The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and discrepancies

by Alexander Kotok, M.D.
On-line version of the Ph.D. thesis improved and enlarged
due to a special grant of the Pierre Schmidt foundation.

2.2.2 A New power - the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy. Its first steps.

As we saw above, the decline of the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians had been prepared by permanently neglecting the rights of its non-full members. Honorary and "incomplete" members, who financially supported the activity of the Society, lacked the right to participate in decision-making on main problems. The hard core of the growing opposition supposed that the beginning of the failure was in the defective organization of the Society:

The reason for the impoverishment of the Society [...] consisted not in the indifference of the adherents of homeopathy to the successful development and to the spread of the Hahnemannian method of treatment; it was their lack of sympathy for the Regulations of the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians [...]. The activity of the Society served the purpose of being a scientific body; therefore the Society was supposed to be a society of scientists. This mission of the Society explains the circumstance that only physicians, pharmacists and veterinarians enjoy the right to be granted full membership [...]. [Nevertheless], many of the adherents of homeopathy recognize that it is the practical and not the scientific component of homeopathy which contributes significantly to the success of the spread of the homeopathic method of treatment. The majority of the followers of homeopathy are more interested in the facts of the healing of diseases with homeopathy, but not in the discussions of homeopaths and allopaths regarding homeopathy as a science. While all the efforts of homeopathic physicians to prove scientifically to their allopathic counterparts the truth of Hahnemann's doctrine were without any success, the public was becoming convinced of the practical benefits of the new medicine, and homeopathy started to spread Russia-wide41.


This practical benefit of a new method of treatment [...] appeared to be the chief reason which induced the establishment of a new society aiming at founding and maintaining homeopathic out-patient clinics and hospitals, where homeopathic treatment might be provided for a moderate payment or even free to the poor. In order to achieve this goal all members of the society, without difference in age and gender, who will pay annual fees to the society, will enjoy all rights as full members, including [...] the right to participate in meetings42.

Dr Pavel SOLOV'EV (1854-1911)

Among the 96 founders of the Society of the Followers of Homeopathy were many counts and countesses, princes and princesses, representatives of high military ranks, architects, railway engineers, many higher officials (councilors of different ranks in civil service) and noblemen, a professor at conservatory, a sculptor, the widow of Nicholas Grech43 and the widow of Vasily Deriker, Sofia. Although there is no information on some of the persons listed as founders, their family names are well known both from Russian history and the history of homeopathy in Russia, for example: Countess A. P. Mordvinova, Count A. A. Mordvinov, N. K. Dal'44. There are six members who bear the family name Solov'ev. Though this name has been widespread in Russia, there is no doubt that at least two of those Solov'evs were the relatives of Dr. Pavel V. Solov'ev (1854—1911), the only founder-physician — Constantine V. Solov'ev, later a head of the pharmacy at the Society, and Vasily V. Solov'ev, later (since 1886) a physician to the Society, were both Pavel's brothers45.

Omitting the whole text of the new "Regulations" approved on May 2, 1882 by the Minister of Interior and counting 51 paragraphs, which mainly reflected petty bureaucratic regulations, I mention here only the most important ones. The Society was founded with the only aim of providing medical support to the persons of all ranks for a moderate payment or free of charge for the poor sick, through establishing and maintaining at the society's expense, homeopathic hospitals and out-patient clinics (§1). The Society is comprised of the founders and an unlimited number of full and honorary members (§2). No limitations in gender or rank, but only payment to the Society enables one to become a member (§4). The financial basis of the Society is provided by donations and membership dues, while different programs and activities (lectures, concerts, etc.) for the society's benefit, are allowed (§6). The full members have to pay 3 rubles annually (§7); the honorary members have to pay 100 rubles, afterward they are exempt from any further payment (§8). The Board of the Society is comprised of 6 persons elected for three years at a common meeting (§16). These persons manage the Society without any reward (§20) and are in charge of all finances and the property of the Society (§21). Chairman, Trustee and Secretary are elected from among the Board's members by themselves (§22). All the problems related to the Society are solved at the common meetings (§35) which are held in January. Special meetings may be called at the demand of 10 members (at least) of the Society or by the Board (§34), and deal exclusively with the problems for which the meeting was called (§39). In order to put into practice the aims claimed in §1, the Society has the right to purchase, lease and rent both real estate and movable property (§45)46.

In the year 1881, a dispensary, "the dispensary of St. Archangel Mikhail" as well as a pharmacy at the Society were opened. In the §1 of the "Regulations" of the dispensary, it was stressed that the dispensary "is being opened with the aim of making available medical support with homeopathic drugs for the people of modest means for a temperate payment, and free of charge for the poor sick". It was planned to divide this institution into two units, for out- and in-clinic clientele (§2) and most of the 40 paragraphs of the dispensary's "Regulations" dealt with the managing of the in-patient department47, but in fact the establishment of the in-patient unit became only possible as late as in 1898, when Alexander II Hospital was opened. The dispensary and its pharmacy were opened on June 1, 1882, at Sadovaia Street, 1848 in the presence of the St. Petersburg Mayor. The Society was blessed by Archimandrite Tikhon:

We [...] should believe in the facts doubtless testified concerning the success [...] of homeopathic treatment, revealing itself sometimes in cases when the "ruling" [i.e. allopathic] medicine proved to be powerless. There is no place for any doubt [...] that even an infinitesimal dose is effective, which does not represent something impossible. Our Lord Jesus Christ said once to his pupils: 'If you have the belief [...] then command the fig tree to uproot itself and replant itself into the sea, it will obey you...'49.

One should note that the main vector of all the activity of the new society was demonstratively opposite to that of the old one. The old society claimed its chief aim to be a scientific society, with the medical activity exclusively serving this aim; the new society of the followers of homeopathy concentrated on the founding and managing of homeopathic medical institutions without any mention of "science". Moreover, in order to stress this non-scientific trend, the newly established society demonstratively called its dispensary after the name of Archangel Mikhail and invited a high-ranking clergyman to greet the opening of a new facility. This liberal lay approach bore fruit very quickly. In its first years, the society enjoyed significant donations and membership dues. So, early in 1882, 25,607 rubles in donations and 2,405 rubles from dues had been received. In addition to these sums, the income was obtained from the activity of the clinic (871 rubles) and the pharmacy (6033 rubles) in that year50, and though these were hardly sufficient to cover the expenditures of the society in 1881—1882, the original approach designed in order to increase the number of members and to stimulate charitable activity, proved to be correct. The year 1883 saw an increase in all the items of income, including those connected with membership dues (the number of the members grew from 260 in 1882, to 518 in 1883) and the activity of the pharmacy raised 12,068 rubles in 188351.

Apart from this, while feeling its power, the new society in the name of its chairman, D. Zhuravsky, proposed to their colleagues belonging to the physicians' society whose chairman was then Dr. B. Herring, that they join the new organization. Unfortunately, this part of the history of both societies seems to be poorly documented. Though main points of the planned merger were approved by the members of both societies, the unification did not materialize. After requesting to see the statistics regarding the financial position and the number of visits made to the dispensary, the chairman of the Society of Homeopathic Physicians on behalf of the society declined unification on the ground that it was the Society of the Followers of Homeopathy which asked for unification and not the Society of Physicians. Moreover, in his letter dated December 10, 1882, he accused the Society of the Followers of Homeopathy of offering secret Mattei's "electro-homeopathic" drugs for sale52.

Thus, the Society of Homeopathic Physicians concludes that the aim of the Society of the Followers of Homeopathy is distribution and flourishing of Mattei's medicines, and not of homeopathy. Finding it to be not fitting to its dignity to amalgamate with the Society of Mattei's medicines, the Society of the Homeopathic Physicians asked me to notify you that all the negotiations regarding joining up should be abandoned53.

At its 3rd Common Meeting held on April 3, 1883 the lay Society in turn decided that all the negotiations with the society of physicians have to be stopped54.

I have to acknowledge that this story of an attempt at unification seems to be strange enough. Did the lay followers of homeopathy indeed wish to separate from the physicians' society in order to be joined with them only two years later? On the other hand, the reasons for abandoning the negotiations are ridiculous. Both the problem of providing statistics and the problem of Mattei's drugs could have been discussed and then solved. The only logical explanation I may imagine is that the financial situation of the Society of the Homeopathic Physicians was so bad, that the Society had to find any justification, even a simple one, in order to discontinue the negotiations and not to be ashamed with the publication of its own statistics. One should not forget also that behind the Society of Physicians was Fedor Flemming, the owner of the Central homeopathic pharmacy, who probably was afraid of a competition with the new pharmacy at the Society of the Followers of Homeopathy. This is indirectly proved when reading the paper published in 1884 and signed "A naval doctor" (Lekar' morskoi), in "Gomeopatichesky vestnik", issued by Fedor Flemming and edited by himself in 1883—86:

Speaking of St. Petersburg homeopaths, one cannot leave without attention a painful point of our Russian homeopathy. The existing Society of homeopathic physicians here [in St. Petersburg], being itself not so numerous [in membership], recently divided into two [...] owing to the founding of a new Society of the Followers of Homeopathy. The aim and ground for such a split are absolutely incomprehensible, but it [the split] brings doubtless harm to our common affair. [...]. The competition with the Central homeopathic pharmacy is impossible, for the drugs are very cheap. We repeat that the aim and reasons of this disintegration between homeopaths are absolutely unintelligible and may be explained exclusively by reasons which have nothing to do with homeopathy55.

Naturally, both a mysterious "naval doctor" (I guess it was a member of the Society of Physicians Dr. Vladimir Sorokin (1830—1893), the translator of the 5th edition of "Organon" into Russian, who indeed had been a naval doctor) and Fedor Flemming were well aware of the real reasons that led to this disintegration, but preferred to charge the laymen for "reasons which have nothing to do with homeopathy". Such an approach was ridiculous. Although Flemming's Central homeopathic pharmacy provided a financial ground for the Society of Homeopathic Physicians, this overidentification of the pharmacy with the Society made it difficult for the Society to develop further. The Society virtually lacked financial freedom and was completely dependent upon Flemming and its pharmacy. Nevertheless, the influence and services of Flemming were so great, that nobody in the Society for a long time tried to alter this situation. Only in the 1890s, with the emergence of a new generation of homeopathic physicians headed by Dr. Lev Brazol, and the establishment of a new pharmacy in 1892, the situation started changing. Till then the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians remained in deep crisis, it almost completely lost its influence, and remained narrow and hostile to the to Russian homeopathic mainstream, represented by the lay movement.

2.2.3 St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy - the Main Russian Homeopathic Society

Thanks to a rich collection of books, brochures, pamphlets, reports, etc., left by the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy, we have a clear enough picture of its activity. In fact, this was the only Russian homeopathic society whose activity may be followed and evaluated with certainty.

Willmar Schwabe (1839—1917)

As distinct from the physicians' society, the newly born lay society from the very beginning managed independent energetic activity. In October 1881, two founders of the society, Alexander Bazilevsky and Yacov Grigor'ev, took a trip to Germany and visited in Leipzig Dr. Willmar Schwabe (1839—1917), the owner of a homeopathic pharmaceutical empire, and there received long-term credit for the purchase of homeopathic medicines for the future homeopathic pharmacy at the society. In January, 1882, the society hired a pharmacist and sent him to Dr. Schwabe to be taught the methods of preparing and keeping homeopathic medicines. The rapid increase of the finances of the Society in 1882 became possible thanks to a generous gift of 25,000 rubles bequeathed to the Society by an honorary member of Society, P. Yacovlev. On June 1, 1882 the dispensary and the pharmacy of the Society were opened.

The first statistics on the clinic covered the period from June 1,1882 to January 1, 1883. The clinic was visited 3588 times, 683 of them were free of charge. Although the pharmacy provided free medicines for an amount of 269 rubles, the income was considerable enough. The society earned 871 rubles from visits paid 30 kopeck each and 6033 rubles for the medicines sold56. Yet the income was hardly sufficient to cover the current expenditures. Nevertheless, the next year, 1883, saw an improved financial situation for the Society. The Archangel Michael dispensary was visited 6490 times, whilst the income of the pharmacy reached 12,068 rubles. The number of the members of the Society grew from 260 in 1881 to 51857.

Table of the activity of the St. Archangel Mikhail dispensary and the pharmacy of the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy58
Years Number of patients' visits Drugs given
(in rubles)
Books sold
(in rubles)
Paying Free Sold Free
1882 2905 683 6033 269 527
1883 4615 1875 12068 660 2001
1884 4785 2911 13784 754 1284
1885 6556 3323 14798 934 3186
1886 8520 3673 17879 1076 1555
1887 8669 4336 20714 1359 1340
1888 9320 4776 22690 1520 1197
1889 11440 5420 24765 1799 1805
1890 12560 7414 29099 2232 1729
1891 13080 8556 30695 2786 1670
1892 13570 9150 40427 3419 2094
1893 15000 9314 35783 3415 2293
1894 15335 12485 42535 5483 2315
1895 15705 13130 40548 5516 2943
1896 16145 9270 45169 2495 2743
1897 17594 8888 44915 3931 2000
1898 16376 8925 42570 3109 2192
1899 14598 7817 39723 2065 2326
1900 15486 7652 39673 1581 4255
1901 15960 7649 36631 1545 4229
1902 18525 3811 - 1381 -
1903 - - - - -
1904 16290 - - - -
1905 14846 - 28304 - -
1906 14346 6556 28878 2841 2458
1907 12872 5175 27224 2156 1506
1908 11118 3963 31402 1583 882
1909 11652 3963 28979 1597 870
1910 12732 3272 27452 1387 1387
1911 11741 3230 28376 1073 1416
1912 10575 1602 27909 1101 1138
1913 11363 1838 27841 1112 962
1914 13006 1529 24180 997 982
1915 13024 818 32703 677 717
1916 13198 563 43214 2551 751
1917 8868 112 43772 2235 54

Tsar Nicholas II Dr Nicholas GABRILOVICH (1865—1941)

Thus, since the end of the 1890s, in the clinics at the Society some 15-20 thousand visits average were made yearly. The percentage of the free-of-charge visits fluctuated between 10-50%.

The strongly pronounced charitable character of the Society led the government to recognize the Society as a charitable institution. As the Society never referred to this decision as providing it with any additional rights or privileges, I am inclined to think that adding the word "Charitable" to its name was merely seen as evidence of an appreciation of the aims and merits of the Society.

It appears that the peak of visits and of income from the pharmacy was reached in 1895, when the clinic at the Society was visited 28,835 times (13,130 of them free) and the pharmacy sold drugs worth 40,548 rubles. Probably further growth was restrained by the relatively small number of physicians employed by the Society (4-6 doctors) and from the division of power resulting from the opening of the hospital in 1898. It is worth to add here that in the last pre-war year, i.e. in 1913, the pharmacy sent 5460 parcels with medicines Russia-wide, and 3309 advises were given by the Society's physicians to non-St. Petersburg correspondents59. It is also known that in 1913, the Society hired 8 physicians60.

Dr Anton ROGACHEVSKY (1870—ca.1926)

Among other facilities run by the Society, I also have to mention the sanatorium in Sestroretsk (a small town some 40 kilometers from St. Petersburg) with 22 rooms, which was rented to the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy in 1905, with a plot of land, according to the Highest Will of the Tsar Nicholas II. I have little information about the Sanatorium except that it was, since 1911, a matter of constant disagreements and conflicts within the Society. First the sanatorium was successfully ruled by the leading physician of the Society, Dr. Pavel Solov'ev and brought 5,000 rubles of income yearly61. After Dr. Solov'ev died in 1911, the income rapidly decreased. It was then decided by the Board of the Society in 1913 to lend the sanatorium to the wife of Dr. Nicholas Gabrilovich (1865—1941), Ol'ga, a member of the Board, for 10 years.

This decision was strongly criticized by another member of the Society, Dr. Anton Rogachevsky (1870—ca.1926) and by his adherents who saw in that decision a direct violation of the interests of the Society. I have failed to find any other information on this matter.

The Society ceased to exist, like other Russian homeopathic societies, under the Bolsheviks in 1918.

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Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001