In the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, alleged cures for “female weakness” were among the nostrums marketed by quacks. Among the most successful of such marketers was a Buffalo physician named Ray Vaughn Pierce, who became known as “The Prince of Quacks” and the “Emperor of Elixir”
According to Buffalo Architecture and History “Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce was born at Starke, New York, August 6th, 1840, and received his education in public schools. Afterwards he took up the study of medicine and in 1862 was graduated from The Eclectic Medical College, of Cincinnati. Subsequently he practiced medicine in Titusville, Pennsylvania, for four years, and in 1867 became a resident of Buffalo. Soon after coming to Buffalo Dr Pierce started the manufacture of a prescription which he called “Doctor Pierce’s Favorite Prescription.” He followed the marketing of this with several other medicines, including Smart Weed and Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets. Nearly one million bottles of Dr. Pierce’s Smart Weed and other preparations left Buffalo annually. Pierce’s medicines were notorious elixirs, many containing opium until the mid-1890s. Pierce promoted his concoctions through his book, “The people’s Common Sense Medical Advisor.” A quasi-predecessor to the Physicians’ Desk Reference, Pierce’s book was in its 11th edition and had sold more than 2 million copies by 1907. In 1878 he was elected State Senator. In 1879 he was elected to congress on the Republic ticket, serving one term in the House of Representatives. He resigned his Congressional seat in 1880 because of ill health.” After leaving Congress, Pierce resumed his business interests, and was publisher of a book, the People’s Common-sense Medical Adviser. He died on February 4, 1914 at his home on St. Vincent Island, Florida, where he had founded a game preserve. He was interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York.
According to Joe Nickell,
“Pierce had something special for women—or rather “Weak Women.” Now, he was not saying women were weak per se, indeed enlisting Anna “Annie” Edson Taylor, the first daredevil to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, for some ads. Rather, when strong women became weak through illnesses suffered by women, the good doctor had just the remedy—one second only to his tonic, Golden Medical Discovery, as a cure-all. Dr. Pierce offered women a product that—like his other concoctions—was in keeping with the “eclectic” school of medicine from which he graduated. This advocated replacing “noxious medicines” with “more effective agents, derived exclusively from the vegetable kingdom” (Pierce 1888, 294–295)—in a word, botanicals (drugs from herbs, bark, etc.). He called his medicine for females “Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription.”
In his book, Pierce (1888, 342, 346, 355) described his preparation as “a tonic nervine” that both “quiets nervous irritation” and “strengthens the enfeebled nervous system, restoring it to healthful vigor.” Moreover, “In all diseases involving the female reproductive organs, with which there is usually associated an irritable condition of the nervous system, it is unsurpassed as a remedy.” In addition, it was “a uterine and general tonic of great excellence,” as well as “an efficient remedy in cases requiring a medicine to regulate the menstrual function.” Finally, Pierce claimed expansively, “In all cases of debility, the Favorite Prescription tranquilizes the nerves, tones up the organs and increases their vigor, and strengthens the system.” A notebook in possession of Dr. Pierce’s grandson names the ingredients of some Pierce products, including Favorite Prescription for which it lists berberis, valerian, blue cohosh, black cohosh, and viburnum (Hirsch 2004, 15). These are still found in herbal guides, recommended for some of the same conditions that Dr. Pierce named. For example, viburnum (black haw root) is reportedly an antispasmodic, used for “threatened miscarriage,” while valerian root is found in some over-the-counter sleep aids, and black cohosh is a relaxant said to relieve menstrual cramps (Balch 2002, 138–139; Naturopathic 1995, 91, 92, 124). Whatever value the ingredients might have if properly prescribed, does not argue for the wisdom of dumping them together and urging them on persons whom the physician has not seen, who may in fact be harmed by the product.”