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Examining Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century New York City through Patent Medicines

Author(s): Meredith Linn

Year: 2016

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Patent medicines were immensely popular in the 19th century. They promised astounding cures, were unregulated and relatively inexpensive, and permitted individuals to self-medicate without an interfering physician.  Archaeologists have often begun their interpretations of these curious commodities with the premises that they were lesser quality alternatives to physicians’ prescriptions and thus more appealing to poorer alienated groups (who  used them passively as advertised) than to the native-born middle class. Inspired by Diana diZerega Wall’s important body of comparative work using material culture to examine gender, class, and ethnicity in 19th-century New York City, this paper uses patent medicines similarly and focuses most on comparisons between working-class Irish immigrants and middle-class native-born Americans. This paper shows that patent medicine consumption was often a reasonable option that cross-cut class and ethnicity, and that different groups preferred different types or brands of patent medicines that reveal their divergent agency, circumstances, and worldviews. 

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Examining Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century New York City through Patent Medicines. Meredith Linn. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Washington, D.C. 2016 ( tDAR id: 434546)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -129.199; min lat: 24.495 ; max long: -66.973; max lat: 49.359 ;

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): 830

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America