by Meg Favreau
And other historical treatments for nervous men
There are a few categories where women tend to get all of the attention. These include red carpet fashion, pregnancy and old-timey anxiety cures. Of course, that’s partially due to the salaciousness of the female nervousness of yore — any time bringing someone to orgasm is considered a medical prescription and not just a good Tuesday, people are going to pay attention. And it’s partially that anxiety and nervousness were traditionally considered female traits — the word “hysteria” is rooted in women’s very anatomy, after all.
It took doctors some time to even turn their eye to men’s anxiety. In 1877, The Medical News published a speech by a Dr. S. Weir Mitchell about men and anxiety. Dr. Mitchell noted that nervousness in general was underreported, and “if spoken of at all, it is as if it were entirely the sad prerogative of women.” Of course, he probably didn’t increase anxiety diagnoses from either gender by describing nervousness with lines like “the strong man becomes like the average woman.” Or by being perplexed by the 18-year-old man who “strangely” developed an anxiety disorder after “while at his father’s funeral, slipped on the wet ground and fell into the grave,” as if “slipping into a grave while dealing with the worst grief of your life” were a regular 1877 party game.
Most of Dr. Mitchell’s suggested anxiety cures seem relatively modern, including spending time outside and using cannabis (in small doses). His time period starts to show, however, when he also recommends treatment with opium and arsenic. Personally, I’ll take my anxiety over slow poisoning.
But curing men’s nervousness wasn’t just the domain of doctors. It was also the domain of companies trying to make a quick buck. And while many of the cures were marketed to women, companies soon realized something important: Dudes will totally spend money on nervousness cures, too. This included the many, many manufacturers of patent medicines, proprietary medications that claimed to cure almost everything. At best, patent medicines were just booze with a few herbs mixed in, and at worst, they were laced with opium or cocaine.
Many of these patent medicines claimed to help with nervousness, but some of them went a step further, publishing books and setting up as Herbalife-style pyramid schemes. One example is the Viavi Method. Viavi was largely aimed at women — in terms of both salespeople and customers. But of course, they didn’t want to cut out a possible customer base, so the Viavi Hygiene book includes “a special chapter addressed to men” because “Under the high stress of modern life, men have become victims of nervous depletion to an extent that few of them appear to realize.”
The solution? Using Viavi Liquid, Viavi Royal, Viavi Laxative and Viavi Cerate, the last of which “should be copiously rubbed over the body for thirty minutes, particularly over the abdomen, stomach and back, once a day, and in severe cases more frequently.” According to Paul Collins in Cabinet Magazine, a 1907 chemical analysis revealed that the Viavi capsules, at least, were just “golden seal extract and cocoa butter.” And no, neither of these substances is supposed to help with anxiety, other than maybe the calming feeling of rubbing cocoa butter onto your skin.
Not all quack cures for anxiety were swallowed or rubbed, however. Some, such as the O-P-C Suspensory, simply amounted to a delicate cupping of the balls.
OPC stands for “Old Point Comfort,” as you can see in this ad from an 1897 issue of American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, wherein the company recommends that drug stores put a bunch of cloth nutsack-holders in their window displays:
I do not know why this page is pink.
Suspensories do have legitimate uses, even today. Bauer & Black, the company that made OPC, still sells them (although they’re now part of 3M). But the primary reason for wearing one is for recovering after injury or surgery, not to deal with the regular weight of gravity on your sack.
So did the suspensories work for nervousness? Anecdotal evidence suggests they sold well; in an 1899 issue of American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, the News and Notes of the Traveling Salesman section notes that one A. Bateman “sold large quantities of Bauer & Black’s goods, especially the O.P.C. suspensory.”…