Well, Wellness

     There are plenty of postcards which deal with doctors, just as, if you can remember way back to the serialization of my book on old jokes, there were a lot of jokes about doctors.  I have related this to a medieval fear of powerful community figures who spoke Latin and who seemed to be in business just to give you trouble (lawyers, priests, and doctors) and how this fear led to a number of salty stories and jokes.

     Another result of this feeling about the learned professions was an inclination to have as little as one possibly could to do with such people.  (There were other types of people, of course.  There were always those who considered the lawyer, priest, doctor their infallible ticket to riches, Heaven, or perfect health.  The truth lies somewhere between.)  Postcard cartoonists, being equal opportunity annoyers, were quick to make fun of those who relied on home remedies or other non-prescription ways to cure all your ills.

     Cold?  Sore throat?  The man at the top of this column is making use of several traditional remedies–the foot bath, the flannel around the neck—but below is someone going full into cold prevention, with ice on his head to keep the fever down, a blanket around the shoulders, the steaming footbath…and the caption lets us know whether he can really hold off the inevitable.

     Speaking of postponing the inevitable…but this is still a multi-million dollar industry, so let’s speak of other things.  Part of the joke here is in its caption, which makes reference to a very popular painting, now largely forgotten, involving a nymph and an urn and not really having much to do with the cartoon.  The artist just wanted to toss in the topical reference.  (And by the way, when was the last time there was a painting that was a pop hit?  Nighthawks?  American Gothic?  But that’s a whole nother blog.)

     While we’re on the subject home remedies and multi-million dollar industries…note that she is modern enough to have forsaken the cold cream her mother might have used, and is relying on over-the-counter cures.  The caption also regards sunburn as an inevitable part of summer fun.  (Been there: you always figure you won’t let it happen THIS summer.)

     One over-the-counter and/or home remedy was in every home.  I could have done a whole blog just on laxative postcards alone, with castor oil leading the pack.  You’re welcome.

     Some people tried to handle their ailments and complaints with a change in diet.  Thank goodness we have outgrown THIS notion, or we’d be offending another multi-million dollar industry.  (Anybody else fascinated by the Gluten-Free Olives on the grocery shelves?  We will gloss over the vile anti-freckle sentiment expressed on this card.)

     If your cure wasn’t a change in diet, it might be plain dieting.  This card combines the idea with dieting and a mid-century fascination with the emerging science of vitamins for a science fictiony look at an era when food itself would be obsolete.

     But even more important to the consumer and the cartoonist was the increasing emphasis on regular exercise.  Even before the fitness experts were doing their motivational strenuous lessons on radio, a health-conscious person could buy the same thing on 78 rpm records.  (Were there any cylinder recording exercise programs?  Someone go research that for me, would you?)  The point, as with a lot of home remedies, was to avoid having to bother the doctor, but this fellow is going to require medical intervention just to stand up.

     Fitness through regular exertion also became big business.  How big the business was came secondary for cartoonists to explaining how big the customers were.

     As popular as gym programs was the vacation exercise program, where you went on vacation to a spot which offered calisthenics on the beach.  As you may have noticed in the vitamin card above, part of the fun was in seeing how seriously the consumer needed such attentions, and cheerfully admitting that it wasn’t any use anyhow.

     Where all such home remedies wind up making their money is on the optimist, the person who believes that one or two doses of vitamins or a couple of trips to the gym would work miracles.  And the cartoonists made their money by pointing out the gap between expectation and reality.  This card dates from 1911 or thereabouts, and shows us that we haven’t changed all that much.

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