Homeopathy Papers Homeopathy Past and Present

Three Women and Homeopathy

Last modified on August 11th, 2018

Josephine Elizabeth Butler
Sue Young
Written by Sue Young

Homeopath and historian Sue Young shares vignettes of women and men who were pioneering activists for homeopathy and social justice.

Reprinted with permission from Sue Young’s vast collection of Homeopathy biographies sueyounghistories.com


Women’s stories are nearly always obscured in our human history, and women who supported or practiced homeopathy especially so. In this short essay I have chosen three powerful, clever, industrious and innovative women who did emerge from the broad sweep of 19th Century history and managed to make a significant impact upon our modern world. However, they could not have achieved their well-earned place in British history without the support and succour of our early homeopathic ancestors, bless them all!

Whether concealed or explosively appearing like glowing comets from the pages of human history, these three women really did shine like small suns in their time. I would also draw my reader’s attention to the interconnectedness of all of these people in their time, and make the point that a few astonishing people can change the course of history, and light the way for us all to follow in our own troubled times… Networking has always been the key! To illustrate this point more effectively, I have also snuck in mention of a few other amazing women in the footnotes, alongside some pretty amazing men!


Josephine Elizabeth Butler

Josephine Elizabeth Butler

Josephine Elizabeth Butler (1828-1906) was an indomitable English feminist, who fought tirelessly to protect the welfare of prostitutes, and to shame men into facing the unpleasant side of their own sexual behaviour. Josephine also directly confronted the common and casual sexual abuse of underage children. This great labour was fully supported by homeopaths in Britain and in America at a time when most of Victorian Society preferred to look the other way. Josephine was also a staunch abolitionist. Without the inspiration and support of homeopathy, Josephine would have struggled alone, and she may not have even begun her valiant fight. Josephine is regarded today as a ‘…famous social reformer who has received the closest status to Saint as the Church of England can bestow…[1]’

In 1841, the Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary was founded by homeopaths John James Drysdale[2] and John Chapman[3] with the stated aim of providing health care to the poor and destitute free of charge at the point of access. Richer people had to wait their turn with the poor in new fangled waiting rooms, and pay monthly fees‘up front[4]’ to access treatment. This model[5] for financing a health care system was first instituted by Samuel Hahnemann in his Paris practice, and his students were eager to put his radical ideas into practice in Britain.Thus it would be that homeopathy radically revolutionised health care provision in Britain and outraged the protectionist privileges of the elite as a consequence. The NHS is a direct consequence of this brave new world introduced by our homeopathic ancestors, a fact often missed by absolutely everyone!

The homeopathic custom of taking a case[6] easily and simply revealed how the trauma of sexism, slums and poverty were deeply and explicitly enmeshed in a complex matrix of health and sexual and social politics[7]. After all, improving the living environment and life chances of patients was an obvious way of improving the health of suffering people, and these inspiring ideas slipstreamed nicely into the revolutionary airs floating so dangerously in the ether at this time.

In Britain, the reputation of homeopathy was vividly coloured by the dangerous atmospheres of intense social change and revolution[8] and post revolution fall out in America and Europe at this time. The unequal distribution of largesse between rich and poor and the vexed problem of who exactly was in control of people’s destinies was being fought right across the Northern hemisphere, causing intense political, social and cultural earthquakes, and definitely frightening the horses in Britain! Homeopathy was regarded by the orthodox British establishment as a dangerous ideology, right from the very first moment it arrived from the continent, and it has been severely persecuted throughout its history as a result. Nothing ever changes does it?

However, in the 19th century, homeopathy was an extremely fashionable and powerful force for fundamental change in Britain, challenging the establishment at every step with radical humanistic philosophies. Homeopaths trumpeted a rallying cry for human rights and medical freedom, most especially with their strategy of ‘slumming[9]’, which entailed visiting the hovels of the poor to offer medical and social aid to the previously hidden populations of this ‘undiscovered country’. This shocking and profound challenge to the exclusivity of an old and outdated medical system offered only to the rich and privileged,was a direct result of the forced exclusion of homeopathy from orthodox mainstream hospitals and practice, which obliged our early homeopathic ancestors to innovate and improvise to survive. These history lessons contain profound messages for modern homeopaths in the current climate of today!

The Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary eventually relocated to Hope Street in 1861. In this same year, based firmly on the homeopathic model[10] of social justice and improvement of the lot of the poor, Josephine opened her famous ‘house’ in Hope Street, just next door. Josephine was ‘radicalised’ by this new fangled homeopathic fundamentalism, which is exactly why she chose premises directly linked to the Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary, to indicate her intention to emulate their philosophies and to bask in their limelight and benefit from their popularity to advertise her good causes. At this time, supporting homeopathy was extremely dangerous and perilous, but it was a cause celebre and well worth the distress and the risk it carried with it. This was an unstoppable force in its time, and it still is today!

In 1867, Josephine was also instrumental in establishing the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women, another cause for improving the lot of the downtrodden, inspired and promoted by these early ideologies, and especially by homeopaths across the land. Josephine led the long campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases (Women) Act (1864) from 1869 to 1886. This legislation enabled officials to detain and imprison ‘loose’ women[11], who were then forcibly medically ‘inspected’ and compulsorily treated for venereal disease, real or supposed. Josephine’s campaign was enabled and supported by homeopaths and many other like-minded individuals across Britain and America[12]. In particular, James John Garth Wilkinson[13] would be steadfast in support of Josephine’s campaign to repeal the many Contagious Diseases (Women) Acts (1864, 1866, 1869), and he wrote ‘… white with anger and indignation…[14]’ an open letter sixteen pages long addressed to the Home Secretary Henry Austin Bruce 1st Baron Aberdare[15], entitled The Forcible Introspection of Women for the Army and Navy by the Oligarchy: Considered Physically[16], to support Josephine’s campaign. Josephine was duly thankful for his support[17], and in turn, Josephine supported James John Garth Wilkinson’s long campaign against compulsory vaccination, when she joined the Committee[18] of the Mothers’ Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League[19].

In 1870, Josephine became the leader[20] of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, and subsequently spent many long years touring between countries (she even carried her campaign to India) to protest against the presumption of guilt of women, astonishing her audiences when she directly addressed the unspoken and deeply difficult subject of prostitution. Her campaign directly targeted the double standards of Victorian ‘gentlemen’ who casually sexually abused under aged children, a problem that unfortunately still plagues our so-called ‘modern age’. Josephine argued with great passion that men should accept their responsibility and account for their atrocious behaviour, and she argued forcibly that the morality of men was deeply questionable. She lectured with great energy and passion, often putting herself in risky and dangerous situations, and her wonderful husband George Butler (1819–1890)[21] disregarded all the warnings that his wife’s activities would damage his academic career, supported and protected her throughout this period. The passage of The Contagious Diseases Act 1886, finally and fully supported Josephine’s long national and international campaign to amend this dreadful legislation.


Annie Wood Besant

Annie Wood Besant

Annie Wood Besant (1847-1933)was a prominent Theosophist[22], women’s rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self-rule. Annie was one of the first women to attend the London University, where she studied mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology under Thomas Henry Huxley[23]. However, she was refused[24] her BSc due to her atheism and her defence of woman’s rights and birth control. Annie Wood Besant was supported and influenced by homeopaths and by homeopathic philosophy for her whole life’s work. Unfortunately, Annie lost custody[25] of her own children due to her pioneering activism.

In 1877, Annie suggested the idea of the Malthusian League[26] to members of the London Dialectical Society[27] and to the defence committee organized to defend her and Charles Bradlaugh[28] in their trial for publishing Charles Knowlton’s[29] The Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People[30], which was based upon the work of Harriet Kezia Hunt[31], an American female lay eclectic and homeopathic practitioner. Annie was very close to the Drysdale family, and Charles Robert Drysdale[32] and his wife Alice Vickery spoke as witnesses at her trial[33].

Annie became the secretary of the Malthusian League, a leading member of the National Secular Society[34].She was involved with the International Labour Union[35], a founder member of the Fabian Society[36], and a member of the London School Board[37] when she instituted free school meals, and she was a tireless campaigner against the abuses of child labour. Annie was a founder with Herbert Burrows[38] of the Matchmaker’s Union, leading the famous strike for better conditions duringthe London Match Girls Strike[39] of 1888, alongside Catherine Booth[40]. Annie would continue to campaign for Irish Home Rule and Indian Home Rule, and many other worthy causes, for the rest of her life.


Elizabeth (Eliza) Hetty Hall Wagstaff (1826-1914) We have no picture of Eliza, but I am sure you will soon be able to picture her in your mind’s eye as I begin to tell her story. Eliza walks her own path through our tangled history, dipping her head to no one. It would never have occurred to her to worry about ‘acceptability’ or about ‘scientific fundamentalism’, as we will now discover.

Eliza emerged fully formed as a historical character at some point around 1849, when she was practicing as a clairvoyant medium and a lay homeopath, treating the rich and famous alongside many quite ordinary people. At some point between 1849-1851, Eliza married a country doctor, Phillip Wynter Wagstaff[41], who lived in Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire. In 1845, Phillip witnessed a demonstration of mesmerism alongside[42] Spencer Timothy Hall[43], and the current research assumption is that Eliza was Spencer Timothy Hall’s eldest daughter[44].

Spencer Timothy Hall was part of the social circle surrounding John Elliotson[45] and James John Garth Wilkinson through their shared interest in mesmerism and spiritualism. Phillip became a practicing mesmerist himself, and published[46] some of his cases in John Elliotson’s Zoist journal. Phillip also joined the influential group who met at Broadlands Country House in Hampshire[47]where many famous people[48] came to consult Eliza. Phillip and Eliza were soon practicing medicine together[49], and Phillip witnessed many of her miraculous homeopathic cures amongst his most difficult cases. Eliza also often travelled to London to see her patients, and to stay with her father.

It is most surprising that Eliza’s popularity occurred exactly at the same time when Thomas Wakley founded The Lancet and spent a vigorous ten years viciously attacking John Elliotson for his advocacy of mesmerism, literally hounding John Elliotson out of his profession. However, it is noticeable that no skeptic ever attacked Phillip or his wife Eliza during their lifetimes. Indeed Philipwas awarded all the accolades of his orthodox profession throughout his working life. This was despite Phillip’s marriage to a female lay homeopath, his advocacy and practice of mesmerism, and his attendance at the British Homeopathic Society Dinner[50] on 1st July 1869!

The fact that Phillip was appointed[51] District Registrar for Toddington (?year), amply illustrated his total acceptance and inclusion within orthodox medical society at a time when fraternising with any homeopath was strictly forbidden and policed assiduously! Phillip’s medical cases were also reported[52] in the orthodox medical press at this time, and Phillip assisted[53] in a surgical operation alongside his orthodox colleagues in 1861- even though it was expressly disallowed for any orthodox physician to have any contact at all with any homeopathic supporter or with any homeopathic practitioner whatsoever at this time.

It is fascinating to note that Phillip’s acceptance by orthodoxy was so complete, that in 1892, he was appointed as a member[54] of the advisory committee for the International Peace Bureau (1892-1951), the forerunner to the United Nations.It is also fascinating to see that Phillip and Eliza’s son were also awarded[55] similar respect and inclusion within the orthodox fold.Obviously, the ‘Rule of Two Rules’ applied to the Wagstaffs. I wonder why this was possible then, and I also wonder if the same thing could happen today? Truth is far stranger than fiction after all! It is obviously most beneficial to have friends in high places!


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Butler_(schoolmaster)

[2]http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2008/07/29/the-drysdale-family-and-homeopathy/ John James Drysdale (1816-1890) was a British Orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy to become the founder of Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary, Editor of the British Journal of Homeopathy, and a member of the Management Committee at the North of England Southport Children’s Sanatorium, amongst many other activities in a long and influential homeopathic life.

[3]http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2008/07/29/john-chapman-and-homeopathy/ Trust me! John Chapman is far too complicated to explain in a footnote!

[4] The previous historic model of paying a physician, and one Samuel Hahnemann refused to operate under, was to submit the client with a bill and then await the ‘predisposition’ of the patient to pay this fee, which often left physicians destitute!

[5]Rima Handley, A homeopathic love story: the story of Samuel and Melanie Hahnemann, (North Atlantic Books, 23 Feb 1993).

[6]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras This way of looking deeply into the personal history of a patient, which is the very basis of homeopathic case taking and of psychoanalysis, was first instituted by Pythagoras of Samos (c 570 BCE-c495 BCE)who was ‘… an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism’ Samuel Hahnemann introduced these techniques to ‘the many’.

[7]Richard Haehl,Samuel Hahnemann: his life and work in two volumes, (The Homeopathic Publishing Company in 1922 (German edition), and 1926 (London Edition), republished by B Jain and Co in 1971).

[8] Note the French Revolution (1789-1799), the American War of Independence (1775–1783), and the Napoleonic War (1803–1815).

[9]Seth Koven, Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London, (Princeton University Press, 16 Aug 2004).

[10] Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, (NYU Press, 1 Jun 1996). Page 93

[11] Not all of theses women were ‘professional ladies’, as many innocent wives, daughters and girlfriends were caught up in these sweeps!

[12]Anon, The North American Journal of Homeopathy, Volume 63, (American Medical Union, 1915). Page 558.

[13]http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2008/03/20/james-john-garth-wilkinson-and-homeopathy/ James John Garth Wilkinson (1812-1899)was an orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy to become a major Victorian mover and shaker. He was a scholar, publishing the earliest catalogue of the works of William Blake and he was the major early translator of the works of Emanuel Swedenborg. Garth Wilkinson was a tireless social campaigner and writer all his long life.

[14]Clement John Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters, (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner& Co, 1911, reprinted by General Books www.general-books.net) page 45.

[15] http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2012/07/15/henry-austin-bruce-1st-baron-aberdare-1815-1895/ See also http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2008/10/17/john-ozanne-1816-1864/Henry Austin Bruce 1st Baron Aberdare(1815-1895) was a supportive homeopathic ally due to his staunch defense of John Ozanne in 1849-1862. John Ozanne (1816-1864) was an orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy, Physician at the Homeopathic Dispensary in Ely Place, founder of the Jersey Homeopathic Institute, and the Guernsey Homeopathic Dispensary, Editor of The Monthly Homeopathic Review and The Medical Observer, member of the British Homeopathic Association, and a member of the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace. Politically active in Guernsey, his birthplace, no doubt this was why he was targeted for attack by Guernsey allopaths, who lost the court case for libel brought against them by John Ozanne in spectacular fashion in 1849.

[16]James John Garth Wilkinson, The Forcible Introspection of Women for the Army and Navy by the Oligarchy: Considered Physically, (F. Pitman, 1870).

[17]Josephine E Butler, Letter to James John Garth Wilkinson, on the publication of The Forcible introspection of women for the Army and Navy, by the oligarchy, considered physically.

[18]NadjaDurbach, Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853–1907, (Duke University Press, 9 Dec 2004).

[19]William White, The Story of a great delusion in a series of matter-of-fact chapters, (E.W. Allen, 1885).

[20] Josephine Butler Memorial Trust).

[21]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Butler_(schoolmaster) Reverend Canon George Butler (1819–1890) ‘… was an English divine and schoolmaster… Butler was from a family that had great educational influence in the 19th Century… Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford and later housemaster at Cheltenham College and Principal of Liverpool College in 1865…’

[22]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophy Theosophy ‘… refers to systems of esoteric philosophy concerning, or investigation seeking direct knowledge of, presumed mysteries of being and nature, particularly concerning the nature of divinity. Theosophy is considered a part of the broader field of esotericism, referring to hidden knowledge or wisdom that offers the individual enlightenment and salvation…’

[23]http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2008/07/22/the-huxley-family-and-homeopathy/ See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Henry_Huxley Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) known as Charles Darwin’s ‘bulldog’, Thomas Henry Huxley was a self taught English biologist, possibly the finest comparative anatomist of his day, he wasalso a friend of John Chapman, and he attended Spiritualist meetings where he possibly met James John Garth Wilkinson.

[24]S. Chandrasekhar, Reproductive Physiology and Birth Control: The Writings of Charles Knowlton and Annie Besant, (Transaction Publishers, 1 Jan 2002). Page 31.

[25]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant ‘… For a time, it looked as though they would be sent to prison. The case was thrown out finally only on a technical point, the charges not having been properly drawn up. The scandal cost Besant custody of her children. Her husband was able to persuade the court that she was unfit to look after them, and they were handed over to him permanently…’

[26]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusian_League Established in 1877, The Malthusian League ‘… was a British organisation which advocated for the abolition of all penalties against public discussion of contraception and the education of the public about the importance of family planning. It was established in 1877 and was dissolved in 1927… ‘

[27]http://www.answers.com/topic/london-dialectical-society Established in 1867, James John Garth Wilkinson was closely associated with its works, and Charles Bradlaugh was a Committee member.The London Dialectical Society was. ‘… A British professional association that in the late 1800s investigated the phenomena of Spiritualism… [it] was a highly regarded association of professional individuals. With the appearance and popularity of Spiritualism in England, the society resolved on January 26, 1869, “to investigate the phenomena alleged to be Spiritual Manifestations, and to report thereon… The report with evidence was presented to the council of the London Dialectical Society on July 20, 1870. It was accepted, but since it appeared to favor Spiritualist phenomena, the society did not publish it. However, the committee felt that it was in the public interest to be published, so it privately printed the report in 1871…’

About the author

Sue Young

Sue Young

Sue Young obtained a degree in psychology from City University London and subsequently studied homoepathy at CPH and also trained with Robert Davidson. She has been a practicing homeopath for over 20 years and says she owes her life and health to homeopathy. Sue also studied history and archaeology at Birbeck College, which fueled her deep interest in the past. These days she spends much of her time researching and writing fascinating biographies of homeopaths throughout history. You can see the fruits of her labor here : http://sueyounghistories.com/


  • Sue,
    Thanks for this. Yes, what’s interesting for me is that the radical, political side of our homeopathic history from Hahnemann onwards has largely been lost in/on the current homeopathic movement. In many ways they eschew the fact that working in homeopathy is in itself a political act – challenging the status quo in medicine at such a fundamental level – as well as in many other areas of the human condition. I know some 30+ years ago when I came across homeopathy, I also found the perfect resting place for all my radical politics!

  • DEAR DR,

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