Popular Medicine

Medicine was largely unregulated in the 1890s. Professional organizations of doctors and nurses existed, but many Americans relied on homeopathy and family remedies based on herbs, foods, and household items. In the era before germ theory and antibiotics, families regularly lost children in infancy and incurable chronic diseases were common, creating a huge market for any remedies that might work. Liquor and opium derivatives were in wide use as painkillers, and the line between "medicine," "drugs," and "alcohol" often blurred. In states that had passed prohibition laws, pharmacists frustrated anti-liquor advocates by selling over-the-counter nostrums with high alcoholic proofs.

Salesmen carried on a flourishing trade in nostrums and pills, both door to door and through the pages of newspapers and journals. Often featuring celebrity endorsements--by former Civil War generals and the wives of leading politicians, among others--these ads promised sweeping cures for all sorts of problems. Political speakers and writers often described platforms as a form of "good medicine," but cartoonists also recognized and used the widespread stereotype of the "patent-medicine salesman," a huckster who tricked gullible listeners into believing his claims. Bryan, because he relied more heavily than McKinley on public speaking tours, was particularly vulnerable to such caricatures.

Mark Hanna is firmly of the belief that the only effective confidence restorative is put up at Canton.
--National Reflector (African-American), 31 October 1896

We have tried McKinleyism, and odious as it is, we know what it is. Bryanism we have only taken in broken doses, as in Colorado and South Carolina, and tested by these homeopathic experiments, we may well draw back aghast before the thought of applying it, allopathically, to the General Government.
--Henry Watterson (Gold Democrat) in Louisville Courier-Journal 9 October 1896

MRS. SENATOR WARREN. Why Paine's Celery Compound Is Famed in Washington Families.

The natural, unchecked course of disease is from bad to worse as the fall and winter wear on.
It is not that rheumatism, neuralgia, insomnia and kidney troubles are hard to cure--Paine's celery compound has made a host of sufferers well--but people make themselves chronic invalids by neglecting the first symptoms of disease.
Thousands of lives that are now fast wearing out would be prolonged if Paine's celery compound were in each instance used to stop those ominous pains over the kidneys, to build up the rundown nervous strength, and cure permanently those more and more frequently occuring attacks of headache and indigestion.
...Here is a testimonial recently received from the wife of United States Senator E. F. Warren, of Wyoming, whose distinguished services for the country's best farming interests are so well known:
"I was persuaded to try your Paine's celery compound in the early spring, when in a very run-down condition. The duties devolving upon the wife of an official in public life are naturally very exhausting, and I was tired out and nervous when I commenced using the remedy. I take pleasure in testifying to the great benefit I received from its use, and can truthfully say that I am in almost perfect health again. If I ever find myself running down again I shall certainly give it another trial, and will in the meantime recommend it to every one needing it." Birmingham State Herald, September 19, 1896

Did You Ever

try Electric Bitters, as a remedy for your troubles? If not, get a bottle now and get relief. This medicine has been found to be peculiarly adapted to the relief and cure of all Female Complaints, exerting a wonderful direct influence in giving strength and tone to the organs. If you have loss of Appetite, Constipation, Headache, Fainting Spells, or are Nervous, Sleepless, Excitable, Melancholy or troubled with Dizzy Spells, Electric Bitters is the medicine you need. Health and strength are guaranteed by its use. Large bottles only 50c. at S. J. Hodkginson's, Drug Store.
--Nevada State Journal, September 10

Hood's Sarsaparilla

Because it is the One True Blood Purifier.
Raleigh News and Observer, October 9 1896

[malt pic]

Harper's Weekly, 6 October, 1896



Wounds, Bruises,
Sunburn, Sprains,

Lameness, Strains,
Soreness, Fatigue

Always rub with it after EXERCISING, so AVOID LAMENESS and be in good condition for the next day's work.

Weak, Watery, Worthless.
Pond's Extract Co., 78 Fifth Ave., New York.

--American Nonconformist, August 13 1896

Takes 1000 people to buy Dr. Sage's Catarrh Remedy, at 50 cents a bottle, to make up $500.
One failure to cure would take the profit from 4000 sales.
Its makers profess to cure "cold in the head," and even chronic catarrh, and if they fail they pay $500 for their over-confidence.
Not in newspaper words but in hard cash! Think of what confidence it takes to put that in the papers--and mean it.
Its makers believe in the Remedy. Isn't it worth a trial? Isn't any trial preferable to catarrh?
New York Times, July 25, 1896

Tam O'Shanter's ride through the midnight wind with the horrible hobgoblins pursuing him was only a bad dream, or nightmare, which anybody is liable to experience as the result of overeating or an attack of biliousness or indigestion. To avoid such disagreeable experiences one or two of Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets should be taken after a too hearty meal and the action of the stomach will thereby be quickened and the meal promptly digested....
The Pellets cure biliousness, sick and bilious headache, dizziness, costiveness, or constipation, sour stomach, loss of appetite, coated tongue, indigestion, or dyspepsia, windy belchings, "heartburn," pain and distress after eating, and kindred derangements of the liver, stomach and bowels. One little "Pellet" is a laxative, two are mildly cathartic.
--Nevada State Journal, October 17


Nerves just as surely come from the use of Hood's Sarsaparilla as does the cure of scrofula, salt rheum, or other so-called blood diseases. This is simply beacuse the blood affects the condition of all the


bones, muscles and tissues. If it is impure it cannot properly sustain those parts. If made pure, rich, red and vitalized by Hood's Sarsaparilla, it carries health instead of disease, and repairs the worn, nervous system as nothing else can do. Thus nervous prostration, hysteria, neuralgia, heart palpitation, are cured....

Cartoons with References to Medicine

11 September, St. Louis Globe Democrat
29 September, L.A. Times
6 October, Chicago Times
16 October, Boston Globe


© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College