Sunday, April 20, 2008

Advice from the 1800's

At a thrift store recently, I found the funniest little book that I gave to my mom for her birthday. It's called the Ladies' Indispensable Assistant. Actually, the full title is quite long-winded:

Ladies' Indis
pensable Assistant being a companion for the Sister, Mother, and Wife. Containing more information for the price than any other upon the subject. Here are the very best directions for the Behavior and Etiquette of Ladies and Gentlemen, Ladies' Toilette Table, Directions for Managing Canary Birds, also, Safe Directions for the Management of Children; Instructions for Ladies' Under Various Circumstances, A Great Variety of Valuable Recipes, forming a complete system of Family Medicine. Thus enabling each person to become his or her own Physician: to which is added one of the best systems of COOKERY ever published; these recipes are entirely new and should be in the possession of every person in the land. Published 1852.

Pretty lofty claims if you ask me, but I was hooked! The first few pages were quite interesting. For instance, here is the instruction for Treatment of Children:

It is of great importance that mothers should understand the management of their offspring. It should not be handled but kept as quiet as possible.

Well, that's interesting. On the subject of Medicine:

er give medicine to a very young child. Many have thus lost darling children. It will, if not murdered, be permanently injured.

Oh, my. Well, I continued to leaf through the pages and was shocked to see that there was a remedy for Cancer! Can you believe it? Here it is:

Boil down the inner bark of white and red oak to the consistency of molasses; apply as a plaster, shifting it once a week; or, Take garget berries and leaves of stramonium; simmer together, in equal parts of neat's foot oil and the tops of hemlock; at the same time, make a tea of wintergreen, add 2 ounces of sulphur of brimstone and drink freely during the day.

Hmmm. Sounds like witchcraft to me - hemlock? brimstone? Didn't I hear about that in a fairytale once? I turned to the remedy for Deafness, which I'm sure the prestigious medical community of today will be quite amazed to learn of:

Take ant's eggs and onion juice, mix and drop into the ear; or, drop into the ear at night six or eight drops of warm chamber lye.

Warm chamber lye? Yes, I had to look that up - definition: Urine. Aha. Well, perhaps it's not the cure of the century after all! Is it any wonder that in the 1800's only 1/2 of all ch
ildren lived to the age of eight and the average life expectancy was 37? My goodness, let's read on!

If your child is suffering from Fits, then you need to:

Put them into warm baths, ... take them out after a little time and put strong mustard plasters on the soles of their feet and ice water on the head. If the fit has been cause by something eaten, give ... ipecac; vomitting will throw all the medicine up so that the child will not be injured. If the fit arises from other causes, half a tablespoon full of
epsom salts disolved in a 1/4 glass of water.

For snake bites:

Apply juice of onions mixed with fine salt; or, apply Spanish flies until a blister is raised.

And, my favorite... for "Nervous Affections - Sick Headache":

Take 3 drops of nitric acid in half a tumbler of cold water.

Definition of nitric acid? A highly corrosive, poisonous liquid that gives off choking red or yellow fumes in moist air. Okay, then! That oughta cure a headache awfully quick!

There were some other interesting things in the book, including the properties of various herbs and flowers and recipes. We thought this "Quick Broth" was pretty amusing, since the term "Quick" was anything but!

Take a bone of the neck or loin of mutton, take off the fat and skin, set it on the fire in a small tin saucepan that has a cover with 3 quarters of a pint of water, meat being first beaten and cut into thin bits; put in a bit of thyme, parsley and a slice of onion. Let it boil very quick, skim it nicely; take off the cover. Half an hour is sufficient for the whole process.

I also liked the instructions for Behavior in the Street:

Ladies are not allowed upon ordinary occasions to take the arm of any one but a relative, or an accepted lover, in the street and in the daytime. The conversation of a stranger, beyond asking a necessary question, must be considered as a gross insult and repelled with proper spirit!

And these instructions for Removing Ink from Floors:

Scour with sand wet with sulphuric acid and water.

(What's with the acid?) Anyway, we had fun leafing through the book and having a good laugh! I especially liked the elaborate drawing on the inside. Fun stuff...


Donna said...

I'm still lovin' the book, Jen! Thanks!

Abby Creek Art said...

Oh my god, this really had me laughing. What a great find! Thanks for such a fun post, Jen!

keeper of the chocolates said...

i just love these old books. it is always so fascinating to see what they all had to say back then..:)

also, btw, good question on my post..about protein and iron. this is one area i have been very diligent on making sure i am properly eating this way. i am going to be posting some info pretty soon on pland based iron and protein sources. i am learning so much on this new path to whole foods and it amazes me every day!

hugs to you sweet friend,

keeper of the chocolates said...

jen, just popping in to say hi! i have missed you :) hope all is well with you and your sweet family !! :)


Anonymous said...

Interesting Victorian tidbits. Glad you are able to blog again.

Anonymous said...

Hi. What a nice little blog, and a hilarious post. I collect old books like this myself.

Just wanted to let you know that I'm highlighting your blog and this post on my own Readers' Blog at I like to find cool sites on the web and point other people in their direction. The post in which you're featured is scheduled to be published in about a week or so.