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.

2.3.1 (iii) Hospitals in the 1870s onwards

Other "independent" attempts (i.e., not connected with the activity of any society), were made in the late 1860s and the early 1870s. Dr. Tadeusz Wieniawsky (1794—1884), who had settled in Warsaw in 1865, enjoyed the benevolence of an influential Russian official in Poland, a nephew of Alexander Pushkin, Lev Pavlishchev (1834—?), who edited the main Warsaw newspaper "Dziennik Warszawski" (Warsaw Diary) during the period from 1865 to 1871 and provided Wieniawsky with free access to it184. Wieniawsky did not fail to take this opportunity to propagandize homeopathy as much as it was possible. According to a proposal of the medical faculty of the Warsaw University, he got in 1867 a department for eight beds at the St. Spirit Hospital (Szpital S-go Ducha) to treat with homeopathy. 106 patients were hospitalized in the department from September 11, 1867 to March 27, 1869; 93 patients recovered, 7 patients were discharged (?)185, whilst 6 patients died. The mortality rate was 5,66%. "This result seemed to the hospital authority to be especially remarkable. It was thus decided to increase the number of beds... but a little later. [...] The homeopathic department was closed"186.

The department was never opened again as a homeopathic unit. Worse yet, it was later transformed into a room for lectures on physiology. When trying to explain those strange events, Bojanus refers to Dr. Wieniawsky himself. According to Wieniawsky, he failed to be "politically correct", as he noted in his report published in the press that some patients who had been recognized in the allopathic departments as incurable, were successfully treated with homeopathy. Bojanus tried to explain:

It goes without saying that such an 'indelicacy' on behalf of Wieniawsky could not be disregarded by the faculty that so obligingly presented a department at Wieniawsky's disposal. [...] There is nothing impossible in this story. We cannot expect another policy on behalf of our opponents187.

It is known, according to the recently published article by B. Plonka-Syroka188, that the relation toward homeopathy of the Polish university circles had been rather negative during the whole century, being similar to that of the European universities circles in general. This story of a homeopathic department in a university clinic can hardly be interpreted with great clarity. If we accept the point of Bojanus that "we cannot expect another policy on behalf of our opponents", one would find it difficult to explain why the faculty nevertheless initiated homeopathic treatment in its wards. Neither Brzezinski189 nor Plonka-Syroka considered with one single line this story in their papers on the history of homeopathy in Poland. The name of Dr. Wieniawsky was mentioned by both authors only in connection with his activity in the late 1870s as Chief physician to the dispensary at the Warsaw homeopathic pharmacy. I cannot assume either that the faculty was forced in some way to open the homeopathic department. This assumption seems impossible not only because this would have contradicted the policy of the government's non-intervention in the university's professional matters (especially in Poland!), but also because Dr. Wieniawsky did not complain to any obstacles he met during the period he was treating in the department. Thus, the decision to found a homeopathic unit was absolutely spontaneous. Also the "politically incorrect" behavior of Dr. Wieniawsky does not seem me to be sufficient to explain the decision to close the department. Most probably, some important details of this story were omitted either by Bojanus or by Wieniawsky. In any case, the results of the 1,5-year existence of the homeopathic department should be recognized as doubtless satisfactory.

Dr Eduard Von GRAUVOGL (1811—1877)

Another attempt of the establishing a homeopathic unit in a hospital was made in the Russian Empire in 1871. Although this attempt is characterized by Bojanus as "one of the most interesting episodes in the history of homeopathy in Russia"190, I found it interesting mainly as related to the involvement of one of the most famous homeopaths of that time, Eduard von Grauvogl. Count N. Adlerberg (1819—1892), the governor-general in Finland, which was then a province of the Russian Empire, offered Dr. Grauvogl to settle in Helsingfors in order to deliver lectures on homeopathy at the university and to homeopathically treat in a local military hospital. Bojanus published in his book a detailed report on the activity of Dr. Grauvogl, including a report of the latter written by him in response to Bojanus' personal inquiry191. Homeopathic treatment in two rooms of the hospital had continued for some 7 months and was interrupted by a sudden illness of the Patron, Count Adlerberg. Grauvogl was personally entrusted by the Tsar with the treatment of the Count and had to leave the hospital. During the period of 7 months, 81 patients were treated. 52 recovered, 10 were passed to the allopathic unit and 14 remained receiving treatment. This story is briefly described in the chapter "Allopathy vs. Homeopathy".

Moreover, an endeavor by Dr. Vladimir von Ditman in 1882, proved unsuccessful. During an epidemic of diphtheria, he requested the Russian Red Cross to open a homeopathical unit where he would treat diphtheria with Mercurius cyanatus. Since several writings by him in 1881—83192, had been welcomed by an educated public and were discussed in the higher strata193, the Red Cross satisfied his request, and opened a unit of 40 beds for homeopathic treatment at Nicholaev hospital in St. Petersburg. Allopathic circles met this decision with extreme indignation194. Accordingly, throughout the epidemic only one agonizing patient was referred to Ditman's hospital by St. Petersburg physicians. In January, 1883, von Ditman notified the Red Cross that since October 15, 1882, the hospital had had no patient referrals. It was then decided to close the hospital.

Two other small facilities, one run by Dr. Mishin in Moscow in 1893, and one by the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians in 1895, were also to provide in-patient homeopathic treatment. Nevertheless, I suppose they should be regarded as small in-patient facilities, not as hospitals, both because of their small size and their location in some private accommodations. There is almost no extant information about their activities.

2.3.2 Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital


Since 1884, after being convinced that no further unification with the "mother" society was possible, the Board of the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy considered the possibility of opening a homeopathic hospital.

[...] Recognizing that with the founding of a hospital [...] the Society would bring a giant benefit to homeopathy and provide the means for the homeopathic method of treatment to be spread more quickly and more successfully. [...]. Actually, one can expect from the clinic results evaluated numerically [...] which may influence anyone who has neither time to study homeopathy nor seen cases of its application [...]; in the homeopathic hospital those physicians doubting about homeopathy, would have the possibility to be convinced of the veracity of the law of similars195.

Nevertheless, the Society would not have been able for long to afford the founding and maintaining of such an extremely expensive facility as the hospital. The needed funds were received rather suddenly. After the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II (on March 1, 1881) by the terrorists of "Narodnaia Volia", the railway engineers Russia-wide initiated a collection of money in order to build a hospital in memory of the assassinated Tsar. During a three-year period the sum of 58,800 rubles was collected by the Temporary Committee. Although being considerable, this sum was hardly sufficient for the building of a hospital. The Temporary Committee had to assess the different proposals submitted concerning the use of the money, and to choose the most appropriate project. This was fortunate for homeopaths for two reasons. First of all, there appeared a theoretical possibility of getting such a considerable sum for the establishment of a homeopathic hospital, whilst the sum was doubtless insufficient for the establishment of a similar allopathic facility. Secondly, one should not forget that from the very beginning the Society enjoyed a large representation of railway engineers of different ranks196, including the Ministers of Communications in 1880s-1900s (Possiet, Krivoshein, Witte, Khil'ko) among its members. Thus, it was rather predictable that "The proposal to transfer money collected to the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy met the greatest sympathy [of the Temporary Committee]"197. After a round of deliberations, the Board of the Society and the Temporary Committee worked out the conditions enabling the transfer of the money to the homeopaths. The preliminary agreement had to be approved by the Ministry of Interior. It goes without saying that the pro-allopathic medical representatives of the Medical Council at the Ministry of Interior strongly resisted the transfer on the ground that this contradicted the initial intention. In turn, the Temporary Committee found no contradiction, as it had not been announced beforehand what kind of treatment should be provided at the facility. The problem was transmitted from the Ministry of Interior to the Board of Ministers, then to the Tsar. On October 18, 1885, the Highest permission to establish the Alexander II homeopathic hospital was received. On May 8, 1886, the final agreement between the Temporary Committee and the Board of the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy was signed. According to that agreement, the Society pledged to have 6 beds free for those people belonging to the Ministry of Communications (no difference in rank). The Ministry of Interior approved this agreement on November 5, 1888198.


The Society spent the next several years in strengthening its connection with the Tsar's court by attracting to patronize homeopathy Rear-Admiral Vladimir Basargin (1838—1893) and a member of the General Staff, General Dmitry Tsikeln (?—1902) (both were elected to be members of the Board of the Society in 1888). Also the appointment of Ivan Durnovo (1834—1903), who had been an honorary member of the Society since 1886, as Minister of Interior in 1889, was of great importance. In 1890, the Society, which had now the right to build a hospital but did not own the land for this purpose, turned to the Tsar Alexander III asking him to cede a plot of land at Litseiskaia Street, in the center of the city. Minister Durnovo submitted the request of the homeopaths to the Tsar and the needed plot was obtained. The Tsar agreed to sell it for 6,000 rubles with the terms that building would start no later than 2 years after the plot's transfer. Although the sum was not too considerable, nevertheless, it was nearly covered by a 5,000 rubles donation made by the Tsar several years later, in 1893, in order to promote the building. The hospital was built according to the project and under the supervision of another supporter of homeopathy, architect Pavel Suzor (1844—1919), an honorary member of the Society since 1899. This person deserves several words. A recently published book "Architects of St. Petersburg of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries" devoted a chapter to Pavel Suzor. Summering this chapter, its author V. Isachenko stresses: "In fact, Suzor was the chief architect of St. Petersburg, representing the capital and Russia abroad. Being French by birth, he was a real Russian patriot"199.

The general budget of the building amounted to 120,000 rubles. The rest of money needed was collected by the Society during the 1890s.

The Alexander II Hospital comprised 35 beds, including men's and women's departments, and a dispensary. It opened on April 19, 1898200. The first patients were received on October, 1898. The full account of the hospital's and dispensary's activity is represented in the table below.

From the opening of the hospital to 1911, the Chief Physician of the Hospital was Dr. Pavel Solov'ev. One should recognize that without Pavel Solov'ev and his private connections with some important persons at the Tsar court, the hospital would never have been built. From 1911 to 1917, the hospital was managed by Lev Brazol. As distinct from stormy events which had happened in the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy, the fate of the hospital was rather quiet. I suppose that the presence of such a wonderful organizator as Dr. Lev Brazol together with the need to employ doctors from the competing society, limited Solov'ev's aspirations to dictate his will.

Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital, general view.

The last three years of the existence of the hospital are poorly documented. On September 27, 1914 the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy and the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians established a military hospital (lazaret) in the Alexander II Homeopathic hospital, while the doctors' society contributed 10,000 rubles for the managing and further development of the hospital. From September 27, to April 18 1915, 147 soldiers and officers were treated in the hospital. Naturally, the treatment was provided with homeopathic medicines. Such medicines known as "traumatic" like Calendula, Arnica, Lachesis, Echinacea, Symphitum and Hypericum were mostly used. The hospital was ruled by the representatives of both societies, whilst the Ladies Charitable Committee at the Society of Homeopathic Physicians collected money and gifts for the wounded201. Also in 1916 and 1917, the hospital was used in its military capacity. I succeeded in finding some documents in the archive of Dr. Nicholas Gabrilovich, throwing light on what happened with the hospital in 1918. Either in 1916 or in 1917, a new and very expensive X-ray equipment was purchased by the managing board of hospital in order to promote more successful treatment of the wounded. This fact did not remain unnoticed by Russian roentgenologists, in first Prof. Mikhail Nemenov (1880—1950).

After the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917, as soon as in April 1918, they decided to abolish the hospital and transform it into a new facility of medical character. The building was scheduled to become a branch of the Women Medical Institute. It is not known why the deal did not go through. In the papers of Dr. Gabrilovich, who was the Chief Physician of the hospital in 1917—18, after Lev Brazol left this post, I found a sketchy copy of the letter which, most probably, was sent by him to the administration of the Women Medical Institute. He asked them in that letter not to accept this "gift", as the facility had been built on the money of people who support an absolutely different system of treatment. I found also copies of the letters sent by Gabrilovich and the Chairman of the Society of the Followers of Homeopathy, General Georgy Burman, to the People Commissar of Education V. Lunacharsky (1875—1933), in which they tried to naively explain him that the homeopathic hospital had never been a private property of some kind, but exclusively a charitable facility supposed to satisfy the need for homeopathic treatment of all those who wished; thus, the hospital should not be transferred to the managing of the Communal commission for education. Although it is hardly believable that allopaths of the Women Institute would take into consideration those "well-grounded" homeopathic arguments, the hospital in 1918 became owned not by the Women Medical Institute, but by St. Petersburg roentgenologists. The homeopathic hospital stopped its existence, and the State Institute for Roentgenology, Radiology and Cancer was founded instead. The Alexander II memorial at the entrance to the building was destroyed and a Conrad Roentgen memorial was erected instead. L. Lindenbraten cited in his book "Essays of Russian Roentgenology" the words of Nemenov: "From dark wet basements, where roentgenology had been huddled into Russian hospitals and clinics, had been transformed to its own palace"202. He forgot to add that it was a stolen palace and a stolen equipment!

Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital - 2000 (Photo by Alexander Kotok) Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital - 2000 (Photo by Alexander Kotok)

I visited this place recently. Nothing remains any more of what had been a place of long-forgotten pride of Russian homeopaths. The department of X-ray and radiology of the St. Petersburg Pavlov Medical Academy is located there. Corrupted balconies, dirty puddles and heaps of putrid decomposed rubbish and refuse (maybe, even of radioactive kind too?) — are the only decoration of that weedy place.

Table of Activity of the St. Petersburg Alexander II Homeopathic Hospital and the Dispensary203
Years Number of patients
Hospital Dispensary
Drugs given
(in rubles)
Books sold (in rubles)
Paid Free Paid Free Sold Free
1898 10 3 2394 412 2549 139 47
1899 85 29 4819 932 5716 249 85
1900 129 44 5234 1243 6781 581 136
1901 174 94 6069 1224 11828 411 365
1902 140 95 6565 1064 25171 458 1779
1903 149 109 7247 1278 38257 769 1846
1904 148 58 5983 1024 36258 683 1746
1905 123 190 5881 970 39860 707 1967
1906 125 116 6074 913 37525 517 2459
1907 128 124 6265 849 37725 436 2532
1908 136 114 6950 772 39003 412 2605
1909 142 89 6960 834 37294 414 2540
1910 144 119 7961 866 40887 541 2917
1911 123 116 7860 730 35456 451 2753
1912 154 101 8213 716 30266 555 1786
1913 184 119 9349 756 29182 611 1777
1914 161 85 10906 815 29940 768 1457
1915 176 42 13543 638 35746 813 1596
1916 170 27 15870 415 54587 1724 1797
1917 45 5 12474 128 62981 1495 1185

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