Sue Young Histories

William Henry Holcombe 1825 - 1893

February 03, 2008

William Henry Holcombe
1825-1893William Henry Holcombe 1825 - 1893 was an American orthodox doctor who converted to homeopathy when he witnessed its success in the 1849 cholera epidemic and began his own experiments on homeopathy.

In 1852 Holcome was appointed physician and surgeon to the Mississippi State Hospital when the trustees changed the hospital over to homeopathy as a result of the success of homeopathic treatment of the ’great scourge of the South’. In 1878 he was homeopathic physician and chair of Garfield’s Yellow Fever commission.

Holcombe was co-editor for many years of the North American Journal of Homœopathy and President of the American Institute of Homoeopathy.

Holcombe graduated from Washington College Lexington now known as Washington and Lee University and the University of Pennsylvania. He despaired at orthodox medicine’s innability to address the 1849 cholera epidemic, and he accused allopaths of impairing the vital powers of the body and disturbing the natural processes of cure, complicating treatment and retarding recovery

  • claiming that orthodox treatment was little more than a ‘death warrant’:

“There was no more ‘pognant satire on the medical profession, the meagreness of its knowledge, and the poverty of its resources’”

Wrote Holcome of the ‘dreary history’ of the abuse of mercury by allopaths:

“Nothing but pure blind prejudice and stupidity.”

Holcombe prescribed aconite and belladonna and then ipecac as the disease progressed, and lachesis in the later stages. Holcombe was a low potency prescriber who repeated doses frequently. In 1855 the Mississippi State Hospital had a mortality rate of 55%, but when it converted to homeopathy the mortality rate dropped to 7.9 - 13.7%. William Henry, physician, born in Lynchburg, Virginia, 25 May, 1825, was graduated in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1847, and has practised his profession in Lynchburg, Virginia, Cincinnati, Ohio, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1874-5 he was president of the American Institute of Homoeopathy.

Dr. William H. Holcombe was born at Lynchburg, Va., May 29, 1825, of an old Virginia family; his grandfather having served in the Continental army, and his father was a distinguished physician of the old school.

Dr. William H. Holcombe was sent to the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1847. He removed to Cincinnati, and was there during a siege of Asiatic cholera, which caused him to become interested in homeopathy. The great success he met with in his experiments induced him to devote himself to the new school of medicine, and he became one of its most talented disciples.

Dr. Holcombe went to Natchez, Miss., in 1852, and he and his partner, Dr. Davis, were appointed physicians and surgeons to the Mississippi State Hospital.

In 1864 Dr. Holcombe removed to New Orleans, where he made his home until his death, Nov. 28, 1893. He was chairman of the Yellow Fever commission in 1878, and published an excellent report of the work done during the epidemic of that year.

For many years he was one of the editors of the North American Journal of Homœopathy, and president of the American Institute of Homoeopathy in 1876.

Of interest, and to underline the depth of Holcombe’s conversion to homeopathy and Swedenborgianism, are the tracts he wrote before and after his ’Road to Damascus’ transformation.

Holcombe was obviously an avid reader of history (Plutarch Liveshad a greater influence on the development of human character than any book except the Bible’) and criticised the lapses of chivalric behaviour in Southern ‘chivaliers’, blaming ‘freedom from manual labour’, ‘the comparative absence of the principles of its destruction’ and ‘the prevalence of a mechanical and commercial or trading and industrial spirit- which destroys the ideals and reduces everything to a utilitarian standard’ and ‘the power of religious fanaticism’ and ‘the power of skepticism and infidelity’.

Holcombe’s family was, like many families before the Civil War, torn apart by the issue of abolitionism. His mother became an abolitionist and moved to the North while Holcombe was avidly proslavery and moved to the South.

Holcome did not think much of ‘blacks’ but liked them more than a doctrinally rigid white man, believing that Northern religious journals were responsible for the adherence of Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri to the Union. In 1861, Holcome was firmly proslavery.

The American Civil War began in 1981 and ended in 1865 and the whole World changed.

Before the Civil War Holcombe argued that slavery was ‘part of the necessary transition from hunter life to agricultural life’. In 1860 he wrote The Southern Man, and in 1860 The Alternative: A Seperate Nationality : the Africanization of the South (full text here), in 1861 Suggestions as to the Spiritual Philosophy of African Slavery (full text here).

After the Civil War Holcombe moved to New Orleans where he lived until his death in 1893.

Holcombe was a prolific writer, on homeopathy, on Swedenborgianism and he was an accomplished poet:

Holcombe wrote Southern Voices: Poems_ (1872), _Poems_ (1860), _The Sexes Here and Hereafter_ (1870), _Our Children in Heaven_ (1875), _On the Nature and Limitations of Homœpathic Law (_1858) _, The Philosophy of Homoeopathy _(1877), _The Truth about Homoeopathy_ (1894), _The Other Life_ (1884), _In Both Worlds_ (1870), _How I became a homoeopath_ (1866 and 1874), _The end of the world, with new interpretations of history_ (1881), _Happiness as found in forethought minus fearthought_ with Horace Fletcher (1897), _The Homoeopathic Family Guide: For the Use of Twenty-five Principal Remedies_ with George Elias Shipman (1865), _The Scientific basis of homœpathy_ (1852), _On the Treatment, Diet, and Nursing of Yellow Fever: For Popular Use_ (1856), _Yellow Fever and Its Homoeopathic Treatment_ (1856), _Letters on Spiritual Subjects in Answer to Inquiring Souls_ (1885), _Qu’est-ce que l’homœopathie?: nouvelle exposition d’une grande vérité!_ (What is Homeopathy?) (1864), _Why is Homoeopathy More Curative Than Other Systems of Medicine?_ (1875), _The Historical Significance of Homœopathy: An Inaugural Address_ (1876), _Report on the Yellow Fever of 1867, Made by Request to the American…_ (1869), _Human Progress Since the Last Judgment, in 1757: An Essay_ (1851), _Why are Not All Physicians Homoeopathists?_ (1874), _The Power of Thought in the Production and Cure of Disease_ (1890), _The Influence of Fear in Disease (1890), __My Experience with Headaches_ (1878), _Lazarus of Bethany; the Story of His Life in Both Worlds_ (1872), _The Lost Truths of Christianity_ (1901), _Aphorisms of the New Life_, _Condensed Thoughts about Christian Science_ (1887), _Diagnosis and Treatment of Diphteria (1891), Diary and Autobiography (held by the Manuscripts Department Library of the University of North Carolina), Helps to Spiritual Growth: Compiled from Letters on Spiritual Subjects (1885), A Mystery of New Orleans: Solved by New Methods: A Novel (1890).

Holcombe’s son in law was also a homeopath:

Dr. John Gayle Aiken received his education at Sewanee university, in Tennessee, graduating in 1881. After a residence of a few years in Mobile, Ala., where he was engaged in the service of the Mobile & Ohio R. R., Dr. Aiken came to New Orleans and entered Tulane university, from which he graduated in 1891; next going to Hahnemann Homeopathic college, Chicago, where he graduated in 1892.

Returning to New Orleans, he began the practice of medicine in partnership with his father-in-law, Dr. William H. Holcombe, and continued with him until Dr. Holcombe’s death in 1893, and practiced alone since, residing in the home which Dr. Holcombe had occupied for many years, and which he purchased after Dr. Holcombe’s death.

The William Henry Holcombe papers and diaries are held at the Library of the University of North Carolina.


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