For much of the 19th century, there were two approaches to the way doctors treated sickness and disease: allopathic medicine vs. homeopathic medicine. In 1876, the University decided to add a Homeopathic Medical Department to the school’s curriculum, but not without a lot of controversy. Built in 1878, the first Homeopathic Medical Building was a two-story red brick structure built on a small lot on Clinton Street. In 1895, a new, and much larger, red-brick Homeopathic Hospital and Medical Building was ready for occupancy.
Location: Built in 1895, the Homeopathic Medical Building #2 was situated directly north of the Hall of Pharmacy & Chemistry – on the southeast corner of Dubuque and Jefferson Streets.
For centuries, we human beings have disagreed greatly on the best approach to healing our bodies when we become sick. Westernized medicine generally takes a practical, scientific approach – i.e. “follow the science” – while other cultures will vary, believing that there are alternative ways to cure human sickness. Throughout the 19th century, there were two differing models or approaches that were popular among those in the medical profession.
The terms used to define these two differing approaches to medicine are 1) allopathy – or allopathic – and 2) homeopathy – or homeopathic. And depending on who you ask, you will find, even today, strong preferences for one or the other. One author, who favors the homeopathic approach, defines the differences this way…
Allopathic medicine, or Allopathy, implements the use of pharmacological drugs and other physical interventions to either treat or suppress diseases and health conditions. Homeopathic medicine, or Homeopathy, encourages healing and wellness by examining the root cause of the illness rather just treating the symptoms.
But, when you ask a doctor who prefers the allopathic approach, you’ll find this generous definition of homeopathic medicine…
Homeopathy is a pseudo-scientific system of alternative medicine. Its practitioners believe that a substance that causes symptoms of a disease in healthy people can cure similar symptoms in sick people. Homeopathic preparations are termed remedies and are made using homeopathic dilution. Practitioners claim that such preparations, upon oral intake, can treat or cure disease.
From 1870 to 1901, the SUI Allopathic Medicine Department was housed in South Hall and the Medical Building – both located on University Square directly south of Old Capitol (above left), while the Homeopathic Medicine Department – when finally funded in 1878 – built a small two-story facility directly east of University Square on an empty lot on North Clinton Street.
Katherine Bates, author of an insightful look at the earliest facilities of the University, writes in 1949 about that decision…
Included in the ($47,457) appropriation of 1876 were funds for the establishment of a Department of Homeopathy, but due to the financial situation at that time, the Legislature was not enthusiastic about an immediate building program. It was recognized, nevertheless, that the Medical Department was sorely in need of additional space. The Regents in 1878 granted $1600 for a Homeopathic Medical Building which was located on Clinton Street and served the Homeopathic Department until the construction of the new hospital on Jefferson Street.
Bates continues… Upon a small lot on Clinton Street, which was obtained through the foreclosure of a mortgage, stood the Homeopathic Medical Building, a two-story brick structure with dimensions of forty by sixty feet. Dr. Allen C. Cowperthwait, Dean of the Homeopathy Department, made the initial request for a building to be used by his department in June, 1878. The matter was turned over to the committee on Buildings and Grounds, D. N. Richardson C. W. Slagle and John W. Henderson, who reported as follows:
“In the matter of the petition of the Dean of the Homeopathic Department of the State University, for a building to be erected on a vacant lot on the East side of Clinton Street belonging to the University, for the sole use and occupation of said department your committee would report that they favor such proposition and would recommend an appropriation therefor of not exceeding sixteen hundred dollars provided about eleven hundred dollars of unappropriated funds belonging to the Homeopathic Department may be used as a part of said appropriation. Said building to be erected under the direction of the Executive Committee.”
In 1878, the first students graduated from the SUI Homeopathic Department, and by 1880, there were 47 undergraduate and 9 graduate students in the program. An additional appropriation of $1500 in 1890 brought improvements to the building. Built in 1878, it remained in use by the Homeopathic Department until 1894 when the new Homeopathic Hospital was ready for occupancy.
Meanwhile, as the Homeopathic Department continued to grow, so did the controversy between the allopathic and homeopathic approaches to medicine. In 1877, the homeopathic students were required to attend allopathic medical lectures at South Hall despite the contradictions in application. In 1883, the Homeopathic Department responded by increasing their academic standards, doing their best to keep ahead of the controversies surrounding their “unorthodox” approach to medicine.
In mid-1880’s, the Department filed a request with the Board for $30,000 for a homeopathic hospital – but it was denied. In 1887, a second request for a hospital was filed; and again, denied, forcing the Department to rent space elsewhere for a small hospital. Finally, in 1890, the Regents, seeing the extraordinary growth of the school, relented, allocating $15,000 for a combined homeopathic school building and hospital. During the 1894-95 school year, while the rented hospital saw 139 admissions and 96 outpatients, construction finally began on the new facility on Jefferson Street.
By the turn of the century, the practice of homeopathic medicine was beginning to wane, with the last exclusively homeopathic medical school in the U.S. closing in 1920. The University’s Homeopathic School closed in 1919, and one of its doctors, William Max Rohrbacher, purchased a larger home – 811 East College Street – converting all but the back section into a homeopathic hospital named Rohrbacher’s Sanitarium. Although the hospital was destroyed by fire in 1931, Rohrbacher and his wife rebuilt it – making it functional until his death in 1972.
After the Homeopathic Medical Building #2 on Jefferson Street closed in 1919, the building remained as a SUI Hospital Annex until, in 1929, it went up in flames. The remains of the three-story, red brick facility were torn down soon after the fire, but because the land was part of Iowa City’s original City Park, the parcel sat empty as green space until the 1960’s. Irving Weber recalls that transition on the corner of Jefferson & Dubuque Streets…
So, here’s to the Homeopathic Medical Building #2 – SUI’s Second Medical Opinion . . . gone, but never forgotten.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.