The Alcott Family and Homeopathy

vegetablesThe Alcott family were passionate about social reform, dietary and health reform and clean living. Vegetarianism and new philosophy was at the top of their list. They embraced homeopathy when it became established and influenced many others to do the same, both in America and in England.

Amos Bronson Alcott 1799 - 1888Amos Bronson Alcott 1799 – 1888 was an American teacher and writer. He is remembered for founding a short-lived and unconventional school as well as a utopian community known as “Fruitlands“, and for his association with Transcendentalism. His daughter was Louisa May Alcott.

Bronson Alcott was an active supporter of homeopathy and at the centre of a social circle glittered with homeopaths and their supporters, including Ednah Dow Cheney, Caroline Wells Healey Dall, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Moncure Daniel Conway, Julia Ward Howe, Mercy Bisbee Jackson, Carolina Maria Seymour Severance, the Wesselhoeft family, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Mary Gove Nichols, Mary Baker Eddy and Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis.

Bronson Alcott was a patient of homeopath William Wesselhoeft and he was attended in this last illness by his homeopathic physicians Ballou (?impossible to trace – the only homeopathic Ballou found is Harry Ballou Bryson) and Hosmer… (?Alfred Hosmer of Watertown, ?George Hughes Hosmer, ?Frederick Lucien Hosmer – all homeopaths – or Laura Whiting Hosmerwho becomes a physician in a city hospital‘ and is a correspondent andclose friend of Louisa May Alcott)

Bronson Alcott had known the Hosmers since 1840:

Bronson Alcott and his family moved into an unoccupied cottage on the Hosmer estate in April, 1840, Ralph Waldo Emerson paying the rent. Abby May Alcott was born there in July…

In 1844:

Charles Lane left Fruitlands, as did Bronson Alcott’s wife and children, who went to live with the Lovejoy family in Still River, Massachusetts. They would return to Concord in November, boarding at the Hosmer Home.

William Andrus Alcott converted his cousin, Bronson Alcott, to vegetarianism in 1835 and it was Bronson whose ideas inspired the Concordium community in Richmond (England).

The Alcott House Concordium (England) had existed since 1843 and its members were utopian socialists, influenced partly by Robert Owen, founder of the Co-operative movement , the Bible Christians, James Pierrepont Greaves and the American Vegetarian Society

alcottLouisa May Alcott 1832 – 1888 was an ardent student of homeopathy and she consulted homeopaths Conrad Wesselhoeft, President of the American Institute of Homeopathy, and Rhoda Lawrence who was her companion. Together, these two homeopathic friends enabled Alcott to write.

Aged 17, Alcott caught smallpox and was completely cured by homeopathy. Alcott distrusted the orthodox medical practices, blaming the heavy doses of mercury prescribed for her in 1860 when she contracted typhoid fever for ruining her health, so she relied on Conrad Wesselhoeft for her medical care for the last twenty years of her life.

Alcott was inspired by Emanuel Swedenborg, and Swedenborgians were staunch advocates of homeopathy. Living in Boston, Alcott had many neighbours who were also advocates of homeopathy, including Julia Ward Howe and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (who wrote Dr. Zay, which tells the story of a homeopath who attended the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women).

Alcott assisted in the establishment of the Boston Female Medical College which was founded with the help of local suffragists by homeopaths Israel Tisdale Talbot, David Thayer and Conrad Wesselhoeft. (Conrad Wesselhoeft‘s father William Wesselhoeft was also an eminent physician and homeopath. Conrad Wesselhoeft‘s uncle Robert Wesselhoeft was also a leading homeopath, and Robert had two sons, Conrad and Walter, who were both professors at the homeopathic medical school at Boston University).

Alcott was not fooled by every new cure, testing each to see if it worked, but then returning to homeopathy, her tried and tested method.

The film version of Little Women is true to Alcott’s homeopathic principles when Marmee heals Beth with homeopathic remedies. Alcott’s novel Jo’s Boys was dedicated to her homeopath Conrad Wesselhoeft. In this book, its lead character, Nan, is portrayed as a bright, scientifically minded, young girl who is able to keep calm in a crisis. Nan becomes a homeopathic physician who is also dedicated to women’s equality.

Her father Bronson Alcott was a Transcendentalist and an abolitionist, lending assistance to the Underground Railroad. Bronson Alcott was a member of the Transcendental Club and a friend of homeopathic supporter Ralph Waldo Emerson (who was infatuated with another homeopathic supporter Nathaniel Hawthorne – an Alcott family friend) and Henry David Thoreau, a life long abolitionist and advocate of vegetarianism.

Louisa was also close to Ednah Dow Cheney.

William Andrus Alcott, Alcott’s paternal uncle was one of the founding members of the American Vegetarian Society, and he was associated with homeopathic supporters Harriet Beecher Stowe and Amelia Bloomer.

Alcott’s uncle Samuel Joseph May was also a noted abolitionist.

In her later life, Alcott became an advocate of women’s suffrage and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts.

During her childhood and early adulthood, she shared her family’s poverty and Transcendentalist ideals. In 1840, after several setbacks with the school, her family moved to a cottage on two acres along the Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts….

James T Fields, one of America’s most famous publisher of American writers, and a partner in Ticknor and Fields, had a bookstore known as Parnassus Corner on Old Corner.

His literary salon was packed with the influential people of the time, including Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Bret Harte, Bayard Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edwin Booth, and Nathaniel Parker Willis, who described Parnassus Corner as ‘the hub in which every spoke of the radiating wheel of Boston intellect had a socket..

Ednah Dow Cheney wrote Reminiscences of Ednah Dow Cheney (born Littlehale), Louisa May Alcott: her life, letters, and journals with Louisa May Alcott and Louisa May Alcott, her life, letters and journals, Louisa May Alcott, the children’s friend, The story of the Alcotts.

Alcott’s Home Orchard House website

William Andrus Alcott 1798 - 1859William Andrus Alcott 1798 – 1859 was an advocate of health reform and his prolific outpouring of advice to embrace vegetarianism, natural health care, hydrotherapy and preventative live style became a ‘Health Crusade‘ which paved the way for homeopathy in America with his diatribes against the methods of the old school physicians.

In truth, William Andrus Alcott didn’t like any medicine at all! He advocated sound education and Christian Physiology instead.

Among the most outspoken of American health reformers of the mid-nineteenth century was Dr William A. Alcott of Boston. The health reformers offered an alternative to a public dissatisfied with the heroic practice of most physicians of this period by emphasizing that the individual had it in his or her own power to keep all members of the family in good health by forgoing most of the drugs prescribed by allopathic physicians.

Alcott was particularly concerned with the huge extent of infant mortality caused by “maternal dosing and drugging.” He wrote:

“But whether ignorant or somewhat enlightened, the vast majority of our mothers doctor, more or less, their own children. At least, if they refuse to call it doctoring, they give them a vast amount of small elixirs, cordials, etc. The closets of not a few house-keepers are a complete apothecary’s shop.

“They may, it is true, have smaller parcels then the regular apothecary; but they have almost as great an assortment. And they not only keep it; they administer it. They may not intend it; they do not mean to give much; sometimes they really think they do not give much.

“But it comes to pass, in the course of the year, that much is given by somebody; and I greatly fear that the mother must be held responsible for it….

“But now for the consequences of this maternal dosing; for this it is with which medical men have chiefly to do. Next to bad food and wretched cookery, as I have before intimated, this error is productive of more sickness and premature death than any other.”

William Andrus Alcott was one of the founding members of the American Vegetarian Society, and he was associated with homeopathic supporters Harriet Beecher Stowe and Amelia Bloomer. Alcott was the first President of the American Vegetarian Society and he was influenced by Sylvester Graham and William Metcalf.

He had grown up very close to his cousin, Bronson Alcott, co-founder of the Fruitlands vegetarian commune (later made famous by the presence of Bronson’s 10 year old daughter – Louisa May Alcott)….

William Andrus Alcott wrote American Annals of Education and Instruction, and Journal of Literary … with William Channing Woodbridge and William Russell, The Vegetable Diet As Sanctioned by Medical Men and By Experience in All Ages, The Young Mother, The Young Wife, Or Duties of Woman in the Marriage Relation, The Use of Tobacco: Its Physical, Intellectual, and Moral Effects on The Human System, Adventures of Lot, the Nephew of Abraham, Tea and Coffee, The Young Man’s Guide, The Moral Reformer and Teacher on the Human Constitution, The Young Husband: Or, Duties of Man in the Marriage Relation, The Young Wife, Or Duties of Woman in the Marriage Relation, Confessions of a School Master, The Young Woman’s Guide to Excellence, The Physiology of Marriage, The Young House-keeper: Or, Thoughts on Food and Cookery, Essay on the Construction of School-houses: To which was Awarded the Prize, The Moral Philosophy of Courtship and Marriage, Letters to a Sister, Or, Woman’s Mission: Or, Woman’s Mission, Forty Years in the Wilderness of Pills and Powders, The Mother’s Medical Guide in Children’s Diseases, and many, many more

2 thoughts on “The Alcott Family and Homeopathy”

  1. Sue,

    You and your readers may be intrigued to know that in the making of the film “Little Women,” the producers were so intent on making the film as accurate as possible, they actually “rented” the use of four of my mid-1800s antiquarian homeopathic textbooks for one scene in which one of the girls is treated with homeopathic Belladonna when she contracts scarlet fever.

    For people who may want to read more info about other “Literary Greats” who used and/or wrote about homeopathy, see an excerpt from my book here:
    http://www.homeopathicrevolution.com/pages/excerpt.jsp

  2. Nice. Thank you, good article. I grew up by the Alcott home/museum and heard many stories and tales from Alcott scholars which made quite an impression on me. Frequented Walden pond and explored the many wooded pathways behind the Alcott home. Raised by meat-eating, pill popping, New England Baptists, I was swooned by Ms. Alcott from a young age. I am now a vegetarian with a Transcendentalist heart, and of the homeopathic sort. Thanks, Louisa!

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