned a living from translating books and was interested by a reference in a medical textbook to the use of China (Peruvian bark) as a cure for malaria. Intrigued to know why China worked, he took doses of the remedy until he himself began to exhibit malarial symptoms. He stopped taking the China and the symptoms went away. From this he deduced that the ancient principle of ‘like cures like’ actually worked.
His next step was to see if there were safe levels at which toxic substances could be given – and still cure the type of symptoms that they might otherwise cause. His experiments with dilution led him to discover that the more a substance was diluted, the more potent it appeared to become.
Homeopathic medicine was born, but in practicing it, Hahnemann and his followers were subjected to ridicule and persecution by the medical establishment, despite the fact that they were seeing patients getting better on tiny doses of medicines, prescribed on the basis of ‘like cures like’. Many European practitioners emigrated to the United States, where homeopathy flourished in the 19th century – until the medical establishment there systematically acted to remove its influence.
Hahnemann ended his days as a renowned and very busy practitioner in Paris, working into his eighties. His grave is at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, where there is a large monument to him and to his discovery of Homeopathy.
The bronze statue of Hahnemann was built and dedicated in Washington D. C. by the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH) with the help of President McKinley, a supporter of homeopathy and guest of honour at the ceremony, on June 21, 1900. The monument is located at the intersection of 16th Street and Massachusetts Avenue (Scott Circle) in Washington D.C.