Copeland's Cure; Homeopathy and the War Between Conventional and Alternative Medicine
By Natalie Robins
A lot had happened to medical care since Roy was a boy and had watched his lather survive lung fever by the use of "like cures like." By the rime he was a senior in high school, most dominant doctors had given up bloodletting and purging, and many had begun to reduce the size of their large doses of medications. Tiny doses were on the rise; Thomsonianism was on the decline, although it had been replaced in popularity by Eclecticism, which now offered its botanic remedies primarily in teas and/or in powder form. While eclectics were in as great demand as homeopaths for a long while-there were 10,000 of them in the 1880s - and even had their own schools, the approach lacked any exact systemic formula. Eclecticism didn't have the kind of structure or fixed principles that homeopathy did.
More than 90,000 Michigan men had served in the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, though 110 battles took place in Michigan. As Roscoe Copeland wrote to his children, "When the war starred, Joseph and son [his brother and nephew] enlisted, Joseph started as Colonel and Fred as Captain. Joseph organized a regiment afterwards and made General. He told me if I wanted to enlist I could start as Captain. If this happened before father had died I would have enlisted but as it was I could not leave my mother all alone."
The war dramatically altered people's views about illness. The formation of a United States Sanitary Commission had improved the terrible conditions in many of the battlefield hospitals, where filthy beds, dirty water, and inadequate meals had been the norm. The commission's goal was to create infirmaries that had plenty of fresh air, good food, and clean water. These were always Hahnemann's goals, too. Roy, who would learn to apply these ideas in both sickness and health, described conditions in 1875, when he was a seven-year-old boy: "When cold weather came, the windows were nailed shut and rags tucked around them to keep the air out of the home. The children were sewed into their clothing. Nobody took a bath until the ice went out of the river in the Spring. The result was they died young."
Other medical systems became known. Osteopathy ("bone-suffering") had been developed in America in 1874 (although the first school wasn't opened until 1892). This was an approach to healing that maintained that the human body required a proper alignment of its bones, muscles, and nerves. In 1875, a former homeopathic follower, Mary Baker Eddy, had created the Christian Science movement, which believed that God promoted healing and that medical care of any kind was really unnecessary. Eddy had formulated her beliefs in 1866, but it was not until 1875 that she published them in a book, Science and Health. The AMA considered all these practices "anti-medical." Most Americans did not.
Soon after graduating from Dexter High School on the balmy Friday evening of June 26, 1885, where he gave a class address titled "An Intelligent Purpose Is Necessary to Success," seventeen-year-old Roy taught for four months (his salary was $38 a month) in a one-room schoolhouse in nearby Sylvan Township. He was trying to earn enough money to one day attend medical school. He lived in a boardinghouse and had all his meals prepared by, as he wrote, "my good landlady ... who often cooked spare ribs, boiled potatoes, pork gravy, and salicylic preserved strawberries." (Aspirin would soon be derived from salicylic acid.)
By the spring of 1886, Roy still didn't have enough money for medical school, but he had earned enough to attend some classes at the State Normal School, a training school for teachers in neighboring Ypsilanti. His mother (and later, his sister) studied there (such advanced schooling was very unusual for women from a country area), and his father, as part of his school board duties, "used to go down to the Normal School most every year to hire teachers." Roy majored in literature but was soon attracted to American history. This was not surprising, considering not only his sense of curiosity about his county, his country, and the world, but also his ancestry.
According to a family record, the name Copeland was first mentioned in 1248, in Scotland, where "Copeland castle stands on the north brink of the glen." The name Copeland also shows up early in Germany, where ancestors were called Kopffeldt, Kopf-landr, Coff-Landt, and Coplandt. In 1650, Lawrence Copeland came to America from England, landing at Plymouth; a year later he married Lvdia Townsend in Boston. American Copelands fought not only in the Revolutionary War, but also in the War of 1812, and one of Roy's ancestors married the granddaughter of John Alden, who was immortalized by Henry Wadsworrh Longfellow in his poem "The Courtship of Miles Standish," published in 1858.
In the mid-i8oos, Longfellow, along with his Harvard colleague James Russell Lowell, the poet and critic, had been won over to homeopathy. Many other well-known people had also embraced it: Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of, among other books. The Scarier Letter, in 1850; Daniel Webster, the statesman and orator; William Cullen Bryant, the poet and newspaper editor; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, best known for Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852, which helped awaken the national conscience concerning slavery.
Homeopathy had been dealt a blow when, in 1842, it was attacked by the doctor and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes in a series of widely publicized lectures. Holmes, a colleague of Longfellow's and Lowells at Harvard, and someone who had once trumpeted homeopathy, decided, after careful consideration, that Hahnemann's provings were the result of chance. Now calling the principles he had once endorsed not only "peculiar" but "improbable," he attempted to demolish Hahnemann's entire doctrine by using facts and ridicule. "When one man claims to have established three independent truths [like is cured by like, high dilutions, and the psora] which are about as remote from each other as the discovery of the law of gravitation, the invention of printing, and that of the mariner's compass, unless the facts are overwhelming and unanimous," he said, "the question naturally arises, Is not this man deceiving himself, or trying to deceive others?" He said that when some reputable dominant doctors had tried to reproduce some of Hahnemann's provings for Peruvian Bark, Aconite, and Arnica, among others, they could not, even though everything was done that was supposed to have been done. Holmes said that "in 1835, a public challenge was offered to the best-known homeopathic physician in Paris to select any ten substances asserted to produce the most striking effects; to prepare them himself; to choose one by lot without knowing which of them he had taken, and try it upon himself or an intelligent and devoted Homeopathist, and, waiting his own time, to come forward and tell what substances had been employed. The challenge was at first accepted, but the acceptance retracted before the time of trial arrived. ... I think it is fair to conclude that the catalogues of symptoms attributed in Homeopathic works to the influence of various drugs upon healthy persons are not entitled to any confidence."
At the end of one of his lectures, Holmes asked how anyone "guilty of such pedantic folly" as Hahnemann was could possibly be considered as great as Sir Isaac Newton and his law of gravitation, or William Harvey, the English doctor who was the first to demonstrate the function of the human heart? But thousands of Americans-"the unprofessional public," Holmes called them-saw in Hahnemann a mind as great as any of the greats, and "a very extraordinary man," as Roy Copeland would later say, "one whose name will descend to posterity as the exclusive founder of an original system of medicine, as ingenious as many that preceded it."
Although his father always made a comfortable enough living as a businessman, especially considering his farming background, there was never money for extras. Roscoe Copeland, while steady and sure (he was president of the village for many years, as well as a member of its school board and head of the cemetery association), was a romantic. And as important as education was in the Copeland family, a major university was out of reach, even for a prospering rural family. While Roy was still in high school, where he took what was called the "Latin-Scientific course," his father bought part interest in a Hour mill, which did quite well for a rime until disaster struck. As Roscoe described it, "The farmers had commenced raising a new white wheat called the Clawsing. A good yielder and fine-looking, but when we came to mill it, it proved to be a very poor bread Hour. After the bread makers had one try at it they did not want any more and all that good trade we had worked up was blotted out. The final result was it ruined all the mills on Huron River, and a good many of them never revived." Roscoe then went into the grain business, since he said he had received "such a good education" in it after his mill fiasco, and he remained in that business successfully for many years.