Eclectic doctors: They chose any means available to help their patients

Rush Medical College opened in 1843 in Chicago, IL, with 22 students.  The school was named for Dr Benjamin Rush, who signed the Declaration of Independence and was known as the Father of American Psychiatry.  A doctor with “Rush” training was highly respected on the prairie of the American West during the 19th century.

At that time there were a lot of quacks running around hawking their wares and promising instant miracle cures.  Anybody could call themselves a doctor and many did, selling ointments, salves, and other concoctions made from turpentine, creosote, and even heroin.  However, the mainstream doctors at the time weren’t much better.  Their course of action was bleeding, purging, and blistering.  No wonder people turned to the quacks.

Some physicians known as “Eclectics” followed Native American tradition and relied on herbs and other home remedies.  Due to the French and other explorers, by the year 1830 there was a large catalogue of plants with information on their medicinal uses.  These Eclectics, or reformers, who rejected the lancet and mercury, had plants growing on the American prairie readily at their disposal.

This movement existed from 1825 to 1939. Constantine Rafinesque referred to this particular group of physicians as Eclectics because they chose any means beneficial to their patients instead of following prescribed standard methods of the day. The leaders of the movement were interested in researching all possibilities and were never able to nail down a certain methodology.  They eventually ceased to exist but their approach was popular with the people and helped to change the medical profession.

Although my Great Grandfather graduated from the Rush Medical College, he is listed as an “Eclectic Physician” in the Iowa State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1882-1883.  It is too bad his life was cut short because according to his obit, he was good at what he did.

“Dr. J. C. Beard died on Monday morning, September 5, 1892, after a long illness, at the home of his father in Washington Township.  He was aged 37 years, 2 months and three days.  Dr. Beard was born July 2, 1855.  He was brought up in Ringgold County.  He read medicine in the office of Dr. S. Bailey of this place, and in March 1891 graduated in the Rush Medical College at Chicago.  In 1888 he married Miss Howell, daughter of W.I.F. Howell.  He practiced for a time at Lyons, Kansas, but since last May, at Tingley, Iowa.  He fell prey to tuberculosis.  It had been making insidious progress for years though serious symptoms have been developed more recently.   Dr. Beard gave promise of taking high rank in his profession, being a good student and possessing in a marked degree the aptitudes essential to success.  He was a self-possessed and well poised character, and made himself available to all.  His most intimate friends knew him to be clear headed, possessing good habits and principles.  He leaves a wife and four children, three daughters and one son.  The wife, father and friends have much sympathy in their loss.  The community feels that a life of great promise has been cut short.  The funeral took place Tuesday, September 6 from his father’s home, and the services were conducted by Rev. BD Himebaugh and the remains were buried in the north cemetery.”

As an aside, the photo is not of my Great Grandfather.  I could not find a photo of him.  This photo is of his parents, my great, great, grandparents. My great great grandfather, Alexander, died at age 77, seven years later. His claim to fame was being an elected official and moving to five different cities across Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.  His wife is Miss Harriet Jones whose “people” came to New Hampshire from England in the early 1600s.