At the beginning of Nature’s Path, Susan E. Cayleff describes the appropriately idyllic setting for the first-ever North American Convention of Naturopathic Physicians in 1991. It was here, in the gorgeous mountains of the Whistler Resort in British Columbia, that Cayleff first learned that naturopathy was much more than an eclectic blend of holistic practices. By the end of the twentieth century, naturopathy had become a distinct medical system and a way of living in harmony with the natural world. Well-known to historians of medicine, naturopathy developed in the nineteenth century as an alternative medical system based on the premise that the body will heal itself when it is strengthened through the use of nontoxic, natural therapies. Cayleff shows that while the history of naturopathy has been marked by fluid therapeutic boundaries, diversity, and eclecticism, a shared belief in the healing properties of water, nutrition, exercise, the sun, and clean, fresh air has almost always united naturopaths. In many ways, the tumultuous 120-year history of naturopathy belies the cohesive beliefs, philosophies, and therapeutics that Cayleff identifies as products of the past. Cayleff notes that one strength of early naturopathy was the fluidity of therapeutic components and practitioners it embraced, but this was also a major shortcoming of the system, as it “offered no single theory or praxis that promised panacea relief. Its very complexity and numerous components made it at once appealing and intimidating” (15). The sheer number and variety of methods became a source of diffused identity and internal combativeness (39). For much of its history, naturopathy has been characterized by internal philosophical and therapeutic disputes that nearly destroyed the practice several times. As Cayleff points out, “rancorous in-fighting caused numerous organizational splits, competing leadership, and a weakened public identity” (5). The origins of internal debates can be traced as far back as the conflicting stories over the derivation of the term naturopathy. In one version of the word’s origin, R.T. Trall had used naturopathy in an editorial in the Water-Cure Journal in the 1860s, or it was submitted as part of a naming competition. According to another story, in 1892 Drs. John and Sophie Scheel combined the terms nature cure and homeopathy. A more romantic version of this story cites a morning in 1896 when the enthusiastic young Benedict Lust burst into the office of a colleague and proclaimed the term perfectly encapsulated the healing technique he advocated. The first nine chapters of Nature’s Path focus on the period when Benedict and Louisa Stroeble Lust served as two of naturopathy’s most prominent popularizers and de facto leaders. Cayleff effectively illustrates how Louisa’s “intellectual radicalism and insistence on female equality made her a leading force in American naturopathy for many years” (15). A chapter on the role of women in the movement illustrates how naturopathic philosophy and therapeutics offered an authoritative space for female practitioners, despite the persistence of a conservative gender ideology. Benedict’s intellect and belief in a free exchange of ideas led him to embrace an ever-growing circle of practitioners that helped expand the field of naturopathy, but his “on-again, off-again relations with osteopaths, chiropractors, and charismatic healers caused shifting loyalties” as well (243). Upon his death in 1945, the divisiveness and schisms that Lust worked to overcome deepened. Six separate naturopathic organizations emerged just as federal policies began to increasingly undercut naturopathy, the American Medical Association (AMA) renewed its attack on naturopaths, and internal factionalism became more entrenched. Naturopaths faced a nearly constant barrage of challenges to their legitimacy throughout the twentieth century. Because they embraced an identity as outsiders to professional medicine, naturopaths were “lumped together by the AMA and by governmental regulatory agencies with a plethora of dangerous quacks, charlatans, and snake-oil salesmen” (178). Forces allied against non-allopathic practitioners utilized basic science laws, medical practice acts, the 1910 Flexner Report, and investigative entrapment techniques as primary tools to combat naturopathic professionalization efforts. Naturopaths, meanwhile, railed against the “Medical Trust” that conspired against them. Naturopaths often courted controversy. They openly opposed what they saw as the capitalist greed of the monopolies in the processed food and pharmaceutical industries, the coercive public health movement’s system of forced vaccinations, and the dangerous collusion between the AMA, government, and pharmaceutical companies. Throughout Nature’s Path, Cayleff effectively illustrates how naturopathy was shaped by political activism. Cayleff convincingly argues that naturopathy should be seen as part of a broader resistance movement against corporate and institutional dominance, which has been manifested in countercultural views including support for antivaccination, antivivisection, and vegetarianism movements. The final two chapters of Nature’s Path explore how naturopathy came to terms with ongoing problems in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. As Cayleff explains, naturopathy had to figure out “how to distinguish schooled, professional healers from self-described healers who were incompetent and how to develop a national organized profession amidst internal dissension” (244). Against all odds, naturopaths rebuilt their faltering educational institutions. They made piecemeal gains in licensure and recognition nationwide and ultimately achieved an unprecedented degree of unity in their field by modernizing their organizational structure and professional organs. Cayleff commendably explores the role that broader cultural and sociopolitical shifts played in this process. The counterculture movement of the 1960s, the holistic health movement of the 1970s, and the growing popularity of complementary and alternative medicine in the 1990s all played pivotal parts. As of 2014, “the primary goals of the American Association of Naturopathic Practitioners were: licensure in every state; equitable reimbursement in the health care marketplace; and integration into all aspects of the national health care system” (298). Given that Nature’s Path is the first comprehensive monograph to examine the complex history and culture of American naturopathy, it is not surprising that it may leave historians of medicine wanting more. Cayleff acknowledges that, as a history of the naturopathic profession, the book does not fully address the popular response to naturopathy. Likewise, Cayleff notes that the history of women and naturopathy in the modern era deserves a detailed study of its own. Nevertheless, Nature’s Path makes a very important contribution to a growing body of work that explores the rich histories of a variety of medical systems beyond the mainstream. Published by Oxford University Press 2017. This work is written by a US Government employee and is in the public domain in the US.
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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