American Medical Biographies/Beach, Wooster

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2267154American Medical Biographies — Beach, Wooster1920

Beach, Wooster (1794–1859)

Wooster Beach, the founder of "Eclecticism" in the United States, a reformer of medical practice, was born at Trumbull, Connecticut, in 1794. He had little education beyond that received in the country schools. His ambition to study medicine was gratified by being taken as a pupil by Dr. Jacob Tidd, a German herb doctor who had practised in Amwell, Hunterdon County, New York, for forty years, and with Tidd he stayed until the latter's death. Being called to New York to take care of several cases, Beach was urged to settle there and was said to have become a student at the medical college of the University, graduating in due form, and becoming a member of the New York County Medical Society.

In 1823 he married Eliza de Grove. They had a happy married life, and a son, Wooster Beach, succeeded his father in practice.

In 1825 Beach started teaching and writing as an empiric. He opposed the prevailing heroic practice of blood-letting and purging with mercurials, holding that the student should keep an open mind, observe, avoid a routine system and treat disease with nature's remedies,—herbs and roots. Two years later he opened the United States Infirmary in Eldridge Street, New York, where he treated several thousand patients, and in 1837 he started the New York Medical Academy which later became the Reformed Medical College of New York, the parent school of "Reformed Medicine." It had a short life as many of its supporters moved to Worthington, Ohio, to establish a medical department in a new university there. Beach was opposed to Thompsonianism and its doctrine of "Heat is life, and cold is death." He disowned the so-called new advance in regard to the matter of sexual relation, made by the lay preacher, Theophilus R. Gates of Philadelphia, with whom he had been associated.

In 1832, on the first visitation of Asiatic cholera to New York, he was appointed by one of the aldermen to take charge of the poor who were afflicted with the disease and treated nearly a thousand cases, avoiding the use of calomel and all heroic treatment, with good results.

Dr. Beach was the author of at least a dozen medical works. He appreciated early in his career the importance of the press in spreading information about his views and for many years he published The Telescope, and in 1837, a sheet entitled The Ishmaelite. In 1833 appeared his "American Practice of Medicine," in three volumes. Copies were sent to the crowned heads of Europe and the author received many commendatory letters. Other text-books followed and were finally condensed into one volume: "The Reformed Practice of Medicine."

He was as strenuous in demanding reform in religion as he was in medicine. He held that current notions and practices were almost diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Bible. He had little regard for the conventionalities of society, and his peculiarities were in evidence wherever he went. He was an enthusiast and a persistent worker; many called him a fanatic. Once during a controversy with a Dr. Sperry of Connecticut, the latter remarked half disdainfully: "You are an eclectic." Dr. Beach replied quickly: "You have given me the term; I am an eclectic." It is likely that those who embraced his views did not realize that later they were to be enrolled under such a title.

After the closing of the Reformed medical school at Worthington, Ohio, in 1848, a call was issued for a convention to meet at Cincinnati to take measures for the establishment of a national organization of eclectics, and Wooster Beach's name headed the list of signers. In 1855 he became president of the National Eclectic Medical Association. His last years were spent in penury, as he had no business ability and did not believe in accepting money for his services. He was much broken by the drowning of his second son in Hell Gate channel, and died in New York City, January 28, 1859.

The Eclectic Med. Jour., Cinn., March, 1893, vol. liii, 113–121. The Med. Advocate, N. Y., n. s., vol. ii, 235–237. (Both articles by Alexander Wilder, M.D.)