The Eclectics















Rush Medical College opened in 1843 in Chicago, IL, with 22 students.  The school was named for Dr Benjamin Rush, who signed the Declaration of Independence and was known as the Father of American Psychiatry.  A doctor with “Rush” training was highly respected on the prairie of the American West during the 19th century.

At that time there were a lot of quacks running around hawking their wares and promising instant miracle cures.  Anybody could call themselves a doctor and many did, selling ointments, salves, and other concoctions made from turpentine, creosote, and even heroin.  However, the mainstream doctors at the time weren’t much better.  Their course of action was bleeding, purging, and blistering.  No wonder people turned to the quacks.

There was another arm of the medical profession.  The Native American Indian used herbal, homeopathic medicine.  Some physicians known as “Eclectics” followed this tradition and relied on herbs and other home remedies.  This movement existed from 1825 to 1939.  The leaders of the movement were interested in researching all possibilities and were never able to nail down a certain methodology.  Therefore they eventually ceased to exist but their approach was popular with the people and helped to change the medical profession.

Due to the French and other explorers, by the year 1830 there was a large catalogue of plants with information on their medicinal uses.  These Eclectics, or reformers, who rejected the lancet and mercury, had plants growing on the American prairie readily at their disposal.

Although my Great Grandfather graduated from the Rush Medical College in 1891, he is listed as an “Eclectic Physician” in the Iowa State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1882-1883.  It seems he received his more formal training later in life.  It is too bad his life was cut short because I it sounds like he was good at what he did.

“Dr J. C. Beard died on Monday morning, September 5, 1892, after a long illness, at the home of his father in Washington Township.  He was aged 37 years, 2 months and three days.  Dr Beard was born July 2, 1855.  He was brought up in Ringgold County.  He read medicine in the office of Dr S Bailey of this place, and in March 1891 graduated in the Rush Medical College at Chicago.  In 1888 he married Miss Howell, daughter of W.I.F. Howell.  He practiced for a time at Lyons, Kansas, but since last May, at Tingley, Iowa.  He fell prey to tuberculosis.  It had been making insidious progress for years though serious symptoms have been developed more recently.   Dr Beard gave promise of taking high rank in his profession, being a good student and possessing in a marked degree the aptitudes essential to success.  He was a self-possessed and well poised character, and made himself available to all.  His most intimate friends knew him to be clear headed, posessing good habits and principles.  He leaves a wife and four children, three daughters and one son.  The wife, father and friends have much sympathy in their loss.  The community feels that a life of great promise has been cut short.  The funeral took place Tuesday, September 6 from his father’s home, and the services were conducted by Rev. BD Himebaugh and the remains were buried in the north cemetery.”

I had to look up “insidious” since it didn’t seem to fit.



  1. Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.
  2. Treacherous; crafty.

But now that I think about it both definitions could fit in this context.

As an aside, the photo is not of my Great Grandfather.  I could not find a photo of him.  This photo is of his parents, my great, great, grandparents. My great great grandfather, Alexander, died at age 77, seven years later. His claim to fame was being an elected official and moving to 5 different cities across Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.  His wife is Miss Harriet Jones whose “people” came to New Hampshire from England in the early 1600’s.

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  1. the history of medicine is well and truly an interesting thing.What we all a doctor now a days was probably a blanket term for anyone who was an expert in a certain field. At least on this side of the atlantic.

  2. I found this very interesting. I had no idea what an eclectic was (in terms of medicine). I am working on my genealogy and planned to blog about it next week. Isn’t it touching to learn the details of our ancestors lives? I find it to be an emotional journey… It was sad that your great grandfather died so young and left a family behind and after going to school and having so much promise. These are the kinds of details that tug at me heart.

    1. Hi Holly, I have been interested in genealogy for a while and it is such a fun and interesting thing to find out the history of the people who came before. Finding out their stories, and the hardships they bore in order to have a better life are really awesome. Good luck to you, I hope you are able to discover all kinds of interesting things and I will look forward to your post.

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