A Memorial of Constantine Hering (Philadelphia: Globe Printing House, c. 1881)

Constantine Hering: German Doctor and Founder of American Homeopathy (1800-1880)

The German doctor, homeopathist, author and philanthropist Constantine Hering was born at the dawn of a new century, on January 1, 1800, in Oschatz, Saxony, and played a crucial role in the development of the medical sector in the United States, in particular regarding the introduction of the innovative medical treatment called homeopathy.


The German doctor, homeopathist, author and philanthropist Constantin Hering was born at the dawn of a new century, on January 1, 1800, in Oschatz, Saxony, and played a crucial role in the development of the medical sector in the United States, in particular regarding the introduction of the innovative medical treatment called homeopathy. This form of treatment, developed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843), was based on the principle “like cures like,” a concept arguing that a substance which causes symptoms in large doses, will treat those same symptoms in small doses. Hering turned to homeopathy during his medical studies at the University of Leipzig after injuring himself during a post-mortem examination. Refusing the traditional treatment of the time—amputation of the finger—he opted to turn to alternative way of healing through homeopathic principles and was fortunate to be healed. After his personal experience with this pioneering treatment, in the following years Hering became a convinced practitioner of homeopathy and an important advocate for Hahnemann. Nevertheless, given the skepticism that this medical approach engendered in Germany from its beginnings, he faced numerous difficulties during his early medical career there.

After spending time in Surinam working as a natural scientist for a German expedition, in 1833 Hering decided to settle in Philadelphia and to introduce homeopathic knowledge and treatments in the United States. He opened his own homeopathic practice and also established and directed several institutions aimed at education in this new field. After a long and very active life, Hering passed away on July 23, 1880 in Philadelphia, his adopted hometown. Hering belongs to the large group of German immigrants who made a significant contribution to the launching of American science in general and to the medical sector in particular. He used his remarkable energy and strength to carry out the ideas he believed in, overcoming many obstacles to invest his time and energy in improving medical education and health treatment in the nineteenth-century United States. As both a practicing doctor and a scholarly researcher, Hering displayed a wide array of entrepreneurial activities aimed at the betterment of human living conditions and can be considered an important transatlantic bridge for knowledge in the nineteenth century.

Family Background and Early Education in Germany

Constantin Hering was born as the second of thirteen children of Karl Gottlieb Hering (1766–1853), a school administrator, and his wife Christiane Friederike (1777–1817).[1] Among his siblings were the composer Carl Eduard Hering (1807–1879) and the philologist Julius Robert Hering (1805–1828); the writer Ewald Hering (1834–1918) was the son of his younger brother Ewald. His father was a musician, composer and author who developed a simplified system of teaching music to children that was adopted by numerous schools in Germany.[2] He was also a renowned pedagogue and one of the propagators of the new ideas about universal education that initially circulated in Leipzig and soon spread throughout the kingdom of Saxony and to Prussia. These ideas eventually resulted in the establishment of theVolksschulesystem, one of the first attempts to implement universal state-supported elementary education.[3] Aside from the classical education that Constantine received from his father, and a deep religiosity he inherited from his mother, it was the Napoleonic Wars that had the greatest impact on his childhood. His education in combination with these experiences formed his character in a way that made him sensible to the needs and circumstances of others and led him to aspire to pursue an honorable and Christian attitude in his activities.

In 1811, his father was promoted to lead a new school that had opened in Zittau, Saxony, thus the whole family moved there and the young Constantine attended school there until 1817. Besides his study of classical languages, from his early years his main interest focused on natural sciences and he developed a great love for nature, collecting plants, insects or minerals. He created considerable collections of natural specimens and this passion to study, classify and understand nature would mark his entire life. After graduating from the Zittau Gymnasium, in 1817 he entered the Academy for Surgery in Dresden, but left his studies after one year to return to Zittau. In 1820 he resumed his formal medical education at the University of Leipzig, having spent the intervening years in Zittau studying mathematics and Greek.

Hering arrived at the University of Leipzig just as Samuel Hahnemann, the developer of the alternative medicine system of homeopathy, was departing. Hahnemann had lectured at the university for many years, but in 1821 decided to leave Leipzig due to professional disputes with the town’s pharmacists who insisted on retaining the privilege of preparing the medicines he used for his treatments. Hahnemann, for his part, believed that his chemical and pharmaceutic expertise warranted him doing this important task for himself. Once the conflict appeared unresolvable, Hahnemann moved with his family to Köthen as personal physician of Friedrich Ferdinand, the duke of Anhalt-Köthen, who guaranteed him the right to prepare his medicine. Though Hering and Hahnemann apparently never met in person, they nevertheless were attached by their common pursuits and years later would establish a vivid correspondence.

First Contact with Homeopathy at the University of Leipzig

While attending the University of Leipzig, in Germany, Hering became the student assistant of the private lecturer Jakob Heinrich Robbi (1779–1834), a former surgeon in Napoleon’s army. Robbi introduced Hering to practical surgery and, once Hering proved to be an intelligent and diligent student, Robbi asked him to take over a commitment he had made to write a pamphlet attacking the emerging medical system of homeopathy. When Samuel Hahnemann developed this method of treatment in the nineteenth century, he embraced it as an alternative to the harsh medical treatments of the time, which often included bloodletting and purging. In the following years, his methods attracted considerable attention in Germany, but also drew strong opposition. It was initially assumed that interest in homeopathic treatments would die out over time; however, as the approach’s popularity lingered, the Leipzig publisher Baumgärtner sought to commission a book denying the effectiveness of this new medical paradigm in order to undermine its legitimacy and turned to Robbi.

Robbi’s many medical responsibilities likely shaped his decision to refer the project to his assistant, but he probably also had good reasons to avoid being involved in such a controversial debate. Hering eagerly accepted a contract to write the book over the winter of 1821–1822. Hering ardently studied the principles of this new way to understand the healing system of the body, particularly through the writings of Hahnemann, and expanded his research by conducting his own experiments in order to test the effectiveness of the drugs applied.

The inspiration for Hering’s positivistic approach came from Hahnemann’s famous essay “Nota Bene for My Reviewers,” the prologue to the second volume of his Materia Medica Pura (1817). In this essay, Hahnemann replied to the negative criticism he had previously received with the words: “The doctrine appeals not only chiefly, but solely to the verdict of experience—‘repeat the experiments,’ it cries aloud, ‘repeat them carefully and accurately and you will find the doctrine confirmed at every step’—and it does what no medical doctrine, no system of physic, no so-called therapeutics ever did or could do, it insists upon being ‘judged by the result.’” Hering decided to accept the challenge and after having carried out some of Hahnemann’s experiments for himself, concluded that the treatment method was valid.[4] As he immersed himself in Hahnemann’s works, and in particular the Materia Medica Pura, Hering grew to doubt the goal of his original mission and his attitude towards the principles established by Hahnemann changed profoundly.

The decisive moment for Hering that led him to become fully convinced of homeopathy’s efficacy occurred when he injured and infected his finger in the course of an autopsy. The injury was serious enough, that, in order to save his hand, doctors encouraged him to amputate the finger. A friend who was a defender of the homeopathic approach advised him to take very small doses of arsenic and to Hering’s surprise and great relief the injury was cured and the hand saved. As a consequence, he decided to dedicate his life to advance this art of healing so that others could benefit by this method as well. Later, when he remembered this impressive experience that had removed his doubts about homeopathy, he reportedly described it as a moment when “The last veil that blinded my eyes to the light of the rising sun was rent and I saw the light of the new healing art dawn upon me in all its fullness. I owe to it far more than the preservation of a finger. To Hahnemann, who had saved my finger, I gave my whole hand and to the promulgation of his teachings not only my hand, but the entire man, body and soul.”

Hering thus turned into an enthusiastic defender of homeopathy and did not spare an opportunity to declare publicly the promising future he foresaw for this new medical paradigm, not only within scholarly circles but also among a more general audience. His persuasiveness was strong enough that he was able to convert other initial opponents of homeopathology into supporters, such as his teacher Robbi and the publisher Baumgärtner. Baumgärtner eventually became the publisher of Allgemeine Homöopathische Zeitung, which became (and remains) one of the most prominent journals in the field of homeopathy.

Nevertheless, Hering’s open support of homeopathy also had negative consequences and Hering had to go through difficult situations with professional obstacles, personal defamation, and a precarious economic existence. Against the advice of most of his teachers and friends he continued to fight for his convictions, though he was discredited not only among his colleagues but also in the broader society. Several colleagues and friends turned away from him and as a consequence of his propagation of homeopathy he lost the stipend he had been awarded for his study. This meant he could no longer afford the heavy expenses associated with his final university degree examinations and he was obliged to postpone his graduation.

By 1825, one of his younger brothers had offered to loan him the money in order to enable him to proceed with his medical studies at another university, but Hering continued to search for alternative options. He happened to meet a student who had attended the lectures of Johann Lukas Schönlein (1794–1864), a naturalist and renowned professor of therapeutics and pathology in Würzburg. What he learned of Schönlein inspired him to take his bundle and direct his path towards Franconia, with his wish to become a student of Schönlein. He remained there until spring of the following year, faithfully attending medical classes and visiting the city’s hospitals. Nevertheless, Hering stayed faithful to his professional convictions and did not deny his adherence to Hahnemann’s doctrines. Thus, he went through a series of particularly rigorous final examinations, but in spite of these difficulties passed them all with distinction. In March of 1826, he graduated from the University of Würzburg as a doctor of Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics after successfully defending his work De Medicina futura (“The Future of Medicine”). In this work, Hering sought to set out principles that undermined the dominant beliefs of contemporary medicine and argued in favor of the new field of homeopathy.

From that moment on, his professional path became smoother and a few weeks later he was offered his first position: not as physician, as he might have hoped, but as a teacher of mathematics and natural sciences at the Blochmannsche Institut in Dresden. This institute had been founded just one year earlier by the educator Karl Justus Blochmann, who was among the first to introduce the “Pestalozzi method” of education into Saxony. After a few months there, Blochmann approached him with an offer which opened the next intriguing chapter in his life: he was invited to participate in an expedition to Suriname and Cayenne in South America, carried out under the patronage of King Frederick August I of Saxony, with the explicit task of undertaking zoological and botanical research and gathering collections in these fields. Hering immediately recognized the excellent opportunity he was being offered and accepted. He was also successful in recommending the appointment of Christoph Weigel, an old acquaintance, as botanist of the expedition.

Expedition to Suriname

Together with Weigel in 1827 he sailed to South America, probably not with the idea in mind that he would spent the next six years there. In Suriname both friends started with their new task to direct the natural science collections of the expedition. Given Hering’s interest in homeopathy and his uncompromising nature, it is not surprising that he continued to pursue his profound interest in homeopathy in South America. Therefore, during his stay in Suriname he did not restrict himself to his tasks as naturalist for the expedition, but also continued working as a physician, applying homeopathic principles in his treatment of patients. Through his successful treatment of lepers according to homeopathic principles, he soon established a busy practice, and this in turn allowed him to continue carrying out his scholarly research and establish his own collections for homeopathic research. He sent reports with the results of his work to Johann Ernst Stapf (1788–1860), the editor of the journal Homöopathisches Archiv(Homeopathic Archives). His drift into medical research, however, was perceived as an offensive breach of duty not only by the Saxon royal physicians, under whose protection Hering worked, but also by King Anton of Saxony (the successor to Frederick Augustus), who was a fierce adversary of Hahnemann’s principles. In reaction to the situation, the Saxon minister of the interior ordered Blochmann to advise Hering to curtail his homeopathic research. Blochmann sent Hering a polite letter encouraging him to focus exclusively on his zoological duties and to avoid publishing anything that might cause offense. In return Hering sent in his reports, accounts and specimens, and quit the expedition group after only one year.

Hering next became affiliated with the Moravian settlers living in Suriname’s capital, Paramaribo, and he began working with lepers and on the treatment of leprosy. In 1830 he published the text “Communications by letter from Parimaribo on the treatment of leprosy with homeopathic remedies,” and one year later he wrote a paper on “The antiporic remedies in their relation to leprosy.” Through a fortunate coincidence he became the personal doctor of the governor, and this position allowed him to carry out homeopathic drug tests. His most influential project was his research on the poison of the bushmaster snake, known by the Indians as Surukuru, to which Hering gave the name Lachesis muta. In 1837 Hering published on the effects of this snake poison in a paper in the first issue of the Denkschrift der Nordamerikanischen Akademie der homöopathischen Heilkunst, which obtained considerable attention (a derivative of the poison is still used as a remedy in homeopathy).[5] Through his friend Georg Heinrich Bute (1792–1876), who was sent to South America as a Moravian missionary from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he became aware of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, which had been founded in 1812 by a group of leading naturalists of the young republic. He also learned that Lewis David von Schweinitz, a Moravian bishop who dedicated his life to the study of fungi, was a prominent member of this academy. This information probably inspired Hering’s 1830 decision to send his numerous research results as well as his own botanical and zoological collections to the academy. As a sign of thanks for his contributions to American science the academy named him a corresponding member.

Business Development in the United States

At the beginning of the year 1833 Hering made a stop in Philadelphia on his way home to Germany. Although he had initially intended to return to his native country, instead he would spend the rest of his life in this part of the world. Over the next half century he dedicated his time to advancing knowledge in the field of homeopathy and became the key person to introduce this new form of health treatment in the United States. Many different versions of the exact circumstances that made him come to Philadelphia and decide to make it his home have been recorded. Some sources say that the missionary Bute, whom Hering had met in the year 1829 and who had gone to Philadelphia two years later, asked him to stay and help during an Asian cholera epidemic there. Another version claims that Hering had from the beginning intended to stay in Philadelphia, at least for a while, in order to make homeopathy known there, since he knew that there was a certain openness toward this innovative medical paradigm. We can even find the more adventurous story that while he was sailing home via Salem, Massachusetts, his ship was partly wrecked upon the coast of Rhode Island, ended up at Martha’s Vineyard by January 1833, and eventually decided to remain in the United States.

Notwithstanding the uncertainty regarding the true version and the exact chronology of the events that brought him to Philadelphia, what is more important is that it was the perfect moment and place for Hering to continue his professional path and to make important contributions to the establishment of homeopathy as an alternative form of medical treatment. At the moment he arrived in the United States, there were already a few practitioners of homeopathy, mostly clustered along the Eastern seaboard around New York, Philadelphia and Boston, who in the 1820s had begun the introduction of homeopathy into the United States.[6] In Boston it was Hans Burch Gram (1786–1840), who had learned about Hahnemann’s principles from Hans Christian Lund, a Danish student of Hahnemann, and tested the principles on himself and friends. Back in America in 1825 Gram opened the first homeopathic practice in New York City and subsequently taught John Gray (1804–1882), who pursued further research. Another branch of American homeopathy had its roots in the large number of German and Swiss immigrants in Pennsylvania: William Wesselhöft, who arrived from Switzerland in 1824, had studied under Hahnemann and carried his enthusiasm for the homeopathic arts over into the New World. He soon established a medical practice in Bath, several miles northeast of Allentown, Pennsylvania.[7] Wesselhöft corresponded with the editor Johann Ernst Stapf, who in turn provided him with medicines and some homeopathic publications, among them a complete set of the Archiv für die homöopathische Heilkunst, an early German homeopathic journal he had started in 1821. Together with the German physician Henry Detwiller, who had arrived from Basel in 1817, Wesselhöft formed the first homeopathic study group, which began as a series of medical meetings and grew into an informal school of homeopathy. From 1829 to 1835 several individuals were trained at Bath in homeopathic healing.

Early in the 1830s, however, the group began to explore other ways to convert their informal gatherings into a formal degree-granting institution and began looking for a homeopath of considerable eminence to head their school. It was at this moment that Hering appeared. Although only 33 years old, he was already internationally known and respected. He had gathered considerable experience over the years both in Germany and South America, had distributed and published his important discoveries widely, and thus was in an excellent position to become the intellectual cornerstone upon which the homeopathic teaching college could be built. In connection with this goal to organize and convert homeopathy into an academic discipline and provide professional training, another problem had to be solved: all the existing literature on homeopathy, such as the first journals and the numerous books and medical articles written by Hahnemann himself, were only available in German. Therefore, it was mainly German-speaking intellectuals from Switzerland, Austria and the German states who introduced this field into the United States. In order to expand the knowledge about this innovative method beyond these language barriers, three tasks had to be approached: the most important publications had to be translated into English, new studies had to be written up and published in English, and students had to be taught the German language in order to master the field’s existing body of knowledge. Hering was ready for all these challenges and, after the repeated difficulties he had to face previously due to his enthusiasm for this field, he happily accepted the promising professional opportunities that were offered to him.

On January 1, 1834, at a meeting at Hering’s home in Philadelphia the plan for the new educational institution, the first homeopathic medical school in the United States, was proposed and adopted. It was to be located in Allentown with Hering as president and principal instructor. Financial backing and legal incorporation were arranged that year and on May 27, 1835, the cornerstone was laid for the main building of the Academy, in a festive ceremony featuring an inaugural address by Hering himself. The North American Academy for Homeopathic Healing, also known as Die Nord-Amerikanische Akademie der homöopatischen Heilkunst, was officially founded on April 10, 1835. This was Hahnemann’s eightieth birthday and he was named as honorary member. In between the planning and founding of the Academy, the Northampton Gesellschaft homöopatischer Ärzte (Northampton Society of Homeopathic Physicians) was created on August 23, 1834 and again it was Hering who was named president of this society. Its objective was to advance the practice of homeopathy by the interchange of experience and for the mutual improvement and encouragement in the study of this healing art. The faculty of the Academy consisted of Hering, Wesselhöft, Detweiler, two other colleagues, Eberhard Freitag and John Romig, and Joseph Pulte, one of their students at the previous school in Bath.

Hering intended for the North American Academy to provide medical students with the opportunity to learn German and attend lectures in homeopathy during the summer months. Moreover, the plan was to have all the main homeopathic publications translated into English and to establish a central institution for the preparation and sale of homeopathic drugs, giving at the same time an ample opportunity for the employment of poor students. Unfortunately, the Allentown Bank, in charge of the finances of this institution, went bankrupt and in consequence the Academy was forced to close in 1842. There were rumors that the failure had been caused by unnamed, shadowy powers who aimed to limit the dissemination of homeopathic knowledge. Nevertheless, although the school was short-lived, the homeopaths associated with it continued to practice and the movement flourished: Hering returned to Philadelphia and worked several years to pay off his private debts. Wesselhöft unsuccessfully endeavored to save the institution for a few years but finally departed for Boston. Freitag, Romig, and Detweiler started private practices in Bethlehem, Allentown, and Hellertown (Pennsylvania) respectively.

Nevertheless, this project gave the impetus for the creation of several other institutions with similar goals. The translations of homeopathic texts done by Hering and the other faculty members spread homeopathy outside the German-speaking medical community and the organizational structure of the Academy served as a model for the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania founded in 1844. The American Institute of Homeopathy, the main authoritative body of homeopathic practitioners in the United States, was established in the same year in response to the lack of national medical standards, again with Constantine Hering in the position of president, with Josiah F. Flagg of Boston and William Channing of New York serving as vice-presidents. In 1848, Hering and two other homeopathic physicians, Jacob Jeanes and Walter Williamson, rented rooms at the rear of a Philadelphia pharmacy on 229 Arch Street and with 15 students and eight instructors they began operating the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania.[8] Two years after the founding of this college it moved to larger quarters at 1105 Filbert Street, which would house the institution for the next 37 years. Hering worked there as professor for pharmacology until 1867, when he founded the Hahnemann Medical College of Philadelphia, located at 1307 Chestnut Street. Two years later the faculties of the two schools reunited at the Filbert Street address under Hahnemann’s name, paying him his honor as father of homeopathy. They rebuilt their hospital, and it was chartered as the Homeopathic Hospital of Philadelphia.


Besides his pedagogical activities and his work in his own practice, Hering was a prolific writer and produced an impressive number of scientific publications. He was contributor, editor, and co-editor of a great many journals, where he published the ongoing results of his studies, such as theMedical Correspondent (Allentown, 1835–1836), published by the Allentown Academy, the Miscellanies of Homeopathy (Philadelphia, 1839), the North American Homœopathic Quarterly (New York, 1851–1852), and the Homœopathic News (1854). He furthermore founded and edited the American Journal of Homœopathic Materia Medica and edited the sixteen issues of the Correspondenzblatt der Homöopatischen Ärzte that were published from 1835 to 1837 at irregular intervals by the Allentown Academy and contained case notes, observations and questions submitted by homeopathic practitioners. Moreover, he wrote several pamphlets, some of which were translated into different languages, starting with the pamphlet Rise and Progress of Homoeopathy (1834), and another one titledNecessity and benefits of Homeopathy (1835). Among the numerous-book length writings he published both in German and English was his famous work The Homeopathist, or Domestic Physician (1835), which went through fourteen editions in America, two in England, thirteen in Germany and has also been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Hungarian, Russian and Swedish.[9] His work Condensed Materia Medica (1837) sought to summarize his experiences in two volumes, with close to 209 different types of remedies, divided into 48 sections, that give a preview of what he created in his later work Guiding Symptoms.[10] His other popular texts included Constantin Hering’s Homöopathischer Hausarzt, which went through 17 re-editions; The homeopathist or The Guiding Symptoms of our Materia Medica (1879–1891); Analytical Therapeutics (1875) andAmerican Drug Provings (1853).[11] These publications made contributions to establishing the state of the art in homeopathic treatment, but they give little insight into his daily life or routine, instead focusing on diseases, treatments, the classification of potential remedies, and similar information.

Hering’s major work was Guiding Symptoms, a comprehensive presentation of all homeopathic medicine. He worked on the study until his death in 1880, and it is still valued by the homeopathic discipline today. Hering projected this oeuvre to consist of ten volumes; he was only able to finish the first three, while the others were completed by his collaborators and students on the basis of outlines he had prepared after he passed away. In Germany he became famous through his widely read book Der homöopathische Hausarzt, which was reedited numerous times, translated to English, French, Italian and Spanish and in 1864 was already in its 12th reedition.[12] In the foreword to this publication he provided an explanation of his motivation: his original idea for this publication was to write a guide for all missionaries, an idea that started in South America. As he explains, his idea was to create a network of doctors who used his methods and who would correspond with him, in order to report their experiences, provide additional data or to get his advice regarding the application of specific drugs. His larger aim was to obtain detailed information regarding all types of diseases and their particular treatment in different countries as well as climate zones and to update this data every year in a supplementary brochure.[13] Nevertheless, this comprehensive plan met resistance and a lack of collaboration from the central organizations of missionaries that he thought would embrace his idea. Therefore, he was obliged to reconsider the project and finally decided to adopt a similar goal but limiting the scope to the German immigrants in Pennsylvania and the American West. With his methods, Hering sought to achieve a constant improvement of the state of the art through the constant circulation, comparison and elaboration of knowledge. Therefore he wished to carry out continuous re-editions of his main publications to reflect this process, and encouraged his readers to actively participate in this process, providing him with information on the results of their application of homeopathic principles.[14]

Social Status, Networks, Family and Public Life

Hering was a respected scholar, devoted to his work, but also one of the centers of intellectual life in Philadelphia. Men of arts and sciences held their professional and social gatherings at his home. Each Saturday evening he received young colleagues and medical students at his home and taught them the principles of homeopathy. He also maintained an open door for people in need. His primary interest was far from being of economic nature, what motivated him was the improvement of people’s living conditions. The networks he created for this goal were mainly of a professional character, aimed at the production and improvement of scientific knowledge. He does not seem to have been particularly involved or engaged in other German immigrant networks. We also can’t detect a specific interest in preserving German culture or heritage, a task to which many other immigrants dedicated their time. His time was clearly devoted to homeopathy; this was the source of his energy and encouraged many of his important life decisions.

In this context it is revealing to have another look at the reasons that made him initially come to the United Sates, and more importantly, those motives that made him stay there for the remainder of his days. In the sources regarding Hering that we have been able to consult, no longing for America, regarding its freedom or the possibilities this country offered in a political, religious or economic sense, could be detected. Apparently, there were no other reasons to visit and subsequently stay in the United States besides his own professional pursuits. Hering had pioneering and innovative ideas, but unfortunately he encountered the barriers of bureaucracy and obstacles caused by traditional, or less far-sighted views in the German States as well as in the context of the expedition in South America in which he participated.

It is interesting to ponder whether the United States offered Hering professional opportunities he would not have had in Europe. It is likely he would not have been able to have the same achievements—including establishing the Hahnemann institution and his prolific publishing career—given the obstacles the new field of homeopathy had to face in a German context. In the United States, by contrast, homeopathy found followers more easily and more quickly established the structure of an academic discipline. Hering found an excellent environment to pursue his aims, and although he did not get government support for his work, he did enjoy the ideological and professional freedom that made it possible to dedicate his life to advancing this form of medical treatment, to fostering its scientific rationales through research and to disseminating his knowledge through teaching and writing. The United States was the perfect setting for such an entrepreneurial character as Hering: he was given numerous opportunities to start new projects and also benefited from the freedom to fail and to try again with other initiatives. Even if many of his projects did not achieve the success he might have hoped for, Hering had a crucial role as initiator of movements and developments.

While Hering was a prolific author, most of his works fail to give any impressions regarding his peripatetic experiences in Europe, his experiences in South America, his decision to settle in the United States, or his personal life. In 1828, while still in Suriname, Hering married for the first time to a woman named Charlotte Kemper who died in 1831. They had had a son, Christian, in 1829, and when Hering left Suriname he remained with his maternal grandparents in Suriname and grew up there. In 1834, in Philadelphia, Hering married Marianne Husman, daughter of a member of the German community there. The couple had four children, two of whom died young, and his second wife died in 1840. According to one account, Hering’s prolific output included “a charming fairy tale for his motherless children” written not long after her death.

In 1845, Hering made a return visit to Germany to visit his father and other relatives. There, he met and married Therese Buchheim, the daughter of a doctor in Bautzen, Saxony, and she stayed by his side for the rest of his life. The couple had eight children, of whom six survived childhood. Hering hardly mentioned his family, and his business was not developed within a family network, hence for the bulk of his career his wives and children did not play any substantial role in his professional life. In 1873, however, his oldest daughter Melitta, married Dr. Calvin B. Knerr, a former student who had become one of her father’s assistants and close friends.[15]

Hering continued practicing homeopathic medicine up to only a few hours before his death on July 23, 1880, caused by a heart attack, when he was working on the fourth volume of his work Guiding Symptoms. He was in the lucky position to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his doctorate and his own eightieth birthday in very good physical and mental condition. The numerous honors he had received over the years give testimony of the high admiration he had achieved on both sides of the Atlantic.

Legacy and Final Considerations

Hering played a crucial role in the process of turning the homeopathic art of healing into a system of knowledge that based its claims to authority on the scientific method. Due to the fact that he spent most of his adult life in the United States, he had a particularly strong impact on the development of the discipline there. Nevertheless, his work was also known in different countries of Europe, due to the numerous translations of his publications into various languages, and he therefore became highly influential on the expansion of homeopathic studies in general. In the years after his death, the number of students at the Hahnemann College grew from about 150 in the early 1880s to the mid-200s by the end of the nineteenth century, most of them drawn from the German communities in Eastern Pennsylvania or from New York, New Jersey, and abroad.[16]

Hering’s work was characterized by a rigorous methodology and depended on the positivist results of his large series of experiments. He is known for making numerous innovative contributions to the theory of homeopathy, based on observations of both sickness and the healing process. His most well-known principle, “Hering’s Law of Cure,” argued that the body tends to seek to externalize disease, noting that symptoms would be visible as part of the healing process. This law also held that a person’s symptoms would appear and disappear in the reverse order of their manifestation upon the body. Therefore, a patient might re-experience symptoms during the healing process. Another tenet adopted in homeopathic treatment was the idea that the body of a patient usually healed from top to bottom, and from more vital to less vital organs. These guiding principles were useful to homeopaths to understand whether a patient’s health was improving or deteriorating and are considered to be among the most important homeopathic theories.

While the achievement of systematizing homeopathic thinking should be attributed to a group of thinkers rather than a single person, Hering has to be considered the pioneer of this movement in the United States. One important key to his success was his strictly scientific approach to this topic: for Hering, a symptom did not acquire the status of a guiding symptom unless it was verified a number of times in different cases. He established the criteria for the value of symptoms on that basis and spent his lifetime trying to collect verifications and confirmations from all reliable resources. As a result, he made careful and judicious selection of symptoms to be incorporated in his work Guiding Symptoms. This innovative method was of particular importance for the field of homeopathy, where a large number of symptoms had to be treated with different medications with highly specific dosages. Thus, experience with particular treatments and their respective results had to be gathered and communicated among many different doctors. Hering was very aware of the needs of his field and dedicated considerable time and effort to this process, proving about 72 drugs.17] Allegedly, his repeated experiments on himself caused Hering asthmatic problems from which he suffered for the rest of his life. Another characteristic feature of his approach was the fact that, contrary to other followers of homeopathic thinking, he did not shun the use of standard medical methods. According to him, homeopathic practitioners should have a broad knowledge of the entire medical field instead of only focusing on its specific paradigm of healing. This approach can be considered the personal contribution of Hering to the success of the homeopathic efforts in the United States during the nineteenth century, a period when homeopathy advanced only slowly in Germany.

Homeopathy, with its ideals of benign, patient-oriented treatment, challenged the mainstream of establishment medicine during the nineteenth century. However, the fact that it quickly gained numerous followers among physicians as well as the general society in North American society should not obscure the growing opposition to homeopathy. In fact, as a response to the growth of homeopaths, the American Medical Association was founded in 1846 as a national professional medical organization with the goal to establish uniform standards for medical education, training and practice. The creation of this association was an attempt to separate clearly what was considered to be standard medicine from homeopathic practitioners and one of their first acts was to purge the local medical societies of physicians who were homeopaths.

In spite of these obstacles, homeopathy prospered in the United States and the fact that traditional medical practitioners had to define and defend their field would turn out to be helpful for the development of standard medicine as well. Therefore, the homeopathic pioneers in eastern Pennsylvania played an important role in bringing these ideas from Germany and implementing them in the launching of US science and thus made an important contribution to American medicine.[18] While Hering was not the first to introduce homeopathic thinking in the United States, his prolific publishing, his recognition as a physician, professor and author, his entrepreneurial energy and his combination of intense dedication to research and practical application explain why he is still considered the father of homeopathic treatment on this side of the Atlantic.

What are the entrepreneurial elements that can be found in Hering’s activity? What is it exactly what he created? We can see that through the scholarly networks he established over time, Hering traded immaterial goods, that is knowledge, aimed at the betterment of health treatment. Whenever he had additional income through his practicing as a medical doctor, he reinvested it in doing more research to better understand the healing process. Through sharing information he created new knowledge; as a scholar he gained satisfaction from dedicating his time, effort and money to what he believed in. Nevertheless, the scope of his aim went beyond his professional field, and in the framework of the larger society he can be considered a social entrepreneur. Like many other social entrepreneurs, Hering sought to contribute through his activity in the specific area he chose to the improvement of living conditions. He had a clear vision of how to confront specific problems – in his case health problems and the absence of effective treatment – and was extremely ambitious and persistent in developing innovative options.

Social entrepreneurs in general are creative and visionary, but at the same time also pragmatic and realistic, tending to reinvest the proceeds they receive in strengthening their business model (rather than diversifying into other areas), and committing their lives to shaping the direction of their field. We can see how Hering’s entrepreneurial engagement clearly fits into this category: while conventional entrepreneurs measure performance in profit, Hering as a social entrepreneur sought to produce a positive return to society. His particular combination of research and application of knowledge was of crucial importance in Hering’s business and its success.[19]

Hering led an interesting life, in which all the pieces seemed to be woven together with a red thread and where one event seemed to lead to the next. He was a person of strong convictions who maintained his beliefs and persisted in his goals despite many difficulties and rarely allowed personal inconveniences, whether professional obstacles or economic losses, to distract him from his goals. Nevertheless, he was flexible enough to change his mind when he believed he was wrong, as his conversion to a supporter of homeopathy illustrates. It might be interesting to include some counterfactual thought here and to reflect on how would his life have continued without certain key moments such as the seriously infected finger, the opportunity to participate in the expedition to Suriname, or the problems he encountered while continuing his activity and research in homeopathy in South America. It is due to his strong character that he continued a path that was not easy to follow and that already at the beginning of his career put him in a difficult position. Without doubt, it would have been much easier as a student to disapprove the new methodology rather than dedicating his life to the expansion of this treatment worldwide. But this path would not have gone along with Hering’s character and probably not have led to such a successful, adventurous and fulfilling life.


[1]Biographical information about Hering can be found in: Reinhard Schüppel, “Constantin Hering (1800–1880): Ein Akademiker gründet Institutionen,” in Homeöpathie:Patienten, Heilkundige, Institutionen: von den Anfängen bis heute, ed. Martin Dinges (Heidelberg: Haug, 1996): 296–317; Carl Hering, Chronology of Events Concerning the Life of Constantine Hering… (Philadelphia, 1919); Biographical Sketch: Constantine Hering (Chicago: C. S. Halsey, 1867); “Biographical Sketch of Dr. Constantin Hering: Compiled by His Daughter,” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Pionier-Vereins von Philadelphia, issue 4, 1907.

[2] From 1805 to 1825, Karl Gottlieb Hering published several pedagogical guides for the learning of musical instruments, the art of singing or aimed to the improvement of orthographical skills: Neue, sehr erleichterte, praktische Generalbaßschule für junge Musiker, zugleich als ein nöthiges Hülfsmittel für diejenigen, welche den Generalbaß ohne mündlichen Unterricht in kurzer Zeit leicht erlernen wollen (1805);Orthographische Lese- und Schreibeübungen für Bürger- und Landschulen: als ein bequemes Hülfsmittel zur leichtern Erlernung des Lesens (1807);Neue praktische Singschule für Kinder nach einer leichten Lehrart(1807–1809); Neue praktische Klavierschule für Kinder nach einer bisher ungewöhnlichen, sehr leichten Methode (1812); Kunst das Pedal fertig zu spielen: und ohne mündlichen Unterricht zu erlernen (1816); Allgemeines Choralbuch oder Sammlung der in den evangelischen Gemeinden üblichen Kirchenmelodien (1825).

[3]Biographical Sketch(1867), 1.

[4]Hahnemann believed that homeopathic preparations, usually based on animal, plant, mineral, or synthetic substances are able to address the underlying causes of diseases. Through a process of homeopathic dilutions, called potenziation, a chosen substance is repeatedly diluted in alcohol or distilled water in order to determine the ratio appropriate to treating a specific disease. This method of finding the right potenziation in the context of homeopathy is called “proving” a drug.

[5]This text was also separately published as Constantine Hering,Wirkungen des Schlangengiftes: zum ärztlichen Gebrauche vergleichend zusammengestellt (Allentown, Pa: Blumer, 1837).

[6] John S. Haller, The History of American Homeopathy: The Academic Years, 1820–1935 (New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 2005).

[7]Thomas Lindsley Bradford, The Pioneers of Homoeopathy (Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel, 1897). See also Sylvain Cazalet, “American Homeopathy was started in Bath,”Homeopathe International, (accessed February 12, 2016).

[8] Thomas Lindsley Bradford, History of the Homoeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania; The Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel, 1898).

[9] Constantine Hering, The Homoeopathist, or Domestic Physician (Allentown, Pa: J.G. Wesselhöft, 1835).

[10] Constantine Hering, A. Korndörfer, and E. A. Farrington, Condensed Materia Medica (New York; Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel, 1877).

[11] Constantine Hering and Emil Schlegel,Constantin Hering’s Homöopathischer Hausarzt: Nach den besten homöopathischen Werken und eignen Erfahrungen bearbeitet (Stuttgart: Frommann, 1893); Constantine Hering, The Guiding Symptoms of Our Materia Medica (New York: Stoddart, 1879–91), of which volumes 4 through 10 were completed after the author’s death by C. G. Raue, C. B. Knerr and C. Mohr); Constantine Hering,Amerikanische Arzneiprüfungen: Vorarbeiten zur Arzneilehre als Naturwissenschaft (Leipzig: Winter, 1857).

[12] Constantine Hering, Constantin Hering’s homöopathischer Hausarzt: nach den besten homöopathischen Werken und eignen Erfahrungen bearbeitet. 12th edition (Jena: Friedrich Frommann, 1864).

[13] Hering, Constantin Hering’s homöopathischer Hausarzt, 12th ed., iv.

[14] Hering, Constantin Hering’s homöopathischer Hausarzt, 12th ed., v.

[15] Carl Wilhelm Schlegel, ed., Schlegel’s German-American Families in the United States (New York: American Historical Society, 1918), 137–143; “a charming fairy tale”: “Biographical Sketch of Dr. Constantin Hering” (1907), 15

[16] Naomi Rogers, “The Proper Place of Homeopathy: Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in an Age of Scientific Medicine,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 108.2 (April 1984): 179–201, 191.

[18] Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Profession and the Making of a Vast Industry, 2nd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2017).

[19] For more information see “Social Entrepreneurship: Building the Field,” (accessed February 14, 2016).

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  • Article Title Constantine Hering: German Doctor and Founder of American Homeopathy (1800-1880)
  • Author
  • Keywords Constantine Hering, Sandra Rebok
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
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  • Access Date July 15, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 1, 2020