Category Archives: Vanity

1748: Cure baldness with cat dung and onion juice

John K’eogh (1680s-1754) was an Irish priest, theologian and naturalist. Born in Strokestown, County Roscommon, K’eogh was the son of a prominent clergyman from Limerick. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin then undertook study in Europe, before returning to Ireland and serving as chaplain to Baron Kingston in his native Roscommon.

Toward the end of his life K’eogh authored two significant volumes of medical receipts. The first (Botanologia Universalis Hibernicaor, 1735) focused on herbal potions and treatments, while the second (Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, 1748) contained an extensive collection of animal-based remedies.

As might be expected in an 18th-century medical text, the second contains some unusual advice, such as the diverse medical uses of house cats. Their grease, when applied as an ointment, is effective at “dissolving tumours” and “prevails against nodes in the skin”, while pulverised cat liver is “good against the gravel [kidney and bladder stones]” and prevents stoppage of urine.”

Other cat-based receipts mentioned by K’eogh include remedies for eyesight problems:

“The ashes of a cat’s head, blown into the eyes, or mixed with honey for a balsam… is good against pearls [cataracts], blindness and dimness of the sight.”

Several uses for cat’s blood:

“[Cat] blood kills worms in the nose and in other parts of the skin… Ten drops of blood taken out of the tail of a bore cat, drank, cures the epilepsy… A few drops of the blood given in any proper vehicle are good to cure convulsion fits.”

For something to soothe those aching piles:

“The flesh, being salted and bruised, draws splinters and thorns out of the flesh and helps to cure the haemorrhoids.”

And finally, an interesting cure for hair loss:

“The dung, pulverised one ounce and mixed with mustard seed in powder [and] juice of onions… cures the alopecia or baldness.”

Source: John K’eogh, Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, 1748. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1661: Ease swollen testes with butter-fried horse dung

Johann Jacob Wecker was a Swiss physician, naturalist and alchemist of the mid-16th century. Wecker authored several popular tracts on alchemy and medicine. He is perhaps best known for his account of genital malformations, including the first documented case of a double penis, discovered on a corpse in Bologna.

In the mid 1600s, an English physician named Read collated Wecker’s medical and surgical receipts into an eighteen-book collection, Secrets of Art and Nature. The 1661 edition contained hundreds of suggested medical treatments for all manner of complaints – including several cures for “pains of the belly”:

“The heart of a lark bound to the thigh… and some have eaten it raw with very good success.”

“I know one who drank dry ox dung in broth and it presently cured him of the colic… Some do not drink the dung but the juice pressed from it, which is far better.”

“Any bone of a man hanged, so that it may touch the flesh [may] cure pains of the belly.”

“Apply a living duck to your belly, the disease will pass into the duck.”

For excessive bleeding, Wecker suggests a trip to the pigpen:

“To staunch blood… Blood running immoderately out of any part of the body will be presently stopped if hog’s dung [still] hot be wrapped up in fine thin cotton linen and put into the nostrils, women’s privities or any other place that runs with blood. I write this for country people rather than for courtiers, being a remedy fit for their turn…”

Wecker also provides handy beauty tips. He offers recipes for dying the hair numerous colours, including silver, yellow, red, green and several shades of black. There are also remedies for encouraging hair growth and removing unwanted hair, both of which involve rodent excreta:

“To diminish the hair… cat’s dung dried and powdered and mingled to a pap with strong vinegar will do it. With this you must rub the hairy place often in a day, and in a short time it will grow bald… The piss of mice or rats will [also] make a hairy part bald.”

“That hair may grow again quickly, the ashes of burnt bees [mixed] with mice dung, if you anoint this with oil of roses, will make hair grow in the palm of your hand.”

Lastly, for “swollen codds [testicles], Wecker suggests breaking out the frypan:

“Take new horse dung, mix the same with vinegar and fresh butter, fry it in a pan and, as hot as the patient may endure, lay it to the grieved place.”

Source: Johann Wecker and Dr R. Read, Secrets of Art and Nature, 1661 ed. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1910: Mantelet invents the breast douche

Nothing is known about Frenchman Alexis Mantelet – other than the fact he was a man seemingly obsessed with breasts and the cleanliness thereof.

In 1910 and 1927, Mantelet filed two applications for devices to wash the female bosom. The first of these he dubbed the “breast douche”. Pictured below, Mantelet’s “breast douche” was a long hose and tap fitting, connected to a cupping arrangement housing “two or preferably three rings of strong jets”. It was then placed briefly on each breast, while the user adjusted the jets to her liking. According to Mantelet this process achieved:

“A complete, vigorous and abundant douche over the whole surface of the breast… so that the douche may very well be of short duration. This douche therefore gives very desirable results [without] shock or undue chill.”

Mantelet fails to explain the necessity or advantages of washing one’s breasts so thoroughly. However 17 years later he had changed some of his views about “breast douching”.

Mantelet’s second patent, lodged in April 1927, was a less complex handheld device for “sprinkling the breasts”, rather than bombarding them. Harsh jets of water on “delicate mammillae”, wrote Mantelet, deliver “an exaggerated massage of the muscular fibres of the mammary glands”, toughening the breast and possibly distorting its shape. The 1927 version of Mantelet’s breast washer was easier on the breasts and would “preserve the due proportion of their shape”.

Both patents were granted but it seems that Mantelet’s “breast douches” never reached the market.

Source: US Patent Office records, Nos. 973445 (1910) and 1746861 (1927). Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1870: Nights in will “redevelop shrivelled breasts”

Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1887) was an American physician, phrenologist and writer. The son of a New York farmer and preacher, Fowler studied at Amherst College, graduating in 1834 alongside Henry Ward Beecher.

While at Amherst, Fowler became interested in phrenology, the pseudo-science of ascertaining character and personality by studying the dimensions of the skull. Few academics took this seriously but Fowler nevertheless made money by giving ‘skull readings’ to his fellow students. After graduating he opened a phrenological practice in New York City, which later became quite profitable.

A prolific writer and lecturer, Fowler was also known for his quirky theories and social reforms. In the 1850s he pioneered the construction of octagon-shaped houses, claiming they were easier to build, more spacious and symmetrical and conducive to “a harmonious environment”.

Fowler was something of a progressive, arguing against slavery, child labour and corporal punishment. A supporter of the ‘votes for women’ lobby, his views on women were also relatively enlightened. Nevertheless Fowler was still prone to Victorian naivete about women. Writing in 1870 he told his male readers that slackness in their wives’ breasts could be corrected with a little quality time together:

“Have your wife’s breasts declined since you courted and married her? It is because her womb has declined… and nursing up her love will rebuild both her womb and breasts… Court her up again, as you used to do before marriage. Besides reddening up her now pale cheeks, lightening up her now lagging motion and animating her flagging spirits, you will redevelop her shriveled breasts! Stay home at nights from your clubrooms, billiard saloons and lodges to read or talk to her… you’ll get well ‘paid’ every time you see her bust. And your infants will be better fed.”

Conversely, Fowler warned that continuing to ignore your wife and neglect her emotional needs will produce “two opposite results” – in other words, the more you go out, the saggier they will become. In addition, Fowler was also a vocal critic of women who read novels.

Source: Orson S. Fowler, Creative and Sexual Science, or Manhood, Womanhood and their Mutual Interrelations, Cincinatti, 1870. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1609: Curl your moustache for sneeze-free kissing

An appropriately maintained early 17th century beard and moustache

Simion Grahame (1570-1614) was a Scottish-born writer and courtier to James VI. Little is known about Grahame’s life. He was a good scholar who soldiered for a time, after which he traveled widely in Europe, possibly while in exile. In the early 1600s, Grahame returned to Scotland and turned his hand to writing, earning the patronage of James VI. He later moved to the Italian states and spent his final years as a Franciscan friar.

One of Grahame’s better known works was his 1609 Anatomie of Humors. Much of this manuscript dwells on human emotions, particularly melancholy or depression, something Grahame himself seemed familiar with. But it is also interspersed with advice about conduct, manners and how to forge and maintain good relationships with others.

In one chapter, Grahame urged gentlemen to keep their beards and moustaches clean, well trimmed and tightly curled:

“…A man is to be commended if he be [clean] in his linings, his hair well dressed, his beard well brushed and always his upper lip well curled… For if he chance to kiss a gentlewoman, some rebellious hairs may happen to startle in her nose and make her sneeze…”

Those who did not attend to their facial hair, wrote Grahame, were slobs, not fit to socialise with:

“[These] snotty nosed gentlemen, with their drooping moustaches covering their mouth and becoming a harbour for meldrops [mucus]… He will drink with anybody whatsoever, and after he hath washed his filthy beard in the cup… he will suck the hair so heartily with his under lip.”

Source: Simion Grahame, The Anatomie of Humors, Edinburgh, 1609. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1764: Keep the skin white by boiling down “four little dogs”

It is common knowledge that in the 18th century, aristocratic and wealthy bourgeois women smothered their faces with whiteners and rouges. In some circles it was considered scandalous to appear in public under-powdered or even unpowdered, such as Lady Ilchester did when she attended the opera in 1777. The custom was even more exaggerated in France, where the madams and mademoiselles attempted to outdo each other with alabaster-white faces, fluorescent red rouges and enormous beauty spots.

Many of these cosmetics, of course, contained substances now known to be poisonous: ceruse (white lead), cinnabar (red mercury) and other substances thick with arsenic or sulphur. Doctors of the mid-1700s, alert to the dangers of excessive make-up, came up with a radical new beauty regimen – simply washing the face and keeping it clean – but this was slow to catch on.

In 1764, Antoine Hornot, a distiller to the royal family and prolific writer, offered his own recipe for keeping the skin healthy and pale, using only natural ingredients:

“A distillation of four calves’ feet, two dozen egg whites and egg shells, a calf’s cheek, one chicken skinned alive, a lemon, a half ounce of white poppy seeds, half a loaf of bread, three buckets of goats milk and four little dogs, one or two days old.”

Source: Antoine de Hornot (writing as M. Dejean), Traitee des Odeurs, 1764. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

c.1320: Cure baldness with year-old pot-roasted mice

A Celtic medical manuscript, written in Irish Gaelic and dating to the early 14th century, offers several animal-based cures for common illnesses and conditions. To bring an end to paralysis:

“Take a fox with his pelt and with his innards. Boil him well till he part from his bones… the patient’s body being first well scoured, bath the limbs or even the whole person in [the fox’s] brew.”

The manuscript also contains instructions for a medieval hair restorer. If rubbed regularly into a bald head, this substance will produce instant hair growth – but it must be handled with care:

“With mice, fill an earthen pipkin [pot]. Stop the mouth with a lump of clay and bury beside a fire, but so as the fire’s great heat reach it not. So be it left for a year, and at a year’s end take out whatsoever may be found therein. But it is important that he who shall lift it have a glove upon his hand, lest at his fingers’ ends the hair [will] come sprouting out”

Source: Celtic medical manuscript, c.1320; cited in Medicine in Ancient Erin, 1909. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1899: Navy officer slammed for kissing 163 women

Richmond Hobson, ‘hero of the Merrimac‘ and sex symbol of the 1890s

Richmond P. Hobson (1870-1937) was an American naval officer. Born and raised in rural Alabama, Hobson enrolled at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis at age 14. In 1889, he graduated top of his class, though Hobson’s rigid discipline and dislike of both alcohol or tobacco made him unpopular with classmates.

When war broke out between the US and Spain in 1898, Hobson was sent to Cuba. In May 1898, he was ordered to seize control of a coal ship, the Merrimac, and scuttle it in the harbour mouth at Santiago, an attempt to trap Spanish ships inside the harbour. Hobson did manage to sink the Merrimac, though not accurately enough to block the harbour mouth. He and his men were captured and detained by the Spanish.

Though Hobson’s mission failed, the jingoistic American press presented it much differently. Hobson was hailed as the “hero of the Merrimac” whose courage and daring had thwarted the Spanish. Newspapers carried stories of his bravery and portraits of the dashing young officer, who became a celebrity and a sex symbol, even as he remained a prisoner-of-war.

Hobson was released later in 1898 and repatriated to the United States. He made a series of public appearances, most of which were flooded with eager young ladies. But these public audiences produced “shocking spectacles” that led to Hobson’s fall from grace with the press:

“The scene in the Chicago Auditorium, when Lieutenant Hobson was kissed by 163 morbid women, was loathsome. It is deplorable. It is sad that a man of his excellent courage and fine intelligence should so far forget the dignity of the American navy as to lend himself to a public exhibition of female hysteria… We shall never tire of boasting of his nerve and his unflinching devotion to duty; but no one is likely ever to hear us boasting about his modesty or his good taste.”

Reports were also scathing about the young women who rushed to kiss the “hero of the Merrimac“:

“We have no doubt they are heartily ashamed of themselves. They ought to be, at any rate.”

Hobson remained in the Navy, reaching the rank of captain, before resigning in 1903. The following year he was elected to the House of Representatives, serving there until 1916. In 1933 he received the Medal of Honour and a special pension for his exploits aboard the Merrimac.

Source: Pullman Herald, January 21st 1899. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1842: American girls eat paper to get pale

James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855) was an English politician, social reformer and travel writer. Born in Cornwall, Buckingham joined the Royal Navy as a teenager and saw combat in the 1790s. In the 1820s he became a world traveler, spending years in the Middle East and North Africa before taking up residence in India.

After serving one term as Member of Parliament for Sheffield (1832-37) Buckingham resumed his travels, this time in North America. His observations of the United States were published in a three-volume set in 1842. In the third volume, Buckingham claimed that many American girls would eat paper to acquire pale skin:

“Young ladies at school, and sometimes with their parents, will resolve to become extremely pale, from a notion that it looks interesting. For this purpose, they will substitute for their natural food, pickles of all kinds, powdered chalk, vinegar, burnt coffee, pepper and other spices, especially cinnamon and cloves. Others will add to these paper, of which many sheets are sometimes eaten in a day… this is persisted in till the natural appetite for wholesome food is superseded by a depraved and morbid desire for everything but that which is nutritious… Such practices as these, added to the other causes… sufficiently account for the decayed and decaying state of health among the female population of the United States.”

Source: James S. Buckingham, America: The Eastern and Western States, vol.3, 1842. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1799: Elizabeth Drinker has her first bath for 28 years

Elizabeth Drinker (1734-1807) was a Philadelphia wife, mother and prolific diarist, keeping a chronicle that spanned almost 50 years. In 1761. she married Henry Drinker, a prosperous Quaker merchant. Together they had nine children, five of whom survived into adulthood.

Henry Drinker was fond of two things: bathing and keeping up appearances. In June 1798, he followed the example of other well-to-do Philadelphians and had a bathhouse erected in his backyard. This outbuilding cost him almost five pounds, a large sum for the time. It featured a wooden floor, a deep tin bath and a new-fangled shower head, powered by a hand pump.

The new addition proved popular with the Drinker household as Henry, his children and the family’s servants all took to bathing regularly. Elizabeth Drinker, however, was not so keen. She did not use the bath until July 1st 1799, more than 12 months later, writing that:

“I bore it better than I expected, not having been wet all over at once for 28 years past.”

The recollection of her last bath was accurate: it can be traced by to June 30th 1771, when the family was visiting Trenton, New Jersey:

“[Henry] went into the bath this morning… Self went this afternoon into the bath, I found the shock much greater than expected.”

Elizabeth visited the Trenton bathhouse again two days later but “had not courage to go in”. While Mrs Drinker did not like taking baths, she was not averse to forcing them on her servants. In October 1794 she reported that the family’s slave, “black Scipio”, had acquired lice. She ordered that Scipio be:

“…stripped and washed from stem to stem, in a tub of warm soap suds, his head well lathered and (when rinsed clean) a quantity of spirits poured over it. [We] then dressed him in girl’s clothes until his own could be scalded.”

Elizabeth did eventually become more comfortable with using the bathhouse. In August 1806 she reported taking a bath – after which the entire household followed her, all using the same water:

“I went into a warm bath this afternoon, H.D. [Henry] after me because he was going out, Lydia and Patience [the Drinkers’ maids] went into the same bath after him, and John [Henry’s manservant] after them. If so many bodies were cleansed, I think the water must have been foul enough.”

Source: Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, June 30th 1771; July 1st 1771; October 2nd 1794; July 1st 1799; August 6th 1806. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.