M930.50.5.136 | Commercial label of Gardner's Iron pills, Female pills, J. Gardner, Chemist

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Commercial label of Gardner's Iron pills, Female pills, J. Gardner, Chemist
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1850-1885, 19th century
Ink on paper on supporting paper - Wood engraving
5.2 x 4.2 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Miscellaneous (671) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

Manufacturers of patent remedies aggressively marketed their wares to women. Pills expressly formulated to cure "female ailments" and "afflictions of the weaker sex" (menstrual cramps, menopausal disorders, etc.) were touted in Canadian magazines and daily papers. Gardner's Female Pills, also used to treat hysteria, were among the endless assortment of red and pink tablets, most of them containing high doses of iron.

Remedies for women came in other forms as well. Many tonic wine and syrup manufacturers were assiduously courting this clientele. Ayer's Cherry Pectoral, for instance, claimed to cure respiratory problems and had a pleasant cherry flavour, but its active ingredient was none other than morphine.

The ailments cited in ads aimed at women were generally associated with iron deficiency and apt to strike fear into the heart of even the most intrepid reader: weakness, fatigue, nervous troubles, wan complexion, vomiting, fainting, depression and so on.

Advertisers exploited these symptoms to boost stimulant sales or to promote various cure-alls specifically designed for female ills.

D. Goulet, Le Commerce des maladies, (Quebec City: Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture, "Edmond De Nevers" series, 1987), p. 122.

Source : Cures and Quackery: The Rise of Patent Medicines [Web tour], by Denis Goulet, Université de Sherbrooke (see Links)

  • What

    Commercial label for a box of iron pills; engraving by John Henry Walker.

  • Where

    The manufacturer of this patent remedy was located at the corner of McGill and Notre Dame streets in Montreal and advertised it principally to local ladies.

  • When

    Iron pills were very much in vogue among women in the latter half of the 19th century.

  • Who

    Chemist J. Gardner, the maker of these pills, marketed them to young women, especially those suffering from menstrual irregularity.