Wine of Cardui

WINE
FOR
WOMEN!

Woman’s modesty and ignorance of danger often cause her to endure pains and suffer torture rather than consult a physician about important subjects.
Pains in the head, neck, back, hips, limbs and lower bowels at monthly intervals, indicate alarming derangements.

McELREE’S
WINE OF CARDUI

is a harmless Bitter Wine without intoxicating qualities. Taken at the proper time it relieves pain, corrects derangements, quiets nervousness and cures Whites, Falling of the Womb and Suppressed or too Frequent Menses. Price $1.
For sale by medicine dealers.

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Source: The Emmet County Republican, (Estherville, Iowa) 1 April 1897

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As the ad says, this had no intoxicating qualities. Honest, guv, none whatsoever. The 19% alcohol just happened to be there to stop the proper ingredients going off.

These other ingredients were Black Haw, Blessed Thistle (then classified Carduus benedictus, hence the product name) and Golden Seal. The remedy was popular in the southern US and was advertised not only in the newspapers but by means of almanacks, calendars, a pamphlet called Home Treatment for Women, and even The 20th Century Song Book, which featured popular tunes alongside glowing testimonials from women whose ‘female weaknesses’ had been cured.

Next to the music for ‘Rock me to Sleep, Mother,’ for example, was a message from Mrs C M Ladd, who wrote:

I take pleasure in telling you and afflicted women that I owe my life, my health and my happiness to Wine of Cardui. After my marriage my health broke down and after having tried several physicians and several kinds of medicines, I was given up to die.

I had heard of Wine of Cardui and decided to try it. I began to receive benefit at once, and now I am well and strong and our home has two fine little boys to make it bright and happy.

The testimonials are generally not coy about discussing symptoms. These are from Home Treatment for Women, a 64-page booklet that gave brief descriptions of common female ailments, but devoted most of the space to recommending Cardui (the ‘Wine of’ bit was dropped at some point).

“I could hardly walk from one room to the other without my womb coming down,” writes Mrs Grace Brown, of Taskee Station, Mo. “I took Cardui, and was well from it, and have never had falling of the womb since, even after childbirth.”

Mrs J W Thomas wrote:

About six years ago, as I was cooking a meal, a pain struck me in the back. One pain after another followed, and I had to be carried to the bed. I must have fainted. The doctor pronounced it falling of the womb, and he replaced it half a dozen times with instruments. I flooded dreadfully for about eight weeks. The doctor’s medicine did me no good, and he advised me to take Cardui.

And from Mrs C C Redmon:

I got very weak and I looked almost like a skeleton. I suffered extreme agony in back, stomach and head, and had burning and itching whites so bad I could hardly stand.

In 1916, The Chattanooga Medicine Company, which made the Wine of Cardui, brought a successful libel suit against the American Medical Association for its claims that the business was ‘built on deceit’ and that the product was ‘a vicious fraud.’  During an adjournment of the court in April 1916, company owner John A Patten was seized with acute intestinal pain – he was rushed to hospital and operated on, but died.

At this unexpected incident, a personal suit brought by Patten lapsed, but he and his brother had also brought a partnership suit for $100,000, and once the funeral was over, this continued. The verdict, after the jury had been out a week, was in favour of the Chattanooga Medicine Company – it was awarded damages of one cent.  Both sides could claim a victory of sorts. As the California State Journal of Medicine pointed out in Aug 1916, ‘it is permissible to suggest that the American Medical Association will hardly find its prestige diminished among good citizens by its opposition to the sale of proprietary medicines containing a marked percentage of alcohol.’

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Wine for Women – what a slogan. Like Votes For Women, only more alcoholic.

    The symptoms and ‘female’ sicknesses remind me of the things that Viavi was supposed to cure, about the same time period.

  2. A falling of the womb? Sounds frightful. Mind you, after a few glasses of that stuff, they’d all be so distracted by the spinning of the room that the womb stuff would be all forgotten anyway…

  3. Although strictly speaking it meant uterine prolapse, in some testimonials ‘falling of the womb’ appears to encompass the less dramatic ‘bearing down’ feelings as well. As you say, the remedy was probably pretty good at taking the sufferer’s mind off it!

  4. The herbal ingredients would actually be quite good for some menstrual complaints – Black Haw is a very good antispasmodic and anti-inflamatory, and Blessed thistle is a great liver tonic. Golden seal is antiseptic and tonic. All these herbs are still in use today.
    The alcohol would indeed have been to preserve the medicine, but would also help to extract the medicinal constituents. But you don’t drink glasses full of the stuff – the woman would have had a spoonful 2 or 3 times a day.
    It was probably quite effective, which would be why the AMA lost the suit (even if the damages awarded were minimal, that was likely a political anti-herbal move, rather than any merit in the AMA’s claims)

    • I’d trust these ingredients before I would those in most of the ones today’s pharmaceutical companies are hawking! Sara is correct. The major ingredients listed have medicinal value that is still acknowledged today. Problem is Merck and Pfizer don’t make a profit off of them … yet. So it’s en vogue to make fun.

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