If you stopped in a La Crosse drug store around the turn of the century, you might have found a medicine cabinet filled with “Humphreys’ Specifics”: little white pills and vials promising you relief from the many ailments that can afflict you this time of year. A list on the front of the cabinet promised to cure the patient of 35 separate ailments, including fevers, headaches, croup, or “General Debility.” The packets of pills went for 25 cents each, unless you suffered from “Nervous Debility” or “Diseases of the Heart,” in which case you would have to pony up a whole dollar.
The homeopathic pills, developed by Dr. Frederick Humphreys of New York, proved popular in the Midwest, judging by advertising campaigns. The pills were supposed to illicit symptoms similar to the disease, thereby prompting the body to take action and “cure” the disease itself. If a potential customer was dubious, an advertisement that ran in the Eau Claire Evening Free Press in March 1900 reassured readers that the pills “act directly upon the disease, without exciting disorder in other parts of the system.”
After having taken the pills, if you felt they had been effective, you could send away for similar cures for your horses and dogs. The medicine cabinet in the La Crosse County Historical Society’s collection unfortunately does not including pricing information for the veterinary medications.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.