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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.

Malt ad, (left) from Harper’s Weekly, 6 October, 1896

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


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
it is the One
True Blood Purifier.

—Raleigh News and Observer, October 9 1896


Wounds, Bruises,
Sunburn, Sprains,
Lameness, Strains,
Soreness, Fatigue


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

  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman

© Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

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Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)

  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
New Spirits
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