Johannes Helffrich. Image credit: Northwestern Lehigh County (2006), p.124.

Johannes Helffrich (Helfrich) (17 January 1795 – 8 March 1852) was a Reformed Church pastor and an early pioneer of homeopathy in America. Helffrich was one of the founders of the Allentown Academy, the first homeopathic medical college in the world.

Johannes Helffrich, an eminent American divine, was born in Weisenberg, Lehigh county, Pa., January 1, 1795. He was a son of the Rev. John Henry Helffrich, of Mosbach, a village in Hesse near Frankfurt on-the-Main, who, after completing his theological studies in the University of Heidelberg, was sent as a missionary to America, by the [Moravian] Synod of Holland in 1771. [His father was considered as the Father of the German Reformed Church in America].

Soon after his arrival he went to Weisenberg and took charge of the Ziegel’s Charge (Church). Here he married, on the 3d of November, 1773, Miss Magdalena Sassamanhaumn and became permanently located. Of the six sons of these parents Johannes Helffrich was the second youngest.

When none of these, agreeable to the wish of their father, could make up their minds to enter the ministry, he, as early as his twelfth year, solemnly engaged to realize his father’s desire in regard to himself, and was accordingly from that time forth diligently directed in his preparatory studies by his father.

In his seventeenth year, after having obtained a thorough preliminary education through private instructors, he went to Philadelphia, with company with Rev. John Zülich [1796 – 1875], where he pursued his studies for five years under Rev. Dr. Samuel Helfenstine.

In the spring of 1816. while young Mr. Helffrich was yet in Philadelphia pursuing his theological studies, he received a call from the Ziegel’s Charge (Church), which had become vacant by the death of his father. He accepted the call, and in the autumn of this year he made application to the Synod for examination and licensure, laying at the same time his call before Synod. He was examined, licensed and obtained permission to accept the call.

Three years later he received ordination at the Synod of Lancaster. He served this charge to end of his life. His youngest son became his successor, and after the death of his son the grandchild, who still fills the pulpit. Thus the charge continued in service of one family for one hundred and twenty-five years.

On the 19th of April, 1818, he was married to Miss Salome Schantz, an accomplished daughter of a prominent family in Lehigh. As that with his wife, so his union with his congregation, he regarded sacred and indissoluble, and consequently to the end of his life he continued to labor in the same field.

Mr. Helffrich was very conscientious in the fulfillment of his duties. He was naturally talented and his talent was well developed. He had many commendable characteristics. He was exceedingly firm and decisive in his ways. He wrote out in fall all his sermons, adhering to this practice even in his last years. No one could have persuaded him to enter the pulpit without previous close study.

He left behind a vast number of sermons and other productions, which prove the profundity of his scholarship. He was much beloved by his people, and although very decided in carrying out his plans, he never lost the love and respect of his members.

Three years after Mr. Helffrich’s marriage he purchased a home within a mile from where his father had resided. This home became an attraction in the surrounding community, and until his death he resided in this home. He was a warm friend of the Germans, and consequently his house became a hospitable home for many immigrants.

Until his two sons were grown to manhood he kept, at different times, six very able German teachers, who were well versed in the sciences. At this time his home was recognized all over the county as the Weisenberg Academy. He was the means of educating many talented young men who in the community attended this academy mid afterwards became professional and influential men.

Thus being associated with thee men of science, it afforded him a good opportunity for developing his ideas in Homoeopathy, of which he was a firm advocate.

Among these German professors in the academy was a certain Dr. William Wesselhoeft, who was educated at a European university. William Wesselhoeft was a disciple of Homoeopathy, in later years became a practicing physician in Bath, Northampton county, Pa., and one the founders of Homoeopathy in Lehigh county.

Mr. Helffrich being associated with Dr. William Wesselhoeft, can attribute the medical training of his mind to this friend, whose medical works he perused and in whose company he made many botanical experiments in order to add new remedies.

Also, Dr. Constantine Hering, the most prominent homoeopathic physician in Philadelphia, with whom Mr. Helffrich was intimately associated, had great influence upon him and inspired him in his enthusiasm for Homoeopathy.

For a number of years Mr. Helffrich, in connection with his pastoral labor, was in the habit of prescribing homoeopathic remedies for the bodily ailments of his members. But this new sphere of practice became burdensome, and finding this strength and health failing through the increase of work, in attempting to carry on both professions, he determined to cease doing any outside practice, and demanded of all patients to call at his home.

His home was soon filled with invalids and took the form of a hospital more than an educational institution. In the fall of the year 1830, Mr. Helffrich arranged his work so as to devote two days of the week to medical treatment. On these days as high as twenty to thirty patients were regularly present and the new healing system of Homoeopathy as put to a practical test. [Johannes Helffrich’s medical kits used at the Weisenberg Academy are now housed at the Smithsonian Institution].

Dr William Wesselhoeft, who was at this time established in Bath, would make weekly visits to this Weisenberg hospital at Helffrich’s home and assist in the treatment of the sick, as well as impart further knowledge to Helffrich in the medical science.

The result of this clinic and dispensary were very encouraging, and these meetings were kept up until August 23, 1834. On this day was organized a medical society called the Homoeopathic Society of Northampton and Adjacent Counties. The members from Lehigh (at that time Northampton) were Rev. Helffrich, Dr. John Romig, Dr. Joseph Hyppolyte Pulte and Dr. Adolph Bauer.

Joseph Hyppolyte Pulte practiced in Troxlertown, and Adolphus Bauer in Lyn township. This society held regular meetings at Bethlehem, Allentown and at the residences of its members. Its object was the advancement of Homoeopathy among the profession, interchange of experience and mutual improvement.

The result of these meetings was the establishment of a homoeopathic school at Allentown, called the “North American Academy of the Homoeopathic Healing Art.” This was the first homoeopathic college in the world.

It was founded on the 10th of April, 1835, the eightieth anniversary of the birth of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the celebrated founder of the homoeopathic system.

Dr. Constantine Hering, of Philadelphia, was requested to come to Allentown and take charge of the presidency of the nets college. He accepted the call and became the leading spirit of the new institution. The faculty consisted of Drs. Constantine Hering, William Wesselhoeft, John Eberhard Freitag, John Romig, Joseph Hyppolyte Pulte and Henry Detweiller.

In this institution Rev. Helffrich who was one of its founders, received one of the first diploma given. He was not, fully established in the medical art, and instead of a decrease of work at his home and community. He was constantly approached from all sides by applicants for a number of years.

His work was growing daily more tedious and burdensome and in order to relieve himself from this continually increasing work, Mr. Helffrich had his eldest son educated in Philadelphia as a physician.

His son, John Henry [1824 – 1903], graduated in 1846, and established himself at the home of his father in Weisenberg. At present he is practicing in Allentown, and is the oldest practicing physician in the county. There are also three grandchildren of the reverend father who are practicing physicians in this county.

In 1849 Mr. Helffrich published a German work on homoeopathic veterinary practice. This was the first book on this subject published in this country.

As his eldest son succeeded hint in his medical profession, so his youngest son, William A. Helffrich, succeeded him in his ministerial work and perpetuated the honor of his name.

Mr. Helffrich enjoyed good health until within about a year of his death, when in consequence of an attack of apoplexy he was unable to preach. On Good Friday evening he retired cheerful, and at 11 o’clock in the night he was taken with a second apoplectic attack, when immediately he lost all consciousness.

On the following morning, April 8, 1852, he breathed his last, aged 57 years, 2 months and twenty-one days. On the 11th his funeral took place at the Ziegel’s Charge (Church).

During his ministry Mr. Helffrich baptized four thousand live hundred and ninety children ; confirmed between two and three thousand marriages; solemnized over one thousand burried about fifteen hundred.

Select Publications:

Dr. Friedrich August Günther’s Homöopathischer Thierarzt: Ein Hülfsbuch für Landwirthe, Pferdebesitzer und Hausväter, Welche ihre Kranken Hausthiere Schnell, Sicher und Wohlfeil Selbst Heilen Wollen with Friedrich August Güenther (1849)

Of interest:

John Heinrich Helffrich (1824 – 1903), son of Johannes Helffrich and Salome Schantz became a homeopathic physician.

John A. Henry Helffrich (1853 – 1895), son of John Heinrich Helffrich and brother of Calvin, became a homeopathic physician in Fogelsville.

Calvin E. Helffrich (1859 – 1937), son of John Heinrich Helffrich and brother of John, became a homeopathic physician in Fogelsville.

Charles Henry Helfrich (1864 – 1946), great nephew of Johannes Helffrich, is mentioned in the Journal of Ophthalmology, Otology and Laryngology in 1895 and in The North American Journal of Homeopathy. He was a Professor and Surgeon at the New York Ophthalmic Hospital and practiced homeopathy. Charles Henry Helfrich was present and a contributor at the World’s Congress of Homœopathic Physicians and Surgeons in 1893.

Charles H. Helfrich of New York city, Professor of Ophthalmology in the College of the New York Ophthalmic Hospital, and Surgeon in that institution, is a native of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, born July 18, 1864, son of Charles Helfrich and Amelia Hoffman, his wife.

His early education was acquired in the public schools of New York. He studied at the College of the City of New York for two terms, and then matriculated at the New York Homœopathic Medical College and Hospital, from which he graduated M. D. in 1884. He also took a course in the college of the New York Ophthalmic Hospital and received the degree O. et A. Chir. from that institution in 1887.

From 1884 to 1885 Dr. Helfrich was Resident Surgeon to Ward’s Island Hospital, New York city, and from 1887 to 1893 Resident Surgeon to the New York Ophthalmic Hospital.

He is Professor of Ophthalmology in the College of the New York Ophthalmic Hospital, Surgeon to the Ophthalmic Hospital, Aural Surgeon to Hahnemann Hospital, New York city, Pphthalmic and Aural Surgeon to the Yonkers Homœopathic Hospital, and Consulting Ophthalmic and Aural Surgeon to St. Mary’s Hospital, Passaic, New Jersey, and the Newark Homœopathic Hospital.

He is a member of the American Institute of Homœopathy, the Homœopathic Medical Society of the State of New York, the New Jersey Homœopathic Medical Society, the American Ophthalmological, Otological and Laryngological Society, the New York County Homœopathic Medical Society, the Academy of Pathological Science, the Unanimous and the Meissen clubs.

Dr. Helfrich married in May, 1900, Edith Hale Swan, by whom he has one son, Karl Hoffman Helfrich.