Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Famous Specific Orange Blossom for Female Diseases

Orange Blossom patent medicine for treating "female diseases."

As patent medicines go, this is a funny one. First of all, it is famous and specific, which would seem to indicate that they were afraid of imitators. It occurred to me that a competitor might want to call their medicine Cherry Blossom...wait, no. But, anyway, when you read all the "female troubles" that this patent medicine cured, you're going to want to get some for your wife. OK, I better stop now and move on to the facts!

You gotta wonder what in the heck "female diseases" were supposed to be. Well, if you guessed the stereotypical complaints associated with that time of the month, you're right. But the claims go a bit further. It seems that womb disease was one of the things this product cured. I'll get to that. First, for the claims.


Claims for Orange Blossom

A positive cure for all female diseases. Some symptoms: A tired languid feeling, low spirited and despondent, with no apparent cause. Indigestion, headache, backache, bearing down pain, pain across lower part of bowels [apparently, on occasion, I have female disease], with great soreness in region of ovaries. Tumors, bladder difficulty, frequent urination,, leucorrhea, constipation of bowels, piles,. with all these symptoms patient nervous and irritable. The Orange Blossom Treatment removes all these by a thorough process of absorption.
A LOCAL APPLICATION. Perfectly harmless, which every lady can use, herself. Medicines taken internally will never relieve the many forms of female weakness. The remedy must be applied to the parts to obtain relief.
A PLAIN TALK TO LADIES in our circular. As your druggist for one, or send two cent stamp to home office for sample box and circular.
This medicine was made by J.A. McCill, M.D., & Co. of Chicago, Illinois. It sold for $1 for a one-month supply.

If you think those claims seem both outrageous and insulting to women, wait for the "testimonials." And, yes, it was supposed to be applied to THOSE parts.


Gents: How much many women [sic] have to endure with female disease? It was the same with my wife; she was troubled with hardness of the womb for twenty-two years, and it was so bad that she was not able to do her own housework. I tried everything in my power for her, but all in vain. I became acquainted with your Orange Blossom and tried it, and it did her good from the first, and with the use of four boxes she was restored to perfect health, and she can do her daily housework without pain.
                                                                Yours Truly, CARL HAGEN             
My wife has been sick for many years with womb disease, and was so weak that she could not do her own housework. She used many doctor's medicines, but they did her no good until I heard your valuable Orange Blossom and tried it. It helped immediately. My wife is perfectly well now and can't praise Orange Blossom enough. She wants to let all women know about it who are troubled with womb disease.                                                  Yours truly, MARIA and CHARLES SCHUETTE

Dear Sir: I wish to add my testimony to that of many others who have found relief by the use of your wonderful Orange Blossom. I have suffered intensely with my monthly periods for nine years, and none of the physicians could relieve me. I was finally informed by them that I was incurable. I was induced by your agent, Mrs. Noriss, to give the Orange Blossom a trial. After using one box was so much relieved I felt like another person, and after using nearly two boxes was cured. I cannot express my thanks as the cure was so wonderful. Would advise all sufferers from female weakness to try the Orange Blossom.
                                                       MISS ANNA VANOSDOL

Dear Sir: I can not be thankful enough for what Orange Blossom has done for me. It has cured me of a tumor. I was induced to try the Orange Blossom by your agent, Mrs. Norris. After one month's treatment my physician told me to keep on with it. After using five month's treatment he pronounces me cured of tumor.    MRS. MARY McCARTHUR

For all Female Diseases, Orange Blossom Ad

Obviously, the testimonials were fake, and were ever so much more dangerous for it. They were not clever enough to notice that two different people would have been unlikely to have used the exact same phrases "I was induced by your agent."

People often complain that we are living in an age where people think there should be a pill for every vague discomfort they feel. Well, here is a good example of how that all began. If you blame it solely on modern pharmaceuticals, you'll be missing the role of advertising which drilled this message into our collective conscious.

Notice that the many female symptoms were common "everyday" types of symptoms but were mixed with what could be much more serious symptoms. As well, notice the hardening of the womb mentioned. That seems to refer to what we would not call endometriosis of the uterus, which is also termed adenomyosis. This condition causes a lot of the symptoms that seem to be described in the advertisement:

  • Painful periods
  • Cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
It also causes heavy periods, painful intercourse, nausea and vomiting. This can be quite debilitating. It is not likely at all, of course, that a topical treatment could cure it, or any other treatment. But, as well, these complaints could just come from excessive heavy periods with nothing to do with any pathology. Any combination of these symptoms, as a cluster, could point to hundreds of different health conditions, both benign and dangerous. Amazingly, it cured them all by a process of absorption.

Insidious is the mention of doctors in the testimonials (cured a tumor, no less!), but the encouraging of self-diagnosis in the ads. This was part and parcel of patent medicine advertising and it is exactly what quack medicine still does today. It mentions doctors when it suits the advertising agenda, but for sales purposes, the patient becomes their own doctor.

Of course, the talk of "female weakness" is its own subject!

The image above is actually the front cover of such a circular as was mentioned in the ads. The following claims of cure were listed on these booklets, along with a great deal of other text:

The Famous Orange Blossom is a positive cure for the following diseases: Inflammation, congestion and falling of the womb, antoversion, retroversion, and prolapsus. Dropsy of the womb, ulceration, polypus, tumors, leucorrhea, profuse, and diffult menstruation, ovarian tumors, fibroid tumors, inflammation and congestion of the ovaries, cancers in the earlier stages, laceration of cervix (due to child-birth) Radically cured.

You may be wondering how this wonderful cure was applied locally. Orange Blossom was a suppository.  I have been able to find one advertisement for an orange blossom suppository that was made by a company of a different name. This may have been one of the imitators they were worried about.

The suppositories were one inch long and a half inch wide, wrapped in tin foil. According to the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, published in 1907, the suppositories "smelled rank" and tasted astringent (they tasted them?). They contained zinc sulphide, alum, cocoa butter, white wax, oil of almond, and henbane.

There was another suppository product called Orange Branch, which cotained cocoa butter, wax, and jequirity, which is an old word for a toxic herb called Abrus precatorius or Crab's Eye and which could be used as an abortifacient, as well as a laxative and sedative. The journal remarked on the strange custom of using "Orange" to name suppository and pill products, which seemed to be a trend.

It may be unwise to trust the opinion of the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, however, since in on the same page a reader who queried about "maintaining strength in old age" was advised to take strychnine arsenate.

For those old age blahs that plain old arsenic won't help. Strychnine was to be found any many "tonics" of the time, which you can read more about in Putting a spring in your step with strychnine
on the Helpful Poisons blog. How convenient to cure your ails with strychnine and arsenic, the same stuff you were already using to kill rats in the barn!