Monthly Archives: July 2012

“Stay Off the Cars”–The Boycott of the Virginia Passenger and Power Company

In 1902 Louisiana became the first to pass a statewide statute requiring mandatory segregation of streetcars, followed by Mississippi in 1904. That same year, Virginia authorized, but did not require, segregated streetcars in all of its cities, leaving it up to companies to decide whether or not they would segregate their services. On April 17, 1904, the Times Dispatch printed the article “Separate the Races” on page seventeen of its Sunday edition, in which the Virginia Passenger and Power Company outlined a new set of rules. The Company surely hoped its new policy to enforce racial segregation on its cars would go unnoticed by Richmond’s populace. Instead, the company’s new regulations led to a citywide boycott of its services, and ultimately to its financial ruin.

“This company has determined to avail itself of the authority given by a recent state law to separate white and colored passengers,” read its statement in the Times Dispatch, “and to set apart and designate in each car certain portions of the car or certain seats for white passengers and certain other portions or certain seats for colored passengers. . .The conductors have the right to require passengers to change their seats as often as may be necessary for the comfort and convenience of the passengers and satisfactory separation of the races.” White riders were to sit in the front of cars, while black riders were to sit in the back, but because there were no permanent partitions on the cars, conductors had the authority to assign seats as the ebb and flow of black and white riders shifted. This gave conductors the power to play a “bizarre game of musical chairs with passengers.”[1] The company’s new regulations also gave conductors the authority to arrest or forcibly remove anyone who did not comply with … read more »

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A Reliable Remedy–Medicinal Ads from Old Newspapers

Television and copy advertisements for prescription drugs are a common sight these days. But the obsession with finding the latest and greatest cure-all is nothing new.  At the turn of the twentieth century, before the discovery of antibiotics and other wonder drugs, consumers were desperate to find palliatives for problems ranging from the common cold to cancer. The search for the perfect panacea combined with the huge number of newspaper readers made newspapers the primary medium for shrewd concoction makers to hock their potions. The medicinal advertisements below are from the Alexandria Gazette, the Daily Times (Richmond, Va.) and the Free Lance (Fredericksburg, Va.) of 1899-1911 and represent companies which were successful thanks, in part, to convincing and pervasive newspaper advertising campaigns. All images are from Chronicling America, a digital repository of historic newspapers.  Original and microfilm copies of these papers can also be found in the collections of the Library of Virginia.

Ely’s Cream Balm, manufactured by the Ely brothers of Owego, NY, was a popular remedy for catarrh, “an Inflammation of the mucus membranes in one of the airways or cavities in the body.”  The Ely Brothers started producing Ely’s Cream Balm, a compound similar to today’s Vicks VapoRub, in Owego in the early 1860′s. They moved the company to New York City in the early 1890′s and it was later sold to Wyeth in the mid 1930′s. In this ad from January 1, 1910 in the Alexandria Gazette, an illustrated head appears with congestion-causing ailments written all over it.  In bold, capital letters, the ominous words CATARRH and HEY FEVER appear at the top and bottom of the afflicted head. It calls itself a “reliable remedy” that “cleanses, soothes, heals and protects the diseased membrane resulting from Catarrh.” In the days when quackery … read more »

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