Looking back at old advertisements can not only be extremely entertaining, but can also provide fascinating insight into commonly accepted knowledge during a given era. Historically, lack of advertising laws or regulations resulted in exaggerated, dishonest and extreme claims being made in attempts to sell products. Advertisers were able to claim almost anything they pleased without the need to provide proof or corroboration of any kind. The lack of regulation was compounded with the comparatively poor knowledge of health and medicine at the time, which resulted in what we can now easily understand as being flagrant misinformation and false claims that were likely dangerous to consumers.
Moreover, advertising has always been deeply psychological, and often aims to appeal to the consumers’ emotions. Whether the targeted emotion is desire, fear, uncertainty, excitement or sympathy, advertising uses these emotions as a point of access to the consumer. Since advertisements have been traditionally created to appeal to a wide audience, it is common for the targeted beliefs and emotions to reflect prevalent societal norms, values and mores.
Remedies for “female ailments”:
Advertisements for pills marketed specifically for women were extremely common. These pills were sold over the counter and were completely unregulated in their production as well as advertisement, often concocted with different types of vitamins, botanical/herbal powders, sedatives, opioids and sometimes even poisonous substances (Gordon, 2018; “Luther, L. Moore”, 2022).
Of course we now understand that these substances are extremely addictive and dangerous if taken without direct advice/supervision from a medical professional.
It is also important to note the common narrative of female hysteria and derangement was (and still is) a tool of oppression that is deeply rooted in misogyny.
Disclaimer: I was unable to confirm the exact substances used to concoct the pills featured in these advertisements.
From p. 3 of The Silvertonian, February 1899.
From p. 7 of The Cumberland News, February 1905.
Other Pills and Remedies:
No one was safe from the absurd medical claims of the early 1900’s. Whether you had liver disease, kidney failure, addiction, or were just aging, these advertisements boldly claim that their product could cure any ailment.
From p. 2 of The Cumberland News, February 1905
From p. 3 of The Prospector, October, 1913.
From p. 6 of The Prospector, October 1913.
Other ads were not dangerous, but still reflected common and ingrained gender roles of the times. This ad makes exaggerated claims that their product took the hard work out of cleaning, a tactic that is still commonly used in advertising today! Wouldn’t it be nice if it were true.
From p. 3 of the Mail Herald, July 1914.
Claims of a product influencing one’s ability in attracting a romantic partner have always existed in advertisements. While this approach is still extremely common in current advertisements, things were simply stated a little more bluntly back then…
From p. 6 of The Ubyssey, December 1950.
Thank you for reading!
Gordon, Sarah. “Finding Women in the Archives: Female Remedies – NyHistory.” New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, 13 Nov. 2018, www.nyhistory.org/blogs/female-remedies.
“Luther L. Moore.” South Whidbey Historical Society, southwhidbeyhistory.org/2022/01/luther-l-moore/. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.