Born into one of the oldest French noble families, in Paris, February 2, 1800, the daughter of Comte Joseph d’Hervilly and Marie-Joseph Gertrude Heilrath, Melanie was educated at home, enjoying the privileges of the liberal Republican aristocracy.
Domestic strife with her violently envious mother made it necessary for her to remove to the family home of her painting teacher, Guillaume Guillon-Lethiere in 1815.
The cultivated young noblewoman, an accomplished and successful painter and poet, was to remain in Paris through the 1820’s. Illness was to bring her attention to homeopathy, as was the notable treatment of the 1832 cholera epidemic in Paris by Dr. Frederick Foster Hervey Quin, a prominent English homeopath who had been a student of Hahnemann and physician to Prince Leopold of Belgium.
Melanie obtained a translation of the 1829 4th edition of The Organon, her reading of which almost immediately inspired her to travel to Coethen to meet and be treated by its author. She arrived Oct. 7, 1834 and by January 18th, 1835 had been discreetly courted and secretly married to Hahnemann.
They moved to Paris in June and Hahnemann commenced practice in August of 1835, assisted by Melanie, who had by now become an accomplished homeopath, and ‘his keenest pupil’.
Soon she was involved in case taking and assumed the care of the gratuitously treated poor. An exacting prescriber, Melanie cured many difficult and serious cases, to the amazement of many including Hahnemann, who was to relate her successes to Hering.
Their renowned collaboration was to continue until Hahnemann’s decline and illness shortly after his 88th birthday in April of 1843. Before his death in July of that year, he was to entrust her with the legacy of his practice, and the results of his later experiments as embodied in the unpublished 6th edition of the Organon. Hahnemann prevailed upon her to publish it only when the world would be ready.
Melanie resumed her practice until her lack of proper qualifications led to her prosecution for practicing medicine and pharmacy illegally, notwithstanding the assistance of two physicians and a pharmacist.
Despite her belated diploma awarded by The Allentown Academy of The Homeopathic Healing Art in America, and the protest by many prominent friends and patients, she was tried, found guilty, fined, and forbidden to practice. Within several years she was discreetly treating patients and no further action was taken for nearly 25 years, when, in 1872, she was granted permission to practice medicine.
The jealousy of Parisian physicians of all schools was a difficulty that she was to steadfastly meet. The allopaths resented her presumption to carry on Hahnemann’s practice; the homeopaths’ chagrin at her saving their bungled cases; and the profession at large for her apparent unwillingness to release the last Organon.
Some have assumed Melanie held it back due to the mongrel-like state of much of homeopathic practice of the time, and, perhaps more so, to shield Hahnemann’s memory from the derision that would be forthcoming concerning the developments he had made in the use of the LM potencies.
She was approached several times by those who wished to purchase or for her to publish the last edition. Boenninghausen had betrayed her trust by prematurely publishing in the periodical literature some proofs, and subsequent attempts by others were futile.
Her requests for remuneration for the arduous task of transcribing the last edition (and subsequent lost practice) were considered excessive and were never met.
Thus the final Organon remained unpublished until purchased by Dr. Richard Haehl from the Boenninghausen family and imperfectly translated and published in 1921.
The Franco-Prussian War destroyed what property she had for income and forced her to practice more aggressively, although she may have easily retired in comfort with her daughter and son-in-law, Boenninghausen the younger.
She remained in Paris, dying alone in May of 1878, and was buried beside Hahnemann in Montmartre, Paris. When Hahnemann was exhumed and interred at Pere la Chase, Paris, in 1898, she was removed with him.
Time has afforded an appreciation of Melanie Hahnemann that is yet to be fully realized. She now may no longer be judged to be a bold, presumptuous seeker after Hahnemann’s fortune, a usurper who prevailed over his senile genius.
Her letters and casebooks have revealed her as one who was the perfect counterpart to Hahnemann, one who quite literally freed him from an atrophied resignation, inspiring him to carry his work to an extent which is now just beginning to be understood. This was the legacy, which she protected until her death.