Of course, most of these new alternatives were not new at all. Nor had Americans ever stopped self-dosing and using irregular medicine. It was certainly true that many popular nineteenth-century health systems were not as strong or as visible in the mid-twentieth century as they had once been. Many Americans did not even realize the significant historic challenge irregulars like homeopaths had once posed to regular medicine when they began to emerge again in the 1960s and 1970s. But these healers had never disappeared. The number of homeopaths, phrenologists, mesmerists, and botanic healers sharply declined in the early twentieth century, but osteopaths, chiropractors, and many other kinds of healers made up for the retreat of older systems. In the 1920s, the Illinois Medical Society found that among six thousand Chicago residents, 87 percent reported using what regular medicine had taken to calling “cult medicine.” A similar national survey carried out by the federal government between 1929 and 1931 found that irregular practitioners comprised 10 percent of all healthcare visits. And in 1965, homeopath Wyeth Post Baker released confidential reports from the Senate Finance Committee revealing that an estimated twelve million people used homeopathic remedies without the advice or consent of their doctors. The tenacity of irregular health care’s appeal to the general public alarmed regulars: many had assumed irregular medicine’s demise decades earlier and had consigned its remaining users to a small fringe on the margins of society. These surveys told a different story. While it was mostly true that regular medicine had seized political and institutional authority in the twentieth century, at the level of daily practice and individual therapeutic choice, the ground remained highly contested.


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