Eclectic medicine was a form of alternative medicine that combined usage of herbal medicine ("physio-medicine") with homeopathy, which was active from roughly 1825 to 1939. Eclectic medicine was pioneered by Alexander Holmes Baldridge, Jacob Tidd, and Wooster Beach in the United States.
During the 19th century, several competing major schools of thought existed in US:
- Old school, "regular" or allopathy — tracing their roots to Hippocrates and Galen, this school would eventually develop into modern medicine
- Homeopathy — developed by Samuel Hahnemann
- Botanical, including two sub-schools:
- "Thomsonian", developed by Samuel Thomson, which used a small set of herbal medicines
- Physio-medical, developed by Alva Curtis (a dissident Thomsonian) which used a much wider set of herbal medicines
- Eclectic medicine, which combined homeopathy and physio-medical, but did not restrict itself from using any method
During the early part of the 19th century, "regular medicine" was regarded as often violent and (justifiably) as likely to kill its patients as cure them, including such treatments as bloodletting, strong purgatives, and blistering. Although physicians attempted to be rational, treatment was not strongly evidence-based. It was under these conditions that competing schools prospered. Following advances in surgery, bacteriology and pathology in the latter part of the 19th century, modern medicine began to eclipse these other schools of treatment.
In 1860, there were 4 eclectic medicine colleges, rising to 9 colleges by 1900. In 1915, there were only 4. A patchwork of state medical licensing laws in the early part of the 20th century enabled diploma mills (especially in Missouri) to grant medical degrees that were licensed by special eclectic medicine boards in some states, especially Arkansas and Connecticut, which had a reciprocal agreement with Arkansas. In this manner, quack doctors passed from Missouri to Arkansas to Connecticut and then onward to other states. This practice was protested over 5 years by the Journal of the American Medical Association until Connecticut revoked the licenses of 177 eclectic physicians.
The Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati (EMC) was the last eclectic medicine college and it closed in 1939. By 1900, the curriculum of the EMC included a mixture of courses in the sciences and in modern medicine (including pharmacy and surgery), as well as in materia medica (presumably pertaining to herbal medicine), and "electro-therapeutics" (which might have straddled the border of modern and alternative medicine).
The last dean of the EMC, Byron H. Nellans, went so far as to admit that allopathic schools had "spectacular accomplishments" in research and that eclectics had forfeited their "golden opportunity for doing this research work for the last twenty years."
- John R. Brinkley, who got his degree from the diploma mill Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City.
- Cellular cosmogony, invented by an ecletic medicine practicioner.
- A Profile in Alternative Medicine: The Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati, 1845-1942 by John S. Haller (1999). Kent State University Press, 212 pp. ISBN 0873386108.
- Fads and Quackery in Healing: An Analysis of the Foibles of the Healing Cults, with Essays on Various Other Peculiar Notions in the Health Field by Morris Fishbein (1932) Blue Ribbon Books, 382 pp.