William Tod Helmuth MD (30 October 1833 – 15 May 1902) was professor of surgery, dean of the faculty and a trustee of the New York Homeopathic Medical College and Hospital. Helmuth wrote one of the first two American Homeopathic surgical textbooks, Surgery and its Adaption to Homeopathic Practice, first published in 1855, along with a number of other medical treatises, papers on surgical techniques and quite a bit of poetry and editorial work.
Nineteenth-Century American society was particularly prone to the establishment of numerous unorthodox medical practices and their alternative therapies. The most influential of the unorthodox medical groups were the homeopathic and eclectic sects. From within the ranks of homeopathy and eclecticism, William Tod Helmuth and Andrew Jackson Howe, respectively, emerged to become the best-known sectarian surgeons of their era.
Helmuth was born in Philadelphia, PA, studied at St. Timothy’s College, Baltimore, MD, and in 1850 took up the study of medicine at the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania. His uncle, Dr. William Scheaff Helmuth, was the professor of theory and practice of medicine there, himself a former pupil of Thomas T. Hewson, a distinguished Philadelphia surgeon.
Helmuth received his MD in 1853, and in 1856 he was appointed as chair of anatomy at the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania, but at the end of the 1857-58 session he resigned and relocated to St. Louis, Missouri.
There in 1859 Helmuth was one of the founders of the Homeopathic Medical College of Missouri, serving as its first chair of anatomy and as registrar of the faculty.
In 1862 Helmuth published his second medical monograph, A Treatise on Diptheria; its nature, pathology and Homeopathic treatment (incorrectly dated on the title page as 1842).
In 1865 he was appointed the chair of theory and practice at the College but by 1868 had left, and the following year founded the short-lived St. Louis College of Homoeopathic Physicians and Surgeons, of which he was the dean and professor of surgery.
Helmuth was elected President of the American Institute of Homeopathy in 1867.
In 1870 Helmuth accepted the invitation of the trustees of the New York Homeopathic Medical College to the chair of surgery. He would remain associated and deeply involved with this institution for the rest of his career. In 1891 he was elected member of the board of trustees, and in 1893 he was made dean of the faculty, performing the duties of that office as long as he lived.
He was regarded as a “vigorous defender of antiseptic and aseptic surgical procedures,” and in 1876 performed one of the first antiseptic operations (ovariotomy) in America.
In addition to his work as Professor of Surgery at the New York Homeopathic Medical College, Helmuth was also editor of the Western Homoeopathic Observer and was co-editor of the North American Journal of Homoeopathy (1862 – 1869), the New England Medical Gazette (1871 – 1872), New York Journal of Homoeopathy (1873 – 1874) and the Homoeopathic Times (1875 – 1877), which eventually became the New York Medical Times, which was eventually absorbed into the New York Journal of Medicine.
Helmuth was present at the unveiling of the statue of Samuel Hahnemann in Washington D. C. on 21 June, 1900. As poet for the day, Helmuth penned an ode to Hahnemann that he read out to those assembled for the ceremony.
Helmuth had long suffered with angina and on 15 May 1901 died suddenly of a heart attack at home in New York City. In an obituary he was described as “the Nestor of homoeopathic surgery:”
A man of brilliant and varied attainments – the peer of any man of any school – and his name for years has been familiar not only throughout the medical world, but wherever the liberal arts and sciences are recognized.
As a teacher he had no rival, his thoughts were clear and concise, his diction varied and elegant.
As an orator he was witty, eloquent or sublime as the occasion demanded.
After Helmuth’s death, his wife Fannie became President of Sorosis, a professional Women’s Association formed because often women were shut out of membership of other professional organisations. Mrs. William Tod Helmuth was one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in New York state.
- Surgery and It’s Adoption into Homeopathic Practice (1855).
- A Treatise on Diphtheria (1862).
- A Treatise on Diphtheria 2nd ed (1864).
- Ten Cases in Surgery (1870).
- A System of Surgery (1873).
- A System of Surgery 2nd ed (1874).
- A Dozen Cases of Clinical Surgery (1876)
- Scratches of a Surgeon (1879).
- A System of Surgery 3rd ed (1879). This was destroyed in a fire and replaced with the 4th ed.
- A System of Surgery 4th ed (1879).
- A System of Surgery 5th ed (1887).
Interesting! My family owns a silver inkwell engraved “William Tod Helmuth Xmas 1887.” I wonder if any of his descendants might be interested in buying it? We’re going to put it up for auction in November, in New Orleans.