Medicines for the Faithful
Posted by Darin Hayton on 03/08 at 01:47 PM
This post was supposed to be a short reflection on Peruna and astrology. I wanted to think in some concrete terms about how Peruna used astrology in its marketing. It quickly grew to include thoughts about astrology in late 19th-century America, the importance of astrology for particular populations, and how Peruna’s success might be used to reveal those astrological beliefs. The result is a long post that reflects some ways that I think might be fruitful to explore these topics. For ease of navigation, I have added a table of contents.
Between 7 October 1905 and 17 February 1906 Samuel Hopkins Adams published his famous series of muckraking journalism articles in the pages of Collier’s Weekly. His articles were a thorough condemnation of the patent medicine industry, exposing the medicines as nothing more than alcohol and their purveyors as charlatans and snake-oil salesmen. Shortly after the articles appeared in Collier’s Weekly they were published collectively as The Great American Fraud. Adams and his articles are celebrated as having helped to lay the foundation for the Pure Food and Drug Act, which the U.S. Congress passed on 30 June 1906.
The second of Adams’s articles was entitled “Peruna and the Bracers” and was published on 28 October 1905. Here Adams trained his eye on Peruna, “the most prominent proprietary nostrum in the country.”1 For Adams, Peruna could stand as an example of the evils of the patent medicine industry, in part because the company was wildly successful and in part because its Pe-ru-na family of nostrums was typical of the patent medicine industry. He submitted Peruna to chemical analysis and showed that the medicine was 28% alcohol with only trace amounts of any drug, one-half of one percent.2
Patent medicines were, in the best case, alcohol with no medicinal value. Most, however, posed real threats to the public’s health. Medicines such as Peruna exploited the public’s desire for liquor and contributed only to alcoholism, especially amongst the people who most needed medical care: the poor, rural populations, and those who lived in the frontier.
Despite Adams’s article lambasting Peruna and despite the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act the following year, the Peruna company continued to thrive well into the 1920s, even when other patent medicine companies had gone out of business or had ceased to produce patent medicines. By exercising their influence on the government, the patent medicine industry was able to limit the effectiveness of the Pure Food and Drug Act. However, by the 1910s many of the companies had entered a period of decline. Peruna’s continued success depended on its shrewd marketing strategies. Adams himself gives us a clue to what those strategies were when he quotes S. B. Hartmann, the owner of Peruna. Hartmann reportedly explained Peruna’s efficacy by claiming that “the belief of the patient in Peruna, fostered by the printed testimony, and aided by ‘gentle stimulation,’ produces good results.”3 Belief certainly stood at the center of Peruna’s economic success if not at the center of its medicinal success. One explanation for Peruna’s enduring success was S. B. Hartmann’s effort to capture the Amish and Mennonite market. He did this by appealing to their commitment to traditional forms of medicine and by drawing on their belief in a more integrated, astrological worldview.
The Mennonite and Amish Context
The Mennonite and Amish grew out of the Anabaptist movement during the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Switzerland. Central to their theology was the belief that Christianity was an informed adult decision. Consequently, baptism was meaningful only when performed on adults. In the sixteenth century this conviction was often considered heretical and lead to their persecution, which was documented in the Martyrs Mirror. By documenting their persecution, the Martyrs Mirror shaped (and continues to shape) Mennonite and Amish culture. In particular, the abuse they endured convinced them that they had been chosen by God to live separate from society. This self-imposed segregation within the larger society became an important aspect of Mennonite theology and spurred their emigration from Switzerland to the rest of Europe and finally, in 1683, to North America.4
In order to maintain their distinct identity within the broader society, Amish and Mennonite culture is built around a strong commitment to family and community. This commitment is manifested through the observance and maintenance of certain traditional practices. At the center of these practices stand a strong work ethic, thrift, reverence for longstanding tradition, communal support, and a commitment to an agrarian lifestyle. They view with suspicion technological and scientific developments as well as labor-saving devices. The importance of these values and practices is codified, at least for the Amish, in the Ordnung that defines what members of the community can and cannot do. Members of the community who fail to follow the rules of the Ordnung are susceptible to shunning, exclusion from the community. Three different periodicals help reinforce these practices: the Sugar Creek Budget, the Herald of Truth and the annual Famlien-Kalender. Each of these publications helped keep the various Mennonite and Amish communities in contact. At the same time, they reflect and reinforce the practices that isolated those communities within society. Some of the practices that distinguish the Amish and Mennonites from society are immediately obvious, such as Amish clothing, architecture and building practices, and Amish modes of transportation. While Mennonite have more relaxed practices, they too share many of these values, think of the characteristic clothing worn by Mennonites.5 Other practices, less obvious to the casual observer, also distinguished the Amish and Mennonite communities. In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, their approach to medicine and their adherence to an astrological worldview are two such practices that helped Mennonites and Amish isolate themselves from the rest of society.
Outward displays and practices reinforce a distinct ethnic and cultural identity within the broader society that is always thought to be trying to encroach on their traditional practices. One way to understand the effort to maintain a distinct cultural and ethnic identity is through the concept of cultural fencing.6 This is the admixture of practices, practices that are evidence for philosophical or theological commitments, that Mennonites and Amish have adopted to reflect and embody their cultural values. Cultural fencing emphasizes Amish and Mennonite agency in maintaining boundaries. Although they have not received as much attention as other aspects of their distinct identity, Amish and Mennonite medical practices and preference for an astrological worldview were part of their larger efforts to maintain the boundaries that separated them from the dominant culture.
Medical Theory and Patent Medicines
Samuel Adams muckraking journalism, which exposed the folly of patent medicines, was cast within a progressive framework. Like many people at the end of the nineteenth century, he was enamored with the progress that medicine seemed to be making, especially laboratory medicine. The end of the century had been marked by the heady success of the germ theory; medical scientists seemed to be discovering the bacteria responsible for innumerable diseases. Social reformers were increasingly convinced that medicine would quickly conquer the most threatening of diseases, especially such epidemics as typhoid. Moreover, carriers of diseases that medicine could not yet cure could be confined. For this reason, public health experienced rapid growth. The most obvious case is Mary Mallon, Typhoid Mary.
When Samuel Adams wrote his “The Great American Fraud,” he was celebrating recent successes in medical science. These successes were, however, built on an entirely new medical theory, the germ theory. The old approach to disease had depended on an individual’s humoral imbalance as reflected in observable symptoms. Indeed, a disease was defined by the symptoms a person displayed rather than some material, microscopic entity. In this older, traditional approach, the environment was always implicated in the diagnosis of a disease. With the new system, diseases were defined by the presence of a bacterium, irrespective of the symptoms a person might display. Here Typhoid Mary is the perfect example. She was a “healthy carrier” because she showed evidence of carrying the typhoid germ but did not display any symptoms.
Amish and Mennonite communities were in general skeptical of scientific and technological developments, preferring traditional practices. Moreover, they resisted government regulation of their community practices. Consequently, they did not embrace the recent developments in medical theory. Mennonite publications were largely silent about germ theory and other recent efforts to make medicine more “modern”. This silence cannot be attributed to a simple ignorance, for the occasional article contrasts modern medicine with more traditional practices. Unsurprisingly, modern medicine fares poorly in these articles. One short piece in the Sugar Creek Budget, which was probably a disguised advertisement, reveals the gulf that could separate “scientific medicine” from an earlier, more traditional approach. Modern medicine, it claims, relies on “prescriptions laid down in books” rather than on recognizing the local and individual character of diseases. Moreover, these prescriptions are not found in nature but concocted in laboratories, unlike earlier traditional medicines that build on a person’s innate complexion and natural remedies.4 Whether or not this is propaganda for a nostrum, it reflects the Amish and Mennonite preference for tradition over innovation.
It was not simply medical tradition that the Mennonite press reinforced here. It was also a set of community practices. Amish and Mennonite communities had long depended on patent medicines. Indeed, the periodical literature is dominated by advertisements for various nostrums. Even the Familienkalender, which began publishing in 1870, often displayed full-page ads for different patent medicines.
Dr. Miles was produced in Elkhart, IN, conveniently situated amongst Amish and Mennonite communities in northern Indiana. Dr. Miles, like most patent medicine companies, issued yearly almanacs that it distributed free of charge to its consumers.
A typical page from the Sugar Creek Budget had eleven display ads for patent medicines, one for clothing, and one for a dictionary.5 The earlier reliance on patent medicines, which was probably imported to North America with the immigration of Mennonites and Amish in the eighteenth century, was not unique to the Mennonites. What made the Mennonite situation different was that at the end of the nineteenth century, when the wider society was looking to the progress in medical science and rejecting the earlier traditional practices, Mennonite and Amish communities across the nation remained committed to these older treatments and remedies. Indeed, the fact that the wider society was moving away from patent medicines made them a useful tool in the Mennonite and Amish efforts to maintain their distinct identity, their “cultural fences.”6 Numerous letters in the Sugar Creek Budget and the Herald of Truth reveal the extent to which Amish and Mennonites used patent medicines. For example, in a letter dated 31 March 1906—during the height of Samuel Adams’s muckraking journalism—a C.C. Beachy of Ohio bragged of selling 500 boxes of patent medicines to the Mennonite community in Indianapolis. Beachy did not, however, indicate if he was selling a single company’s patent medicine or if those boxes represented a range of medicines.7 Amish reliance for patent medicines and traditional herbal remedies, which continued well into the twentieth century, reflected both their preference for traditional practices and their suspicion of modern, scientific medicine.
Early patent medicine almanacs often contained a scattering of generic astrological content. Much of this material was borrowed uncritically from the many yearly farmers’ almanacs that were popular at the time. The August Flower almanac is typical in its use of astrology:
Hofstetter’s was another successful patent medicine company in the later years of the nineteenth century. Their annual almanac similarly lacked any real astrological content, beyond the phases of the moon, the rising and setting times of the two luminaries, and the moon’s position in the zodiac throughout the month.
Some companies recognized the value of astrology in their marketing efforts. Dr. Miles’s yearly almanacs were by no means replete with astrological content, but they did print at least one special marketing pamphlet that focused entirely on astrology.8 One company that excelled in its use of astrology in all aspects of its marketing efforts was the Peruna Pharmaceutical Company, in Columbus Ohio.
Samuel B. Hartman, the founder of the Peruna Pharmaceutical Company, seems to have been the son of Swiss-German farmers in Lancaster County, PA. If he wasn’t Mennonite or Amish, growing up in Lancaster County he must have become familiar with Amish and Mennonite culture. He apparently studied medicine in Cleveland, OH, before practicing in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. Sometime in the 1870s his company began producing Peruna in Columbus, Ohio, and quickly developed a market for its medicine. Peruna’s marketing innovation was its use of astrology in all aspects of its advertising. Like most patent medicine companies, Peruna issued a yearly almanac that was distributed free of charge wherever Peruna was sold. By the mid-1880s the Peruna’s almanac had adopted the format it would maintain for the next four decades. Peruna’s almanac was saturated with astrology. To appreciate this innovation, or rather, this extremely traditional move, requires looking at the importance of astrology in the Mennonite and Amish worldview.
Astrology and the Amish
Evidence for the importance of astrology in the Amish and Mennonite communities is found in the periodical literature printed by Mennonite publishers. The Familienkalender is one such publication. It was published from 1870 until 1930 by the Mennonite Verlagshandlung in Elkhart, Indiana. Elkhart was, and remains, an important center of Mennonite and Amish culture. This annual almanac enjoyed a national circulation. The Familienkalender both reflects and reinforces the commonly accepted beliefs of the Mennonites and Amish throughout the U.S.
The two columns supporting the edifice are wrapped in ribbons, each with a verse from Luther’s translation of the Bible. The left-hand column is engraved with the word “Truth” across the bottom and wrapped in Psalms 19, verse 1: “The Heavens declare the Glory of God. The firmament proclaims His handiwork.” The other pillar, “Faith”, is wrapped in Acts 2, verse 21: “And it should come to pass, whoever will call the name of God should be saved.” Together these pillars, along with the other verses from the Bible, situate the Familienkalender within the broader discourse of religion and, at the same time, suggest a deeply astrological worldview. These verses were not chosen accidentally. This suggestion is confirmed in the opening pages of this almanac. These pages are covered in traditional astrological information.
The first page of the Familienkalender presented the same material that had been standard in almanacs since the sixteenth century: any eclipses (between both the luminaries as well as the other planets) for the year, the planetary ruler of the year, a legend showing the various astrological symbols, important religious feasts, and the seasons of the year. The importance of this information is reflected in university lectures from the early sixteenth century. By 1518 Andreas Perlach, master in the arts faculty and medical faculty at the University of Vienna and court astrologer to Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, lectured repeatedly on what information was presented in the almanac and how to use that information. His lectures were printed in outline form in 1519 and in a full commentary in 1551, suggesting both the ubiquity of almanacs and the stability of the information contained within them.
Perlach was himself a practicing physician and court astrologer. He composed annual astrological almanacs for most of his career and lectured on astrology and its application in medicine. Early in his lecture on almanacs, Perlach draws attention to the exact same information that is contained in the Familienkalender. And not only does Perlach present the same information, but even in the same order.
Each issue of the Familienkalender began by recounting the most important astrological and astronomical events for the coming year, including a list of eclipses, the planet that ruled the year. Both of these astrological principles derived from ancient astrological practice and reflected a deep appreciation for tradition. Beneath this information was a table showing the symbols used to represent the planets, zodiacal signs, and significant astrological aspects (the geometric relationship between the planets). On the facing page was the zodiacal man. This figure represented the human form in the center of the zodiac, with lines of influence from each sign to the portion of the body controlled by that sign. On each side of this figure were lists of the organs controlled by each sign and planet.
The zodiacal man here in the Familienkalender points to the enduring microcosm-macrocosm worldview that structured the relationship between the individual human and the universe. The microcosm-macrocosm is a fundamental astrological principle that posits a direct relationship between the motions of the heavenly spheres and their influences on the human body. At its most basic level, the patterns found in the heavens are reflected in the human being. The microcosm-macrocosm stood at the center of humoral medicine. The motions of the planets, especially the moon, influenced the balances of the humors and contributed to the health or disease of an individual.
The centrality of astrology continued through the calendar. Each month is presented on facing pages. On the left-hand page is the calendar, extensively annotated with the motion of the moon and its phases, the aspects of the planets, and the rising and setting times of important stars. Once again, all of this information is remarkably traditional, being found in medieval and Renaissance astrological almanacs.
On the right-hand page, each month was introduced with a small engraving of a personified zodiacal sign and, in some cases, the traditional labors of the month, a practice that developed in the middle ages. Beneath the sign was a short list of weather predictions that month. The most common use of astrology from the time of Ptolemy in the second century had been predicting the weather.9 For the Amish and Mennonite, whose agrarian lives were more intimately connected to the weather and the changes of the seasons, predicting the weather would be one of the most important aspects of astrology.
Astrology played a particularly prominent role in the first Familienkalender, published in 1870. This first issue included the standard astrological data along with an article that outlined the relationship between the earth and the other planets.10 Subsequent issues of the Familienkalender repeatedly drew attention to the astrological content. They did not simply present astrological data, thereby reinforcing the belief in it. Many of the almanacs expressly drew attention to the role of astrology in various aspects of everyday life. In 1890 the editor celebrated the astrological content of his almanac, claiming that although there are numerous other almanacs, many of which are used to advertise medicines, none offer the useful information available in the Familienkalender.
There are many other almanacs. An incredible mass of almanacs, which mainly have the goal of advertising medicines and related things, are distributed each year. But you don’t find in these what you find in our Familienkalender.11
The implication was clear: the astrological content distinguished the Familienkalender from the other almanacs, especially the free patent medicinal almanacs. In 1892 the editor included articles on the astrological importance of the southern cross, a constellation seen in the southern hemisphere, and the significance of the motions of the planets, especially with respect to predicting the weather. A decade later the editor, responding the questions of various readers, expended considerable effort and time to explain the astrological terms and symbols used in his almanac. By explaining the symbols and terms the editor simultaneously reflected and reinforced the astrological beliefs and practices that permeated and united the Mennonite and Amish communities.
At other times, the rhetoric of the Familienkalender referred back to the astrological tradition, recasting history to serve the present and to distinguish the Mennonite and Amish practices from contemporary society. In a key rejection of modern science, the Familienkalender looked back to Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton to find support for the belief in the macrocosm-microcosm relationship. Although Kepler and Newton were already recognized as towering figures in the history of science, and commonly celebrated as the forerunners of modern science, the Familienkalender borrows on their fame to promote an older, astrological worldview, a view that was certainly waning by the middle of the nineteenth century.12
Like the Amish Ordnung and the other Mennonite periodical literature, the Familienkalender was both descriptive and normative, reflecting and reinforcing practices. It helped to construct a homogeneous culture shared by widely-separated communities. The editors of the almanac boasted each year of the ever increasing circulation of the calendar. By the turn of the century they were printing 40,000 copies of the calendar each year and hoped that each reader “might find something useful in it, equally in the astronomical as well as the moral and spiritual instruction.”13 The important first position was given to the astronomical instruction, by which the editor meant both astronomical and astrological.
Astrology in the Peruna Almanacs
The Peruna Almanac adopted this astrological worldview, applying it to the traditional areas of medicine and weather prediction. Structurally, the Peruna Almanac resembled the Familienkalender. It privileged on the first page the zodiacal man, encircled by the signs of the zodiac, and foregrounded the eclipses for the coming year.
The similarities did not end there. The calendar in Peruna’s almanac looked remarkably like the that found in the Familienkalender. Much of the same astrological information was presented, and the layout did not differ greatly from the model. Anybody who had used the Familienkalender would not have any difficulty finding the information in the Peruna Almanac.
The astrological content of the Peruna Almanac continued to develop during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. In 1901 the almanac included a discussion of triplicities, groups of three zodiacal signs that were considered astrologically significant. The almanac groups the signs sequentially into the Intellectual Triplicity, the Domestic Triplicity, the Reproductive Triplicity, and the Practical Triplicity.
The next year, Hartman himself added a brief account of astrology in which he related the evolution of humans to the cyclical motions of the planets, presenting in words the very microcosm-macrocosm relationship that was so graphically represented by the zodiacal man.
He concluded his account with the following endorsement of astrology:
Our bodies, our minds, our spirits, respond with absolute fidelity to every change of moon, to every new combination of planetary influences, to every astronomical epoch, be it great or small, serious or trivial. The pulse beat and temperature of the human body rise and fall with the utmost regularity with the rotation of the earth on its axis. The ebb and flow of animal magnetism, and nervous energy find their true explanation in those ever-recurring vicissitudes through which our earth passes every year in its magnificent and tremendous orbit about the sun.
Every perturbation of the earth in its orbit finds quick response in the mental life of the inhabitants of the earth. Our very heartbeats keep time with creation. Our hopes and fears, our triumphs and despair, our seasons of rest and unrest are but the echoes of what has happened to this mighty macrocosm which gave us our being.14
Such a succinct affirmation of the astrological worldview surely found eager ears in the Amish and Mennonite communities. Hartman’s continual use and expansion of astrology in his almanacs must have been calculated to resonate with some audience. Given that medicine in its new scientific guise had already rejected astrology and that the USDA had recently tried to discredit astrology as a meaningful way to predict the weather, Hartman must have had some specific culture in mind when he embraced astrology. In 1907, a year after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug act, the Peruna Almanac continues to rely heavily on astrology, indicating its general applicability to life and its specific influence during each month.
He even encouraged his readers to write to him with their birth dates and promises to cast their charts and to send them lists of astrologically propitious and detrimental days. Tellingly, Hartman more than once bragged that the Hartman sanatorium as well as at the Peruna Manufacturing Co. had astrological consulting offices.
Surely the Amish and Mennonites were not the only population that retained an interest in an astrological worldview. They were, however, no doubt one of the markets Hartman targeted in his efforts to peddle his nostrums. There is some indication that Peruna was actively courting this market on the backs of the Peruna Almanacs. When they were printed at the Peruna printing facilities, they were often printed with the name and address of the local chemist who sold Peruna. This provides tantalizing clues to Peruna’s distribution patterns. In many cases, the Peruna Almanac was headed for cities and towns with reasonable Amish and Mennonite populations. There is no reason to suppose that cases of Peruna did not accompany the almanacs to their destinations.15
The Peruna Almanac changed little through the first two decades of the twentieth century. It continued to endorse and rely on an astrological worldview. During the late 1910s, after the U.S. became involved in World War I, the Amish and Mennonite communities struggled to maintain their boundaries, especially in regards to the war. While Peruna did nothing to advance their pacifist ideals, their continued preference for patent medicines would have offered some comfort that they were still a distinct culture within the wider U.S. society even as they were increasingly dragged into what they considered mainstream culture.
I opened by presenting what seems to be puzzle, the persistent success of Peruna in the face of Samuel Adams’s muckraking journalism and the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act in 1906. Part of the solution to this puzzle seems to be the way that Peruna captured the Mennonite and Amish market. Peruna’s success had little or nothing to do with its efficacy as a medicine. Instead, it appealed to the broader social and political goals of the Mennonites. By appropriating the belief systems of this particular community, Peruna seems to have been able to succeed where other patent medicine companies faltered and eventually failed. Peruna’s success, however, hints at a set of larger issues. It raises questions about the prevalence of astrology in U.S. culture at the turn of the twentieth century.
The history of patent medicines in the U.S. has been well covered by James Harvey Young in his various books, including his Toadstool Millionaires, first published in 1961 (available online at Quackwatch). His work is undoubtedly the place to begin any project on patent medicines. As with any corpus, however, there are other questions that could be asked when looking at this material. The role of astrology is one such question—the term astrology does not appear anywhere in Young’s chapter on patent medicine advertising, “The Pattern of Patent Medicine Appeals: An analysis of the psychology of patent medicine advertising.”
1Samuel Hopkins Adams, “Peruna and the Bracers,” Collier’s Weekly (1905) reprinted in Samuel Hopkins Adams, The Great American Fraud (P.F. Collier & Son, 1906), 12.⇑
4Sugar Creek Budget 5 November 1891, p. 3.⇑
5Sugar Creek Budget 30 March 1892.⇑
6The term cultural fencing comes from Pratt’s study. See Pratt, Shipshewana. See also Jean A. Hamilton and Jana M. Hawley, “Sacred Dress, Public Worlds: Amish and Mormon Experience and Commitment” in Religion, Dress and the Body, ed. Linda B. Arthur (Oxford: Berg, 1999), 31–51.⇑
7Sugar Creek Budget 31 March 1906, n.p.⇑
8For a discussion of this pamphlet, see “Selling Medicines in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century”.⇑
9Ptolemy had offered a set of guidelines in Book II of his Tetrabiblos. His methods were adapted and extended well into the sixteenth and seventeenth century. As late as 1914 the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized that the of astrology to predict the weather was sufficiently common that it had to issue a statement against it (“Do Planets Affect Our Weather?” USDA Weekly Newsletter (June 1914))⇑
10Familienkalender (1869), np.⇑
11“Es giebt auch viele andere Kalender. Ungeheure Massen von Kalendern, die hauptsächlich die Bekanntmachung von Medicinen und anderen Sachen zum Zwecke haben, werden jedes Jahr in der Welt verbreitet. Aber in diesen allen findet man nichts was man in unserem Familienkalender findet.” Familienkalender (1889), n.p.⇑
12“Zeugnisse für den Glauben” Familienkalender (1892), n.p.⇑
13Familienkalender (1905), n.p..⇑
14Peruna Almanac (1902), 2.⇑
15This claim is based on the sample of almanacs in my collection, ca. 100 almanacs. To be sure, this is too small a number to draw any real conclusions. This distribution information, however, is suggestive and awaits further study.⇑