Sue Young Histories

Emilie Paravicini Blumer 1808 - 1885

August 12, 2009

SwitzerlandEmilie Paravicini Blumer 1808 - 1885 was a Swiss self taught lay homeopath.

Emilie Paravicini Blumer by Susanne Peter Kubli: On 6 February I was invited the Historical Society at the Kunsthaus Glarus in to give a talk about this extraordinary woman.

The Zurich historian Elisabeth Joris, a profound expert of Swiss Social History of the 19th century first illuminated the relationship of  Emilie to her father, Dr. Johann Jakob Blumer, who became blind early in his life, thus Emilie grew up as the oldest of eight children, learning early the role of leader, partner and reader for her father.

She was his constant companion in the house, in the village, when visiting, or on walks, over many years, Emilie developed a close relationship to her father’s work.

In 1825, Emilie married Bartholome Paravicini, son of the Councillor and businessman Johann Paravicini of Glarus. This was a not a love marriage, Rather, Johann Paravicini, recently widowed, was looking for a suitable companion for his mentally retarded son Bartholome, and a woman careful with a budget.

In their first meeting with the 16 year old Emilie, as the tutor of her blind father, her skills were already obvious. Emilie, although the favorite daughter of her father, noted that economic security needed to be placed ahead of a love relationship. This marriage should secure this security. Emilie’s younger sisters, (only one was married) was a high financial burden.

However, Emilie soon felt as if she had been sold and exploited as a house slave by the Paravicini family. She lapsed into depression, but she remained loyal to her father and made his blindness responsible for his mistake.

Emilie was more Bartholome’s mother more than she was his wife, and the years were tough in Glarus, but Emilie suffered further personal distress. The 1830s brought turmoil across Europe and urged the people to freedom, self and co determination.

With great interest, Emilie also witnessed the rise of the Liberals in the Confederation. Confined in the house, she organized collections of money for Polish refugees, and established contacts with people at home and abroad.

With great enthusiasm, she began a school, and collected cash contributions, and by 1838, had a portion of the money allocated for the training of teachers. By 1836, her slave life in Glarus was at an end.

After the death of her father, Emilie had guardianship over her husband. She was now financially independent and together with Bartholome, she moved into his parents’ house, where apart from a few visits to relatives and occasional stays, they lived quite well.

Emilie had an extensive correspondence which became her gateway to the world. These letters served as her regular contact with her relatives and other close friends. What is described in these letters are events, rather than the ordinary weather, births and deaths in the neighbourhood. The letters were but a means to express ideas and discussions, as she could never discuss with her husband.

Despite the responsibility for the building and the residents, Emilie was always able to organise some other women willing to sort and distribute various relief supplies, especially during the devastating fire of 1861 in Glarus, and her network reached throughout Switzerland.

Homeopathy arrived, and as a doctor’s daughter, who had seen her father’s work and who had accompanied him on sick visits, and as a tutor and nurse to her husband and an unmarried sisters, Emilie had often witnessed how little the orthodox Medical School could offer, and in Glarner, part of the population found visiting the doctor simply unaffordable.

Homeopathy was emerging, and so it gave her the basics and self help manuals, so Emilie undertook these self tests and her knowledge expanded after satisfactorily experiments on her relatives and friends.

She was mostly self taught and she impressed Baron von Heyer, a German homeopath, who had established a practice in the Thurgau and had people from the upper Glarner among his customers.

The homeopaths in Switzerland were criticised and pursued by orthodox physicians, who began to demand that only they should practice medicine. Similarly, they wanted a monopoly on the Medical Schools.

Emilie suffered from one of the most vehement opponents of homeopathy, the doctor and factory inspector Fridolin Schuler. Initially, he tried to force the homeopaths to stop their activity, and when this had no effect, he threatened them with a complaint, and Emilie had to appear before the police court in Glarus, where they treated her courteously and fined her only the minimum of seven francs.

This scandal drew more attention, and finally the Landsgemeinde became involved. Contrary to all expectations, they decided on the complete release of homeopathy from censure, and this has remained so until the 1920s.

Schuler was understandably disappointed, and the personal consequences of his activity forced him to resign as a Federal factory inspector, and he  transferred his practice to his nephew.

Emilie Paravicini Blumer continued to practice homeopathy, often free of charge to the poor virtually to the day of her death.

We thank Elisabeth Joris for her excellent presentation and are looking forward to the final publication of the results of her research into the work of Emilie Paravicini Blumer, which is expected shortly.