Questionable Health Queries (and Answers)
Health and wellness are omnipresent topics in our society. Advertisements and commercials, news articles and casual conversations address these subjects on an everyday basis.
The same was true 100 years ago, although the information, questions and answers have evolved – significantly and very much for the better.
The Owensboro Messenger was one of hundreds of newspapers in the United States that published a syndicated column by William Brady, M.D. – “Noted Physician and Author.” His “Personal Health Service” article invited readers to mail questions (written in ink only; he said he had no time to decipher inquiries submitted in pencil), to which he provided a response.
The column was published from 1914 to 1972 – a remarkable run of 58 years. During that time, according to Wikipedia, he attracted criticism of other medical professionals, who bemoaned what they called Brady’s “stupid assertions against tested scientific knowledge,” stating that “he has often given dangerous advice that could have a serious detrimental effect on those who heeded it.”
Brady acknowledged that he held “strange notions” that were based on a “lifetime of sometimes unorthodox observation and practice … geared to keeping patients out of doctors’ offices.”
Whether Brady did local readers of his column good or ill, well, who knows. But a review of questions submitted throughout the year 1921 shows a fascinating glimpse of the kinds of health and wellness topics that were on the minds of our ancestors.
On Aug. 3, 1921, the following question was published: “Please tell me is butter or substances that are greasy harmful to the stomach? I am boy 14 years old training for boxing. I’ve heard certain people talking about the matter and I wish to find out for myself.”
Dr. Brady’s response: “You can scarcely put better food in your stomach than butter, my boy, for the stuff to grow and thrive on. Also, most other ‘greasy’ things are fine food. You are making a bad beginning in your training: Ask a good doctor about diet, and don’t pay any attention to the gossip of Tom, Dick and Harry.”
Other random questions posed to the good doctor 100 years ago include the following: “I have nervous indigestion. Should I have the old stumps of teeth extracted?”
“A friend asserts positively that a copper wire worn about the wrist and opposite ankle is a sure cure for rheumatism, no matter which wrist or ankle so long as they are opposite. Is there anything in this cure?”
“I am 24 years old, 5 feet 6 and weigh 142 pounds. Is it injurious for me to practice kicking at an object suspended well above my head? Some of my girl friends are scandalized and assure me it will cause all sorts of serious trouble.”
“Would you advise a 13-year-old girl to bob her hair? How soon would it grow again? My hair is coming out quite badly and I therefore I want it bobbed, but father doesn’t agree.”
“Please publish in your column the best treatment for water which has not been filtered, to eliminate the danger of typhoid fever and other diseases carried in water.”
“What is a good preventive against goiter in young girls?”
“If prevention is better than cure, how about cats as carriers of tuberculosis? What per cent of cats have that disease?”
“Is the drinking of from a pint to a quart of hot water before breakfast in the morning beneficial to health?”
“Is the use of electric battery 20 to 30 minutes a day conducive to good health?”
“Do you authorize taking a cold-water bath every morning as a health habit?”
“How long should home brew be worked and how long should it be kept before it is wholesome to drink? My son starts drinking it when it is only a few hours old, and I have heard it is bad for the stomach so early. He can’t make it fast enough as we live in an apartment.”
“Kindly give your advice on the use of oranges. I use this fruit freely, but have been told that it is not good for persons with dark hair and complexion.”
“Is there a hospital in any city where they can cure syphilis in three months?”
“What is the value of catnip tea as a remedy for babies and for invalids?”
“Is it harmful for children to play under a lawn hose? Our children enjoy it, but seem a little hoarse afterwards. Will it injure their hearts?”
“Is it injurious to health to sleep in a room where there are about two dozen geranium plants growing in pots?”
“Kindly advise whether a young girl who wishes to gain weight should drink root beer as served in the 5 and 10-cent stores. There does not seem to be any clean place to drink milk.”
It seems our ancestors had a wide spectrum of concerns regarding health and wellness. We can only be thankful they lived long enough to bear and nurture future generations up to and including our own.