Weak Spot in Our Materia Medica

We have comparatively few symptoms of drug-action upon women, because comparatively few women have been provers of drugs. And the symptoms we have are lacking in precision, because our women provers, have deficient knowledge of the structure and physiology of the organs distinctive of their sex….

The Homeopathic Materia Medica is constructed upon the results of provings on healthy subjects. Every day’s experience, in its application at the bedside, shows us that the more accurate the prover’s observation of the symptoms which the drug produces in him, the more certainly can we determine whether the drug is appropriate for our case.

We call certain drugs “well proved” because the statements of symptoms are so clear, the discriminations, especially of subjective symptoms, are so sharp and well defined, as regards character, locality, direction and conditions, that we get, by study of the proving, a vivid realization of the pathogenesis, and can be sure whether a similarity exists between it and our patient’s array of symptoms. And, moreover, the symptomatology of some of our “well proved” drugs is so full and precise that we are able, particularly if we borrow a little from the toxicologist, to construct a very complete pathological theory of the drug action, with which we may compare our theory of the pathology of the patient’s disease; and thus we may have the double satisfaction of a pathological and a symptomatological correspondence between patient and drug.

A reference to our Materia Medica, in so far as the symptoms of the respiratory organs are concerned, will illustrate this point. How sharply defined, for example are the indications for Aconite, Bryonia, Squilla, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Chelidonium, Antimonium tartaricum, Spongia, Veratrum, Bromine, and many other drugs! In other words, how clearly do the symptoms reveal to us what part of the apparatus is affected, and how it is affected, down to the finest shades of difference! And with what remarkable precision and certainty, as compared with former medical experience, are we enabled to prescribe in affections of the respiratory organs!

A strong contrast with this precision and certainty is presented by the indefinite indications we possess for prescriptions in diseases of the sexual organs of women. Even our “best proved” drugs furnish comparatively few symptoms referable to these organs; and, of these few, the language is generally so vague that we are at a loss to determine what part of the apparatus may have been the seat of the sensation described. Even the descriptions of objective symptoms are often most unsatisfactory and indefinite. Compare, in evidence of this, the relative clearness and fullness with which discharges, for instance, from the respiratory and from the female sexual organs have been described by provers.

Here, then, is a weak spot in our Materia Medica; and, practically, it is one that we must greatly deplore. Women’s diseases constitute a large majority of our cases. For, at least half of the community are women; and, what with the enforced illnesses contingent on maternity; upon evolution and involution, which are often attended with serious diseases; because of our modes of living, which bear so hardly upon woman; upon the unequal struggle which, as yet, women are forced to maintain, who wage alone the hard battle of life, this half of the community, as records of all of us must show, call for professional aid at least twice as often as the other. And yet, in reference to their peculiar diseases, our Materia Medica is weakest.

The reason and the remedy are not far to seek.

We have comparatively few symptoms of drug-action upon women, because comparatively few women have been provers of drugs. And the symptoms we have are lacking in precision, because our women provers, as a rule, have been deficient in definite knowledge of the structure and physiology of the organs distinctive of their sex, and have, therefore, been, to some extent, incompetent observers. They have often better described the symptoms of the respiratory organs which they possess in common with men, than of their own characteristic sexual organs; a fact not surprising, perhaps, but certainly, from the stand-point of the Materia Medica, deplorable.

This want in our Materia Medica can be supplied only by the voluntary labors of women as provers of drugs. And that their provings may possess the requisite definiteness and precision, the provers must have acquired such a degree, at least, of professional knowledge as to understand the anatomy, physiology and relations of the apparatus peculiar to their sex. In other words, they must be, for this object, at least, and to this extent, physicians. More especially is this necessary as regards the symptoms produced upon the sexual apparatus of women, since, in the work of defining and comprehending these symptoms, at least, they can receive no aid from professional men.

None but women can do this work. None but women educated in medical science can do it worthly and well, so that our Materia Medica may be an efficient means for the treatment of women’s diseases. If this fact furnish an argument for the medical education of women, the fault lies in nature! And if, engaged in the execution of such a work as is here indicated, so sorely needed, and which they alone can perform, women physicians should seek admission to the privileges of our profession, I, for one, could not imagine a more complete, nor a more beneficent vindication of their right, than such a contribution to human knowledge would be.

Carroll Dunham
Dr. Carroll Dunham M.D. (1828-1877)
Dr. Dunham graduated from Columbia University with Honours in 1847. In 1850 he received M.D. degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York. While in Dublin, he received a dissecting wound that nearly killed him, but with the aid of homoeopathy he cured himself with Lachesis. He visited various homoeopathic hospitals in Europe and then went to Munster where he stayed with Dr. Boenninghausen and studied the methods of that great master. His works include 'Lectures on Materia Medica' and 'Homoeopathy - Science of Therapeutics'.