Homeopathic Medical Building #2 – SUI’s Second Medical Opinion.

Homeopathic Medical Building #2 – circa 1910.

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.

In the late 1860s, a prominent Davenport surgeon named Washington F. Peck initiated efforts to create an allopathic medical college in Iowa City. With support from Judge John F. Dillon (a patient of Peck’s and a graduate of the original Davenport medical college) and the Honorable John P. Irish (Iowa City newspaper editor, state legislator, and a member of the university Board of Trustees), the Iowa City medical department gained approval as the official University medical college in 1870. The College of Medicine opened its doors for the first class on Sept. 20, 1870. Read more here.
The ideas behind homeopathic medicine were first introduced in 1796 by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann. The practice was introduced to the United States in 1825 with the first homeopathic school opening in 1835. Throughout the 19th century, dozens of homeopathic institutions appeared in Europe and the United States. During this period, homeopathy was able to appear relatively successful, as other forms of treatment could be harmful and ineffective. In 1870, the Hahnemann Medical Association – homeopathic medicine – was established in Iowa, and by 1871, the first homeopathic coursework was introduced at SUI. In 1872, thirteen local and state organizations and 10,000 people petitioned the Board of Regents for funds to begin a SUI Homeopathic Medical Department, but the Board said, “no.” Yet despite the setback, the homeopathic community pressed on and by 1876, the Board relented, approving the Homeopathic Medical Department to be established.

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.

Here’s North Clinton Street between Iowa Avenue on the south (right) and Jefferson Street on the north (left). The Unitarian Church (Unity Hall) is on the far right w/tower, located on the northeast corner of Clinton & Iowa. The Homeopathic Medical Building #1 was (most likely) built at 14 N. Clinton – the two-story red-brick building set back from the street. Below is a closer look – from left to right – 14 N. Clinton (set back from street level), 12 N. Clinton, 10 N. Clinton, and 8 N. Clinton.
Click here to read more about Clinton Street in the 1890’s.
1882 Homeopathic Medical Class.

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.

The new Homeopathic Medical Building and Hospital opened in 1895, located at the corner of Jefferson and Dubuque Streets.
The Homeopathic Medical Building as viewed from Dubuque Street looking northeast.

(P-0267) (P-0270-d) (P-0323) Penny postcards featuring the Homeopathic Medical Building.

The Homeopathic Medical Building as viewed from Jefferson Street looking south. East Hall (University Hospital) is on the left and the Hall of Pharmacy & Chemistry is on the right.

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.

History of the State University of Iowa: Aspects of the Physical Structure, Katherine V. Bates, MA (Master of Arts) thesis, State University of Iowa, 1949, pp 19-20, 121-22

University of Iowa Libraries: Iowa Digital Library website

The University of Iowa Homeopathic Medical Department (1876-1919) Medical Museum, 2004

Allopathy or Homeopathy, Bonnie Joffe, Feb 2, 2018, thewrightstuff.com

Homeopathy, Wikipedia

Dr. William Max Rohrbacher (1887-1972), IAGenWeb

Irving Weber’s Iowa City Volume 5, Irving Weber, Iowa City Lion’s Club, 1989, p 207

Click here to go on to Building #12 of The Red Brick Campus – Unity Hall…

Click here for a complete INDEX of Our Iowa Heritage stories…