Published with permission of the Rochester Medical Museum and Archives www.rochestergeneral.org/archives
Rochester is well known for its contribution to nineteenth-century social reform through the efforts of individuals such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, but another distinction of its history is as a major center in nineteenth-century homeopathic medicine. In the nineteenth-century, the practice of medicine became divided into various schools of thought. The two major schools were the traditional practice of Allopathic medicine and the other being Homeopathic medicine. Whereas Allopathy treats the symptoms of a illness, such as an antibiotic for an infection or pain medication to relieve pain, and is based in science, Homeopathy is the practice of treating the cause of the illness, (rather than the symptoms), with natural remedies that would produce similar symptoms in healthy patients. The underlying premise is that the body’s natural systems fight disease rather than the use of drugs.
Homeopathy is an age old principle based on the “Law of similars.” This fundamental principal is the belief that “Like is cured by like.” Although the German physician Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann is credited with “discovering” homeopathy, ancient Hindu sages described its laws in the tenth- century B.C. as well as by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates in 400 B.C. The word Homeopathy comes from the Greek words homoios (“similar) and pathos (“suffering” or “sickness”). The law of similar states that a remedy can counteract a negative symptom, if it produces in a healthy person symptoms similar to those of the disease.
Rochester hosted an active homeopathic medical community which led to the establishment of several Homeopathic hospitals. The first of which was the Rochester Homeopathic hospital founded in 1887. The founding of the homeopathic hospital came about as a result of the efforts of several of Rochester’s leading homeopathic physicians led by Dr. Charles Sumner and civic leaders such as Mrs. Hiram Sibley, Mrs. Don Alonzo Watson, and Silvanus J. Macy. Sumner chaired a committee of homeopaths including his son Charles R. Sumner, John Mallory Lee, Theodore C. White and Edmund H. Hurd and in whose purpose it was to determine the practicality of forming a Homeopathic hospital in Rochester. A large group of concerned citizens led by the wives of two of the community’s best known business leaders, Mrs. Hiram (Elizabeth) Sibley and Mrs. Alonzo (Caroline) Watson helped propel the effort to form a homeopathic hospital in the eastern side of Rochester. Past efforts by the medical community to establish a homeopathic hospital by its leading proponents had failed up until an incident where Mrs. Sibley witnessed a woman slip and fall on the ice outside her East Avenue home. Realizing that the only hospital in the city where the women could receive medical care was at the City hospital on the western edge of town, convinced her that the east side of the city needed its own hospital and she committed herself to helping to establish one and on May 25, 1887 the charter for the incorporating the Rochester Homeopathic Hospital was granted. The three-story brick structure at 233 Monroe Avenue opened to the public on September 19, 1889. Nine weeks later, the first students of the Homeopathic Hospital Training School for Nurses were admitted and began their education as Nurses.
The Hospital would have a long history of service to the community. Its first major expansion happened in 1894 when it relocated to the former resident of the Rochester Congressman Freeman Clarke at 224 Alexander Street. The hospital continued to grow to meet the needs of the community. In response to the evolution of modern medical science and its overwhelming acceptance and practice in the medical community, the hospital changed its name to The Genesee Hospital in 1926.
The hospital continued to grow and meet the needs of the community through the war years into the 21st century. The ever evolving state of healthcare and the competitive medical industry ultimately contributed to the Genesee Hospital’s eventual closing in 2001. Over its one hundred and twelve year history, the Genesee hospital earned a reputation as an outstanding healthcare institution and will be remembered for many years to come.
Another of Rochester’s homeopathic hospitals was the Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital which today is the Highland Hospital. The origin of this Hospital came about as a result of a schism between the “Fundamental Homeopaths”, known as Hahnemannites and the more eclectic homeopaths that predominated Rochester Homeopathic medicine. A small group of homeopaths led by Dr. Joseph A. Biegler believed the liberal practice of homeopathy had strayed away from the pure “Hahnemann Principles” that were based on the writings of the 18th and 19th century German physician Dr. Samuel Christian Frederick Hahnemann. The homeopathic method stresses the treatment of disease by administering minute doses of a pure natural remedy for treatment is illness. By this time the more progressive practitioners of homeopathy had begun administering certain drugs such as opiates and other “non-natural” substances as remedies and the disagreement in principles formed a wedge in the homeopathic community. This division caused several “faithful Hahnemannites” to secede from the Monroe County Homeopathic Society and bring about the opening of what was described as the first hospital in the world to follow uncompromisingly “pure homeopathic methods.”
The Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital opened in April 1889 at the former home of Judge Henry Selden on what is now Rockingham Street. Over the years the hospital had the support of many local benefactors. Where the Homeopathic Hospital was partly founded and supported by members of the Hiram W. Sibley family, the Hahnemann hospital received generous donations from the other local Sibley businessman, Rufus A. Sibley founder of the Department store. Another charitable donor was Mrs. Maria Eastman and her son George. The Maria Eastman District Nurse made her visits to the community and was funded by George Eastman until the Community Chest was set up after the First World War.
The hospital would continue to grow and meet the needs of the community in times of calm and calamity. By 1921, the two schools of medicine, the Homeopathic and what was known as allopathic gradually merged into what is known today as the science of medicine. This prompted the change of the hospital’s name to the Highland Hospital due to its location on the edge of Highland Park. Two physicians that were instrumental in both the Homeopathic and Hahnemann Hospitals branched off and established private homeopathic hospitals.
John Mallory Lee was a native of Steuben County, New York. After having graduated from the University of Michigan medical school in 1878, he opened his medical practice in Rochester later that same year. Lee’s reputation in the Homeopathic field grew quickly in the years following his graduation from the University of Michigan medical school, which had become one of the leading institutions of homeopathic medicine. In 1877, Lee decided to specialize in surgery and after completing post-graduate study he returned to Rochester and quickly established himself as one of the eminent surgeons in Rochester. He was a founding member of the Rochester Homeopathic Hospital and its Training School for Nurses. He held many prominent positions at the hospital such as Vice-President of the Medical and Surgical Staff and Surgeon-in-Chief. Doctor Lee’s early success would foreshadow his professional ambition.
Lee established the Lee Private Hospital at the corner of Lake and Jones Avenues on January 9, 1898. For the next twenty-eight years the hospital operated as a surgical, obstetrical and medical hospital and incorporated a Training School for Nurses. Doctor Lee’s was a skilled and well-respected surgeon and his early work with radium for the treatment of cancer led to the opening of a free cancer clinic on Fridays in the 1920s. The institutionalization of medical facilities and the regulations imposed by state and federal mandates would contribute to the eventual closing of many smaller private hospitals. Doctor Lee’s death in January 1926 became the catalyst that transformed the Lee Private Hospital into the Lake Avenue Hospital two years later.
Charles Teresi was a staff physician at Doctor Lee’s hospital at the time of his death. After graduating from the University of Buffalo medical School and then serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the First World War, he established a private practice at 413 North Street in Rochester and wishing to expand, bought the Lee Private Hospital in September 1927 and officially took custody and changed the name to the Lake Avenue Hospital on October 1, 1927. Doctor Teresi operated the hospital for the next thirty-four years, first as a medical and surgical institution then gradually transitioning to a long-term geriatric health care facility. His long tenure and large loyal private practice would see the hospital through the difficult financial days of the depression and the war years. Doctor Charles Teresi died on December 13, 1961 and the hospital was sold in 1963 and continued to operate as a nursing home until 1971. The building was demolished in 1975.
Another well respected Homeopathic physician in Rochester to establish a private hospital was Merritt E. Graham. Having established himself in Rochester as a well respected physician and a member of the Hahnemann Hospital’s medical staff,
Doctor Graham founded the Graham Highland Park Sanatorium in 1899 at 1100 South Avenue. Initially, the hospital specialized in treatment of surgical and chronic diseases but in 1904 expanded to include the Maternity wards. Doctor Graham’s untimely death in August 1905 led to the hospital being taken over by his son, Doctor Cordon T. Graham until its eventual closing in 1918.
– Bob Dickson
Robert J. Dickson, The Legacy of 179 Lake Avenue: A small private Hospital’s Service to the Community, (2008)
Thank you Mr. Dickson for this wonderful trip through homeopathy’s history. It’s well researched and written. It’s important for homeopaths to connect with that period when homeopathy was a larger part of the health care system.