The term “patent medicine” was used to describe medicinal compounds in the 19th century, which were sold with creative names and even more outrageous claims. Also sometimes known as proprietary medicines, these remedies, for the most part, were indeed not patented but only trademarked.
The term “patent” denoted medications whose compounds had been granted government protection for exclusive recipes. Most makers of these “cures,” often small family-run businesses, used ingredients quite similar to their competitors—vegetable extracts laced with ample doses of alcohol, sugar, and various herbals. In some cases, these “quack medicines” as they were often called, could be deadly, since there was no regulation of their ingredients. Their effectiveness was questionable and their contents were usually kept secret.
The number of patent medicines diminished greatly after 1906, when Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, implementing public health action against unlabeled or unsafe ingredients, misleading advertising, quackery, and similar questionable practices.
Lydia E. Pinkham (1819-1883), who’s slogan was “yours for health,” was a producer of patent medicines. Her “Vegetable Compound” (see image from package in the library collection) was recommended “for relieving hot flashes and certain other symptoms associated with “Change of Life” and other [female] distress—not due to organic disease.” Ingredients in this compound included: Jamaica dogwood, pleurisy root, black cohosh, life root, licorice, dandelion and gentian. It also contained 13 ½ % ethyl alcohol—as the label notes, “used solely as a solvent and preservative.” Recommended dosage, “take one tablespoonful four times a day, before meals and at bedtime.”
The Alberts collection contains over 130 rare and historic infant feeding devices, baby bottles, and other associated items. The infant feeders date from an ancient Persian clay feeding pot circa 100-200 B.C., to mid-to-late twentieth century glass and plastic baby bottles. The collection includes various types of feeders, such as nursing flasks, pap boats and bubby pots.
The collection was assembled by M. E. Alberts, M.D. (born 1923), during his career as a pediatrician in Des Moines, Iowa. Dr. Alberts is originally from Hastings, Nebraska, and is a 1948 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. Many of the artifacts in the library’s special collections were gifts from UNMC alumni.
One of the oldest and most interesting items in the collection is a Roman era baby bottle, made of pale translucent green blown glass. The bottle is 3½ inches tall with an open flare top and a spout starting near the base. The artifact was obtained from archeological excavations in Germany, probably from Nidda, a 5th century Roman settlement (near Frankfurt), and is dated circa 500 C.E.
Olga (Sadilek) Stastny, M.D. (1878-1952) was a leading Omaha physician during the first half of the 20th century. She was born in Wilber, Nebraska, and graduated from high school there in 1895, and the same year she married dentist Charles Stastny, and they had two children. Her husband died in 1907, and Stastny went back to school, eventually earning her M.D. in 1913 from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine.
She did postgraduate study at the College of Medicine, New York; as well as at Mary Thompson Hospital, Chicago. She also travel led to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and Berlin, Germany, 1913-14, for further postgraduate work. She was an intern at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston.
She practiced medicine in Omaha from 1913-16, and in 1918 she volunteered to become an anesthetist in the American Women’s Hospital in France during World War I. From 1919-20, she was a faculty member of the School of Social Service, Prague; and from 1919-22, she was director of the International YMCA’s Department of Health for Czechoslovakia. From 1923-24, she was the supervisor of a quarantine station for refugees from Greece and Asia Minor.
She returned to private practice in Omaha and also served as volunteer faculty for the University of Nebraska College of Medicine from 1925-1948, in the area of obstetrics and gynecology. She was president of the American Women’s Medical Association from 1930-31.
Irving Cutter, M.D., was born in 1875 in New Hampshire, and as a boy he came to Nebraska with his family. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1898. For six years following graduation he worked as a high school teacher and principal. He graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1910, at age 35. After graduation Cutter practiced medicine in Lincoln for three years, and was also an instructor in physiological chemistry at the University of Nebraska. In 1913 Cutter became professor of biochemistry at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine.
Dr. Cutter became Dean of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1915, and served in this capacity until 1925. He then became Dean of Medicine at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Cutter remained at Northwestern University for 16 years, retiring in 1941. While at Northwestern University, Dr. Cutter also acted as Medical Director of Passavant Hospital in Chicago.
Beginning in 1934, Cutter was medical editor for the Chicago Tribune, writing a daily column on health called “How to Keep Well.” The various topics of his columns cover a wide range of medical topics, from diabetes to poison ivy, and worry as a cause of heart disease to hardening of the arteries.
Cutter served in World War I as a Captain in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army from 1918-1919, and held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Officers’ Reserve Corps from 1920-1929. In 1923 Cutter was elected president of the Association of American Medical Colleges. He was president of Phi Rho Sigma from 1927-1934. He died in 1945, at age 69, of prostate cancer.
Some of the artwork on the UNMC campus often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. The centennial sculpture (pictured), located in the passageway between Wittson Hall and the hospital is one of those works of art. The sculpture honors the 100th anniversary of the College of Medicine, and was dedicated in October 1980. Originally the sculpture stood outside, between Bennett Hall (then called South Lab Building) and the Lied Transplant Center (then the site of Conkling Hall, former School of Nursing building). Created by artist Danny Whetstone, the sculpture is the centennial logo, representing the past, present and future generations of the college. When located outside, the sculpture included an eternal flame that demonstrated the college’s continuing commitment to health care.
In March 1996, the demolition of Conkling Hall began, to make way for the Lied Transplant Center. The sculpture was removed and later placed indoors in the passageway where it now stands.
To visit the UNMC archives, contact the Special Collections Department to schedule an appointment or inquire at the AskUs desk on the 6th floor of the library.