Today is International Women’s Day, so I want to talk about a controversial but hugely important woman in the history of Homeopathy- Melanie Hahnemann, the first female Homeopathic Doctor.
Melanie d’Hervilly was born on the 2nd of February, 1800 in Paris, France, and she grew up in a time after the Revolution when there had been some social change, women were still expected to learn just the skills they needed to become wives and mothers and manage a household.
Melanie was different from the time she was a young girl. She wanted more, and had no intention of marrying and leading a quiet, ornamental life, which did bring strife with her mother.
She had a great interest in medicine – at age eight she dissected birds to “see the insides of their bodies and satisfy my curiosity”, and asked her father repeatedly about the functions of the organs in the body. She also wrote about how she saved the life of a friend of her father’s who had been poisoned by Opium – the Doctor did not recognise this, treating him for indigestion and then diagnosing a cerebral congestion that was fatal. Melanie, having recognised the symptoms of poisoning instead prepared a herbal remedy and saved his life.
However, women were not able to practice medicine, so Melanie went on to become an artist and was successful enough to earn a living painting, also writing poetry.
Melanie had three good mentors in the art world, and within only a few years all three of them passed away. This left Melanie grief stricken, with severe abdominal pain, and unable to work. She had also become disenchanted with medicine, as it had been no benefit to her friends.
Melanie was given a copy of Hahnemann’s Organon, where he wrote about Homeopathy, and not only became enamoured with the philosophy of Homeopathy, but she made the decision that that was what she needed to get better. She travelled over 900km from Paris to Köthen in Germany in 1834, dressed as a man (because women could not travel alone) to meet Samuel Hahnemann. At the time, Hahnemann was mostly retired at age 79 and living with his daughter.
Hahnemann did see this glamorous, Parisian woman initially as a patient, but this quickly became more and within three days Samuel Hahnemann had proposed to Melanie. Their surviving letters show a passionate love, despite the age difference, although their chances to meet were often hindered by Hahnemann’s disapproving children.
Three months after their meeting, Samuel and Melanie were married, secretly. For a while they lived in Köthen, but soon made the decision to move to Paris, and Hahnemann divided his possessions between his children, giving them all his wealth as their inheritance before he left. He also made it clear that anything earned after this would be bequeathed to Melanie.
By the time they set up house, and clinic, in Paris, Melanie had been working with Samuel for some time. Initially she would take notes, but after a few years apprenticeship to the founder of Homeopathy, she would prescribe and then check with him that it was an appropriate remedy. They treated a wide range of people from Parisian society, from the wealthy aristocrats, to the poor, with a sliding scale for payment. They also had a free clinic which Melanie ran herself.
Despite her great knowledge, Melanie was unqualified and Samuel recognised this was a problem, so he wrote to Constantine Hering in Pennsylvania, USA and after some time Melanie was granted a medical diploma in 1840 from the Allentown Academy, aka The North American Academy of the Homeopathic Healing Art. This made Melanie the first woman to be a qualified Homeopath. Even with this qualification, women could not practice medicine in France and Melanie practiced unlicensed.
While in Paris, Samuel Hahnemann continued refining his understanding of Homeopathy. He was using centesimal potencies (1 in 100 dilution), but during this period he also developed the Q or LM potencies, which is a 1 in 50,000 dilution. Hahnemann considered this to be a “spirit like” medical force. He wrote the 6th edition of the organon, and told Melanie to wait until the world was ready before publishing this work, understanding that it was a huge change from earlier editions.
Samuel passed away in 1843, after what he initially thought was his annual bronchitis, but did not respond to treatment. Melanie was devastated, and did not cope well with his death. Unfortunately, she did not inform the right people, his funeral was not well attended, and Melanie was reviled by the Homeopathic community for this, and for not releasing his case notes, his 6th edition of the Organon and his other effects. In addition his family pursued Melanie believing her to have been left a fortune by Hahnemann.
Once Melanie recovered from her grief, she set up practice as a Homeopath, despite being hostility from the medical community both allopathic and Homeopathic. In 1847 the French government prosecuted her for practicing medicine and pharmacy illegally, a charge which was upheld, and she was fined, although this was a nominal amount.
After this she continued to practice, but there are no notes from this period as it was illegal, and it was likely that she was not charging for her services, more sharing information and remedies. In 1872 she was finally granted a Medical License and was able to practice legally as a Homeopath in France.
Melanie passed away on 27 May 1878 of “pulmonary catarrh” and was buried beside her beloved husband Samuel Hahnemann at Montmartre in Paris. The 6th edition of the Organon was not published until long after her death, in 1921. By the time Hahnemann’s LM potencies were understood Homeopathy had moved on to much higher centesimal potencies including 1M, 10M and 50M, so Melanie had done exactly the duty that Hahnemann had charged her with – waiting until the world was ready for the higher dilution.