How to Treat Fainting: Hundred-Year-Old Recommendations

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, September 2, 1913:  Papa was very sick today. He fainted this morning. I was scart quite a bit for I thought he was worse than what he really was.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Whew, what happened? I’d be “scart”, too.

What did the family do? Did they pull out a book that included information on home health care –perhaps the Compendium of Every Day Wants—to figure out how to treat him?

This is what the Compendium had to say:


This is caused by an interruption of the supply of blood to the brain. Lay the person down at once so that the head is lower than the body. Sprinkle the face with cold water and hold ammonia or smelling salts to the nose. If the person has any tight clothing, loosen such garments. Open the window to admit plenty of fresh air; apply hot bricks to the feet and avoid all noise and excitement. The person will revive without any attention in many cases, but in severe cases, a mustard paste may be placed over the heart; and if breathing stops, artificial respiration should be begun.

Compendium of Every Day Wants (1907)

31 Responses

  1. Mustard paste and hot bricks! I guess they were items on hand in households back then.

  2. A scary situation for Grandma’s family! My mom taught me early to sit down, bend over and put my head between my knees if I felt faint!

    Hope this isn’t the beginning of health problems for Grandma’s father…

    • I fainted one time–and later went to the doctor to make sure I was okay. The doctor gave me the same advice your mother gave for if I ever felt faint again.

  3. I too always learned about putting my head between my knees. I would be curious if any medical professionals read this blog. I am interested in them chiming in on the mustard and the bricks remedy.

  4. What an interesting book of remedies!

  5. The hot bricks sound scary but then I realized that if you put the feet near the bricks it would warm up cold feet. Interesting post.

    • It seems like warming the feet would get more blood flowing to the feet. You’d think that they’d want the blood to go to the head and not the feet when someone fainted.

  6. Hmm, hot bricks and mustard? And I am sure, I would faint again when some would ammonia under my nose;0) Interesting to ponder what my future grand children will make of modern day remedies.

  7. Reminds me that as I was right at the crucial time of giving birth to my third child (1972) all I could hear was the Doctor saying “put your head between your knees Nurse… put your head between your knees”. ;-)

  8. ooooh what a rude awakening ammonia would be!

  9. “avoid all noise and excitement” Those would be typical reactions, wouldn’t they?

  10. Reblogged this on Suitcase Full of Memories and commented:
    I’m fascinated by medical practices during the 19th Century. When I’m reading newspapers I always spend time looking at the ads and the social pages. I once saw an article that proclaimed cocaine was the answer to just about every that ailed one. When you get a diary or journal or letter, that’s even better.

    • Thanks for letting me know. I’m honored that you thought this post was worthy of reblogging.

      I also think that it’s interesting to read about old medical practices.

  11. […] previous day Grandma’s father was ill and fainted—I hope that he was feeling better and able to help.  (Maybe he’d overworked trying to prepare […]

  12. I fainted once, it is the strangest sensation. I was “scart” as was DH (dear husband) and DD (dear daughter!) Calling 911 and having medical attention today is great but you worked with what you had back then and probably did not panic like I do.

  13. I too, hope this is not the beginning of worse health problems for Helena’s father. I know they are both gone, now, but I am feeling so close to her, following her daily life…

  14. Besides the mustard and hot bricks, that’s basically the same advice given today.

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