Another trip back home to Janesville, another trip down to the Fury catacombs. Previous excursions discovered books about how to be a man in 1886 and Alex Karras’s sexually disturbing autobiography. This time?
The People’s Home Library, published in 1916, from R.C. Barnum. The book is a library of “three practical books,” The People’s Home Medical Book, The People’s Home Recipe Book and The People’s Home Stock Book. In the compiler’s preface, Barnum wrote, “The authors have most heartily joined with the compiler in an earnest effort to make this in truth a most practical book for the People and we trust it will prove a real money-saver in the home.”
I have no idea where this book first lived or if it did indeed save people money at the start of the 20th century. But maybe it can still offer some good advice to those living in the early part of the 21st.
Not surprisingly, the medical section of the book is the most fascinating. The chapter on Relishes, Cheese, and Chafing Dish Cookery — addressed in the People’s Home Recipe Book — probably still offers decent practical advice for those seeking a solid mac and cheese. Fortunately the medical world has advanced a bit more, making the advice from the past much more jarring to those in the present.
Scarlet fever receives several pages of advice, including, of course, what people can do at home.
1. Fat Bacon–Sulphur–Cold Water–Rub the patient morning and evening from head to foot with a piece of fat bacon.
4. Bacon–Give the patient a warm sponge bath every night, then grease the entire body with a piece of uncooked bacon.
The book isn’t simply about what the doctors of the day knew, though that does constitute most of the advice. Regular people offer up their own experiences about what works and what doesn’t. The author and compiler don’t necessarily endorse the advice — the equivalent, I suppose, of a retweet not signifying agreement — but do throw out what’s worked for folks throughout the U.S. Take, if you will, “Diarrhea and summer complaints.” One way to fix the affliction, “Flour and camphor–stir together 1 tablespoonful of flour and 1/2 teaspoonful of camphor diluted with water. The dose is 1 tablespoonful 3 times a day and oftener if necessary. A lady living in Centerburg, Ohio, says she has used this for 25 years and that it is a never failing remedy.” On a somewhat related note, treatment for constipation includes “Horseback riding and gymnasium work.”
A section on patent medicines shows how to make your favorite remedies, like Hall’s Hair Renewer, which requires, among other things, salt, glycerine, Jamaica rum, Bay rum and water. Shake well before using — advice that will be in effect 100 years from now as well, no doubt. Or maybe you’d prefer Mexican Mustang Liniment, a type of soap that sounds like it should double as an aphrodisiac.
In the Chapter for Men, the author notes, “It does not pay for a young man to sow his wild oats. The transient pleasure of a moment may mean the suffering of a lifetime.” Which leads, gracefully, into discussion of Gonorrhea, or the clap. Girls don’t get the same lecture, but in the section on menstruation it is noted that “The idea of a girl’s going to school when she is unwell or at any time when she is unwell and sitting for hours with wet shoes, stockings and skirts is monstrous and yet this is frequently done. How many girls and women go to a dance when they are unwell and dance themselves into a perspiration, then go to a cooler part of the building and sit down without any extra wraps! The result is a cold and the stopping of the flow for that time.” Also, a girl’s first period is actually labeled “the first crisis.”
Like Dr. J.H. Kellogg in his book about how to be a man, the author of the People’s Library is horrified by anyone taking things into their own hands. “Too many children, and especially boys, grow up making light of virtue. Not only this, but masturbation is practiced to an extent almost beyond belief. This is an unnatural practice and children should be instructed as to its awful effects upon both the mind and body.” There is a possibility that it actually was done beyond belief, which if true, is indeed a terrible thought. Twelve hours a day? Sixteen? Was the entire country awash in some type of self-pleasuring fever? The author suggests curfews to help aid in keeping kids from mingling, though that would seem to only increase the chance they’d bring shame into their homes in other ways.
So how about some recipes? The great thing about the People’s Home Library is just when you might have started feeling guilty about what a terrible person you were, the next book shows how to cook up a good roast and take your mind off of anything that’s evil. The final section deals with livestock — how to take care of your cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, cats and dogs. I doubt many people bought this book for those chapters. People bought the People’s Home Library because they wanted to know how to stay healthy and pure. I’m sure the compiler Barnum and the author would be happy to know someone has their hands on this book 100 years after it was first published — provided, of course, they can trust that those hands are not up to no good.