Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Fri, July 19

Advice for women in two languages: Medical almanacs in early Prescott<BR>

The Sharlot Hall Museum archives are well known as a repository of information about the lives of past and present residents of Yavapai County. 

The overwhelming majority of materials in the archives is in English, of course. 

But if one looks carefully, one can find interesting glimpses into the lives of Spanish-speaking Arizonans as well. 

For example, from the 1921 prescription records of Owl Drug & Candy Company, we know that at least one doctor, Nelson Burdick, on occasion wrote medical instructions for his patients in Spanish.

Or take the question of dissemination of health care information. 

The Sharlot Hall Museum archives have a delightful collection of almanacs put out by the manufacturers of so-called "patent" or "proprietary" medicines. 

These medicines, which were exceedingly popular in the 1800s and early 1900s, were combinations of chemicals, herbs, alcohol, and often narcotics. 

Their exact formulas were secret, and although some were nothing more than flavored alcohol or sugar syrup, others were powerful and often effective medicines. 

A few even survive today, at least in some form; Doan's Pills, Lydia Pinkham's Pills, and Ayer's Sarsaparilla all started out as patent medicines in the mid-1800s.

In the days before radio and television, medical almanacs were a clever way to establish product recognition among the general public. 

The almanacs were delivered in bulk to local pharmacists, who stamped their names and business addresses on them and distributed them free of charge to their customers. 

Besides useful calendars, planting schedules, and phases of the moon, the almanacs might have jokes, horoscopes, predictions by psychics, recipes, household hints and cartoons. 

Mostly, though, the booklets contained serious, scientific-sounding discussions of the ailments treatable by whatever concoction was being advertised, along with enthusiastic testimonials from satisfied consumers.

Prescott pharmacists were eager dispersers of the almanacs. 

The pamphlets preserved in the archives bear the names of Yavapai Pharmacy (Dr. J.N. McCandless, Proprietor), W.W. Ross, Owl Drug & Candy, Brisley Drug, Hebert's Drug Store, and others. 

The almanacs are fascinating in part because of the light they cast on the most common medical complaints of the day and self-medication possibilities in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The almanacs reveal other aspects of late territorial and early statehood society as well. 

I was surprised to learn that at least one Prescott pharmacist, the socially prominent W.W. Ross, cared enough about his Spanish-speaking clientele that he provided patent medicine almanacs in Spanish as well as English.  (And naturally, since Ross was not doing the translating himself, it follows that the manufacturers of proprietary medicines were themselves eager to court Spanish-speaking customers and considered them an important source e of revenue.)

Contact

This Week's Circulars

To view money-saving ads...