History is an interesting subject, one that is full of twists and turns, breathless moments of excitement, heroes and heroines. It has been said that “history repeats itself,” but in reality it instead bares, in some future time, shadowy remembrances of itself. Sometimes the memories of a local hero get lost over time, only to resurface by surprise. The story of Dr. Susan E. Bruce of Lewiston, Idaho is just such a story.
I happened upon buried treasure several weeks ago when I was searching online for a local society of homeopaths. While my search didn’t locate any current association in the Gem State, it didn’t come up empty handed either. Instead it led me to a small book entitled Historic Firsts of Lewiston, Idaho: Unintended Greatness by Steven D. Branting and to page 119, to be exact. On this page Branting briefly touches on the professional life of one Dr. Susan E. Bruce, a local physician who began practicing in the Lewiston area in 1906. Bruce graduated in 1880 from Hahnemann Medical College, a “regular” medical college that in addition trained would-be doctors in classical homeopathy. The college became coeducational in 1871, welcoming women students into the ranks of the medical profession (here is a slightly more in-depth account of the history of this Chicago college). On a trip West in 1905, Dr. Bruce discovered she liked the Lewiston area so much that she moved her homeopathic practice there in 1906.
At this point is where history takes a winding road, weaving between the ordinary and the extraordinary in its tale of a woman doctor. In 1907, Dr. Bruce was appointed one of the first three physicians to serve on the Idaho Board of Health (now called the Idaho Board of Health and Welfare). She also claimed first place in the state board examinations. Consider for a moment what achievements these were–first for her to practice in a then traditionally male-dominated profession, to achieve the highest mark on her examinations, and to be appointed to a state medical board by the governor! These would be considered remarkable achievements even in the modern age. Dr. Bruce then became, in 1909, the first vice president of the newly formed Idaho Homeopathic Society (it was by searching for this phrase that I discovered her). Two years later in 1911, she was elected Lewiston’s health officer, a role of service she filled for seventeen years. Branting notes it was as health officer that Dr. Bruce became “by many estimates the most important physician to serve the city.” (p 120)
Dr. Bruce was a trained homeopath, practicing and serving a northern Idaho community nearly 100 years ago. She was instrumental in containing local smallpox outbreaks in 1913 and 1927. By her presence of mind many were spared from the devastating impact of the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1918-20. In fact, the citizens credited Dr. Bruce for the comparably low death toll in the area–only 53 residents died in the pandemic. Dr. Bruce’s skills in homeopathy were so noteworthy, that the nursing staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital requested she teach homeopathic materia medica.
In 1930, after a long season practicing homeopathy, Dr. Susan E. Bruce passed away at the age of 82, shortly after her retirement. Homeopathy was relegated to near obscurity with the advent of penicillin in 1928, and the citizens of Lewiston all but forgot the story of this heroic female physician. Now, after nearly 100 years, the story of Dr. Bruce is coming to light and classical homeopathy is being revived in northern Idaho. Though not a trained medical doctor, I hope to once again provide this wonderful alternative to conventional allopathic medicine for those seeking a gentler healing approach. If you are fascinated with homeopathic history in the United States, I suggest you begin here. If you are new to homeopathy, read this free book online–it will give you a concise history, the principles, and applications of this time-tested alternative medicine.
I am always delighted and amazed at what ripples a passion for history can ignite–I never imagined a woman like Dr. Bruce could practice homeopathy a century ago just 30 odd miles from my home. In the spirit of Dr. Susan E. Bruce, I will strive through A Joyful Heart Health to educate people about homeopathy and to serve those both locally and abroad. I look forward to reviving health naturally on the Palouse. Please contact me if you are interested in a homeopathic consultation or to request more information.