Mormon-themed Aphrodisiacs, Part 4 of 4: Masculinity and Orientalization

By October 13, 2013

Note: this post discusses sexual activity in general and erectile dysfunction in particular, though mostly with nineteenth-century language.

Over the past few weeks I?ve looked briefly at the advertising and relative persistence of Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs. Today, in this concluding installment, I want to look at how such chemicals and advertisements fit within broader contexts. I did not succeed in turning it into an essay/blog-post, so it?s just a list. 

1. First, some instances just for emphasis: as noted earlier, ?Mormon Bishop Pills? received minor federal attention in the early 1900s, [1] ?Brigham Young Tablets?—described as ??glandular? tablets?—occasioned legal action in 1934 for ?slandering the church leader and violating the pure food and drug act,? [2] and a box for ?Mormon Elder?s Damiana Wafers? survived to grace the collection of the National Museum of American History (see image below and footnote link for more). [3]

MormonDamianaWafer Container 05 bottom left side angle

2. One obvious context for male-targeted aphrodisiacs is, of course, masculinity. The advertisements targeted individuals with compromised senses of manhood and played on alleged Mormon virility. Mormon Bishop Pill adverts were particularly aggressive in this regard. For example, a 1900 piece (shown below) led off with ??There goes a man?; that is just what will be said of you when you regain your manhood.? [4]

MormonBishopPills ThereGoesAMan SanFranciscoCall 1900Sep02Sun v87n94p22

Other pieces, without accompanying illustrations, asserted that Mormon Bishop Pills were ?A Good Remedy for Men Who Are All Run Down? (1904) [5]; ?did wonders? for ?[m]any a man who felt all gone, all wrought up, all depressed?? (1904) [6]; ?restores you from the consequences of youthful follies? (1901) [7]; and ?will keep a man from imagining he sees ghosts? (1902). [8]

MormonBishopPills NotAPennyToPay PittsburghPress 1904May28Mon p123. Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs were emphatically not alone. Catalogs listed thousands of patent medicines along with the one or two with Mormon themes. I have not attempted to count how many patent medicines targeted male sexual dysfunction, but I encountered so many while looking for the Mormon-themed versions that I could easily believe there were tens or even hundreds of different erectile-dysfunction nostrums in any given year from 1880 to 1910. For example, the advertisement below, showing (presumably) a bearded Mormon Elder, appeared at least three times in a Pittsburgh paper in 1904. In each case it shared the page with at least three other adverts for the treatment of male ills. [9]

4. One of the parallel types of male-dysfunction advertisement was the ?Oriental? harem pill. I have not searched in detail, but things like ?Persian Nerve Essence? and Turkish wafers came up in my searches and, I think, might add depth to studies of Mormon orientalization. Of course, in light of the patent-medicine blizzard, we probably shouldn?t put too much weight on the similarities.

[1] LF Kebler, ?Nostrums and Fraudulent Methods of Exploitation,? Journal of the American Medical Association 47.20 (1908 Nov 17): 1624 (1546-1550, 1623-1630). George M Kober, chairman, Report of Committee on Social Betterment (Washington DC: The President?s Homes Commission, 1908), 133. Harvey Washington Wiley, Chief Chemist of the United States Department of Agriculture, Senate Document 270: ?Investigations of Adulterated Foods, etc., Letter from the Secretary of Agriculture?,? 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1904 Apr 14, p 1-4.

[2] No author listed (Associated Press, Los Angeles, 1934 Aug 02), ?Claim Gland Pills? Names Slanderous,? Spokane Daily Chronicle, Spokane, WA, Final Fireside edition, 1934 Aug 02 Thu, p 9: ?LOS ANGELES, Aug. 2. (AP)—The names of Mae West, shapely star of the motion pictures, and Brigham Young, late leader of the Mormon church, were linked to day in an action started by the city prosecutor?s office. [¶] Deputy City Attorney Frank Potter said he will file complaints against R. R. Remington and R. C. Van Meter, owners of a company manufacturing ?Mae West tablets for women only? and ?Brigham Young tablets for men only,? charging them with slandering the church leader and violating the pure food and drug act. [¶] Potter described the product as ?glandular? tablets.?

[3] The link has more views at much higher resolution. FB Crouch, ?The Mormon Elders? Damiana Wafers,? medicine package, presumably cardboard, approximately 4.3 cm x 7 cm x 1.2 cm, manufactured approximately 1882-1905, New York, NY, image courtesy of National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, (ID: MG*M-12151.22, Accession: 271464), gift of Mrs. Edward Mogull. Church History Library item 615.766 M865c 188-? is photocopy of the front and back of a similar package but is described as ?a tin? while the above appears to be cardboard (?).

[4] Grant Drug Co, Advertisement for Mormon Bishop Pills: ?There Goes a Man,? San Francisco Call, San Francisco, CA, 1900 Sep 02 Sun, p 22. The Saint Paul Globe ran a similar ad with very minor textual changes and slight layout changes. At the bottom the dealer is changed: ?For Sale by F. M. Parker, Druggist, Fifth and Wabasha Streets, St. Paul, Minn. FM Parker, Advertisement for Mormon Bishop Pills: ?There Goes a Man,? Saint Paul Globe, St Paul, MN, 1904 May 22 Sun, p 33.

The left side of the illustration shows a young, well-dressed man (in evening dress: top hat, frock coat with tails, boutonnière) standing erect on smooth ground. He is also wearing a bag labeled ?WILD OATS? and he is broadcast scattering the oats. (That is, he is visually representing the idiomatic expression ?to sow wild oats.?) To his right is a much older, stooped male—presumably the older version of the same man. The old man?s clothes are ragged and he is bald and barefoot. He is working on rocky ground. With his right hand he is cutting plants with a sickle. With his left hand he is holding already cut plants. The not-yet-cut plants are labeled ?Misery,? ?Debility,? ?Disease,? and ?Sorrow.? The plants held by his left arm are labeled ?Despair.? At the upper right of the illustration is a sword, serpent, and human skull. The young man is framed by what looks like decorative ironwork; the old man is framed by twisted thorns, possibly in the shape of a chain. Beneath the illustration is written ?Whatsoever a Man Soweth — so Shall He Also Reap.? The whole illustration is surrounded by a border with a series of swirls. Beneath the border are three boxes containing, respectively, ?50? ?Cents? ?a box?.

The full text is: ?ADVERTISEMENTS. [¶] There goes a man [¶] that is just what will be said of you when you regain your manhood. Oh, you can get back your lost manhood. Here is a remedy that does the work. It is a fifty-cent remedy, but it is a good one. MORMON BISHOP PILLS cures twisted, knotted scrotal veins, cures varicocele, cures hydrocele, watery formation in scrotum. MORMON BISHOP PILLS cure drains, seepages, drippings, restores the lost memory. It is too bad but too true that hundreds of men have by over-indulgences, abuse, cigarette smoking, excesses, etc., made themselves weak and puny. Now they suffer from mental and physical drains; yes, many are nervous, suffer from lost or partly lost manhood, evil drains, unnatural losses, losses that sap and drain and exhaust. Are you such man? Are you ready for a cure? If you are, get these MORMON BISHOP PILLS. [¶] Dizziness, loss of memory, lack of energy, lack of confidence, staring, always staring, bleary, dull, fishy eyes, grinding of teeth, dull vision, bad, morbid, wet, impure dreams, spots, specks before eyes, twitching of eyelids, twitching of other parts, means a bankrupt manhood—a manhood that is nearly gone. [¶] When you find yourself in such a state, get MORMON BISHOP PILLS. It is only 50¢ per box. It will cure you. Others have been cured. Why not you? guaranteed to cure [¶] A good legal guarantee goes with these MORMON BISHOP PILLS in six box lots. You take no chance. Read the above and following symptoms and take MORMON BISHOP PILLS. Pains in back, pains in side, pains in face, pains in joints, pains in muscles, pains in knees when brought on by weakness is cured by MORMON BISHOP PILLS. [¶] Weakness in back, weakness in limbs, trembling, twitching, are cured by MORMON BISHOP PILLS. Night losses, day drains, sleeplessness, partial or complete impotency, lost vital manhood, poor circulation are cured by MORMON BISHOP PILLS. [¶] MORMON BISHOP PILLS can be had for fifty cents (50¢) per box, 6 boxes $2.50. Get them. Write for free book, free circular, useful testimonials. Write [¶] BISHOP REMEDY CO., [¶] 40 Ellis st., San Francisco, Cal. [¶] For Sale by GRANT DRUG COMPANY, 38 and 40 Third Street.?

The ad is at the bottom of the page. The page is 7 columns wide; the ad is 3 columns wide and approximately square; it takes up approximately 3/8 of the vertical height of the page.

[5] Max Wirth?s Drug Store, advertisement for Mormon Bishop Pills, ?Mormon Bishop: A Good Remedy for Men Who Are All Run Down,? Duluth Evening Herald, Duluth, MN, 1904 Mar 02 Wed, Last Edition, p 3. There are 7 columns on the page; ad is at bottom of column 3; ad is 1 column wide and a little more than 1/8 the vertical height of the page. Preceding pages contain articles on Smoot Hearings: No author listed, dateline: Washington, 1904 Mar 02, ?Head of Mormon Church Gives Testimony Before Committee in Smoot Case,? Duluth Evening Herald, Duluth, MN, 1904 Mar 02 Wed, p 1, cont?d on p 2.]

?Mormon Bishop. [¶] A Good Remedy for Men Who Are All Run Down. [¶] I would advise you to go to the address at the bottom of this notice and get a box of Mormon Bishop Pills for 50 cents, and when you have used them, if you are not entirely satisfied with the result, I will see that you get all that is coming to you. Now, I call that just fair, and you can take my word for it Mormon Bishop Pills is a great remedy. It build and it makes; Mormon Bishop Pills gives you that which was wasted. You get back a big, new lease of life. You feel big, strong and vigorous. You realize the full prime and vigour of renewed health and joy. You will be so glad you have gotten back your health you will say to yourself, ?I am real glad I bought a box of Mormon Bishop Pills.? [¶] If you have a pain in the back or a weakness in the back you will find Mormon Bishop Pills to be just what you need. Mormon Bishop Pills can be had at Max Wirth?s drug store for 50 cents a box, six boxes $2.50, or by mail, Bishop Remedy company, 40 Ellis street, San Francisco, Cal.?

[6] Max Wirth, advertisement for Mormon Bishop Pills, ?A Worthy Drug Store,?  Duluth Evening Herald, Duluth, MN, 1904 Mar 01 Tue, Last Edition, p 3. ?A Worthy Drug Store. [¶] Popular Because Reliable, and Honest in Every Sense of the Word. [¶] Popular because reliable, and honest in every sense of the word. Max Wirth?s drug store is a popular place for people who find a necessity for toilet articles, drugs, chemicals or the ?Wonder Worker Mormon Bishop Pills.? Yes, when you find a business growing as rapidly as this drug business you may rely on it, honesty and fidelity is the main spring, the main stay. [¶] Now this drug store sells the wonder worker Mormon Bishop Pills and Mormon Bishop Pills cures, yes just cures. Many a man who felt all gone, all wrought up, all depressed gladly turned to any old thing and now gladly say Mormon Bishop Pills did wonders for him. [¶] Our worthy druggist assures us Mormon Bishop Pills is one of the best of sellers, and this certainly means something. [¶] You are advised to try Mormon Bishop Pills and if you are not satisfied you can write and get all that is coming to you. Mormon Bishop Pills cures nervousness, weakness, and poor circulation, for sale by Max Wirth. [¶] One box 50c, six boxes $2.50, made by Bishop Remedy Co., 40 Ellis street, San Francisco, California.? [page is 7 columns wide; ad is at bottom of column 5; ad is 1 column wide and a little less than 1/4 page height.]

[7] No author listed, ?This Boy: He Is One of a Multitude Rescued by ?Mormon Bishop?s?,? Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, CA, 1901 Oct 07 Mon, p 3. [There was no illustration; the piece appears in the 7th column of a 7-column page, about half-way down the page; it occupies about 1/8th of the column.] ?Don?t waste your time and money in taking all kinds of dope. Mormon Bishop?s Pills are the remedy that restores you from the consequences of youthful follies. When you use Mormon Bishop?s Pills you can sleep as well, walk as well, eat as well, and look as well as any man on earth. They are a combination of all the best medicines on earth. They are a whole drug store in one box. In one to six months they restore the waste of youth. If you want to cheat an early grave, use Mormon Bishop?s Pills, 50 cents a box, or six boxes for $2.50. For sale by Sale & Son Drug Co., 220 South Spring street, Los Angeles, Cal.?

[8] No author listed, ?Ghost in the Closet,? Morning Oregonian, Portland, OR, 1902 Sep 12 Fri, p 8. ?GHOST IN THE CLOSET. [¶] Terrible Experience of a Man Who Was Alone at Home. [¶] Worried by troubles and a feeble constitution, and awed by the darkness in the lonely house, Mormon Bishop Pills are the remedy that will keep a man from imagining he sees ghosts. Mormon Bishop Pills are worth their weight in gold for a sluggish brain, a torpid liver, an aching back, constipation, loss of vitality, weakened vitality, loss of memory, despondency and loss of appetite. They are sold by S. G. Skidmore & Co., Portland, Or., at 50 cents per box or six boxes for $2 50. Mormon Bishop Pills positively remove all effects of early decay, youthful folly and excess.

[9] May?s, Advertisement for Mormon Bishop Pills, ?Not a Penny to Pay,? Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 1904 May 28 Mon, Evening, p 12. ?Not a Penny to Pay. [¶] If Mormon Bishop Pills Fail to Help You, Fail to Cure. [¶] Readers of this paper can go to May?s and deposit 50c for one package, $2.50 for six packages, of Mormon Bishop Pills, and if you fail to receive help, if you don?t get results, if you can truly say you are not benefited, just go to the druggist and say so, and he will return to you your money. This is a fair offer. It is just like saying if you don?t get results you pay no money. [¶] Mormon Bishop Pills have been in use over 50 years by the leaders of the Mormon Church and their followers. Positively cures the worst cases of old and young arising from effects of self-abuse dissipation, excesses, or cigarette smoking. Cures Lost Manhood, Impotency, Lost Power, Night-Losses, Spermatorrhoea, Insomnia, Pains in Back, Evil Desires, Seminal Emissions, Lame Back, Nervous Debility, Headache, Unfitness to Marry, Loss of Semen, Varicocele or Constipation, Stops Prematureness, Stops Nervous Twitching of Eyeeids [sic: Eyelids]. [¶] For sale at Prescription Dept. May?s, 506-508 Marke. st.? [Page is 8 columns wide; ad is 1 column wide and about 1/8 height of page. Ad is in column 6, almost to the bottom of the page. It is almost surrounded by similar-sized ads, some of them also for sexual rejuvenation.] The ad was repeated: May?s, Advertisement for Mormon Bishop Pills, ?Not a Penny to Pay,? Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 1904 Apr 27 Wed, Evening, p 10. [Ad appears at bottom left corner of page. Page is 8 columns wide; ad is 1 column wide and about 1/8 height of page.] May?s, Advertisement for Mormon Bishop Pills, ?Not a Penny to Pay,? Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 1904 Apr 06 Wed, Evening, p 10. [Page is 8 columns wide; ad is 1 column wide and about 1/8 height of page. Ad is in column 3, at the bottom of the page. It is almost surrounded by ads for sexual rejuvenation.]

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Edje, this continues to be a fascinating series. I agree with you about how the harem themed named aphrodisiacs deserves further exploration within the context of Mormon orientalization. This would all make an interesting and excellent journal article.Thanks!

    Comment by Natalie R — October 14, 2013 @ 12:33 am

  2. Thanks, Natalie.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — October 15, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

  3. I was traveling this weekend and just got around to reading this in full. Great stuff, as always. I appreciate the context you provide here. Thanks, Edje.

    Comment by Christopher — October 15, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

  4. I’m kind of sad this is part four of four. It was great.

    Comment by Saskia — October 15, 2013 @ 10:31 pm


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