Monthly Archives: July 2015

Reading between the lines: the Comstock Act and ads for the treatment of “female complaints” from the Fairfax Herald.

By Anne McCrery, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

If you read a newspaper from the late 19th century, you’re liable to be bombarded by various medical advertisements—treatments for catarrh, scrofula, and “watery-blood;” cure-alls like sarsaparilla and cod liver oil (described in an ad found in the Fairfax Herald as “palatable as milk”); and vegetable compounds that passionately avow efficacy in curing cancer.


“Mason’s Vegetable Cancer Cure is the greatest triumph of the age.” From the Fairfax Herald.

Amongst these medical advertisements appear a multitude of supplements for treating “female complaints.” On first glance, these treatments appear to be simply another amusing example of 19th century medical quackery; however, these were not just any pills—these were abortifacients.

Abortion was a relatively common method of limiting family size in the 19th century, an era lacking in other forms of birth control; however, women did not truly consider themselves to be pregnant prior to the “quickening” of the fetus, the point in which she could feel the fetus move, usually around the fourth month of gestation. Abortifacients, therefore, were taken to relieve “obstructed menses.” Traditionally abortions were induced by ingesting home-remedies prepared with toxic herbs, such as pennyroyal, to induce miscarriage. By the mid-19th century abortifacients were widely available commercially, appearing frequently in newspaper advertisements which described the products in vague and euphemistic terms.

Despite the commonality of abortifacients in the 19th century, the emergence of anti-abortion campaigns in the mid-19th century ultimately led to the prohibition of abortion that lasted until the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Moreover, the Comstock Act of 1873 banned the circulation of abortifacients and information about them, including advertisements, as they were deemed “obscene.”

Despite the restrictions placed on abortifacients in the late 19th century, advertisements for them continued to … read more »

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Be True to Your School:

Question: What do the following five quotes have in common?

“‘Pep! That’s what we want and that’s what we’ll get,’ Mr Archer H. Brown, director of Pep Club told a STAR reporter today.”

“It was in the dull grey mist of the morning that the enemy planes droned towards Pearl Harbor, and it was on that morning that the most treacherous trick ever played became known to the world. Bombs fell. Bombs from enemy planes on our base of Pearl Harbor! Treachery! This one word alone filled the air as reports came over the radio to all parts of the United States. People alone in the streets shouted to one another about it. Mothers whose sons were at the base sobbed quietly, fearing death and disaster for beloved ones. We, the American people, finally saw the light and knew that now the whole world would be at war.”

“Oh, Mama! I’ve found out where they make horses. I came by a shop where a man was finishing one; he was just nailing on his last foot.”

“Urging the working of all creeds without intolerance of each other, Rabbi Colin, Dr. Boyd, and Father O’Connell spoke to assembly on Monday. Rabbi Colin’s vivid illustration of the joined fingers making a forceful fist against hatred drove home this idea.”

“I hope my column this week will help someone who may be wrestling with a problem that always comes to light about this time of year. Of course, I am referring to the choice of Christmas presents. . .Father can always use a cigarette lighter and a carton of cigarettes, toilet articles, clothes or jewelry.”

Answer: They are all quotes taken from high school newspapers. And while academic newspapers cover topics from the silly to the serious, they provide a unique opportunity to … read more »

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Newsies! Not the Movie!

Richmond’s Style Weekly published an engaging cover story about “Children of the Streets of Richmond, 1865-1920,” a book recently published by local writer, Harry Ward.


We’ll let the article do the talking, but suffice it to say, the book covers a lot of ground about an era of Richmond history that often makes the state capital sound like a wild west boom town:  5-6-7 year old newspaper boys, a rasher of neighborhood  gangs, red light districts, and other sordid stories describe a city quite different from the one we know today. Which is no surprise given that many of the tales told took place over 100 years ago.

As it relates to Fit To Print, the author appears to make good use of newspapers to support his research into an array of court cases.

The Virginia Newspaper Project recommends the Style Weekly article as the images and text provide a glimpse of Richmond history now gone but not lost thanks to thousands of stories and reports found in our local newspapers.


 … read more »

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