January 29th, 2013
I am interested in efforts to sell medicines directly to patients, how the purveyors of those medicines identify and label symptoms in order to pathologize them, and how they use various techniques to convince audiences that they are suffering from something and should take the elixir proffered. Typically, this has been various patent medicine companies—Medicines for the Faithful and Wright’s Indian Vegetable Pills and Dr. Jayne’s Family Medicines and Quack Medical Cures and Selling Medicines in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century—though there are fascinating 17th-century parallels during a scurvy epidemic in Enland, “A Scurvy Epidemic in 17th-Century England.”
But such efforts were not limited to quack medicines. The pamphlet of useful knowledge appears to have been a common advertising mechanism in the early 20th century.
In this case, a doctor (physician?) by the name of Wm. A. Walker used this pamphlet to advertise his practice. It is full of frightening and pathologizing rhetoric and warns people against trying to heal themselves. The pamphlet also serves to establish his own expertise through a combination of esoteric knowledge and long experience.
One diagnostic tool that would bring almost anybody to Dr. Walker now and then was the physician’s old standby, urinalysis: Is your urine the wrong color? to thick? to much or too little? stinky? too frequent? clouded with dissolved stuff? greasy or covered with a shiny scum? All these are bad signs.
In addition to the medical advice, Dr. Walker’s pamphlet included subway stops, train times, addresses of important and interesting sights in the city, and other useful information.