Old-time Headache Remedies

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

Thursday, February 16, 1911:  I blackened my shoes this morning. I don’t know what was the matter with the polish, but it did have a most peculiar smell. Some of the girls at school declared, “they smelt medicines.” I have a most awful headache tonight. My head just feels as if it would like to jump into space.

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

Whew, that must have been some shoe polish. It’s hard to imagine how it could have had such a strong odor. Could the noxious fumes have caused Grandma’s headache?

I wonder if Grandma tried any of the headache treatments recommended in the Compendium of Every Day Wants: General Information and a Thousand and One Facts (1908):

  • There are remedies for headaches by the dozen, but probably none simpler or more effective than the following: After nearly filling a breakfast cup with black coffee, squeeze into it the juice of one lemon and in a very short time after this has been taken relief will be experienced.
  • Drink some hot herb tea, and at the same time soak the feet in hot water for about twenty-five minutes. Get into bed then and cover up warm, sweating for an hour or more. Relief will soon follow.
  • Take a cup of tea in the evening with a small slice of bread and try to get to sleep.
  • Here is a simple remedy which has been tried many times and proved a cure in cases of sick headache. Powder finely two teaspoonfuls of charcoal, drink it in half a tumblerful of water. I have learned of this great remedy, though simple, from many persons who have used it in cases of sick headache.
  • Take ¾ of a quart of water, 1 tablespoon of salt and one ounce each of heartshorn and spirits of camphor. Mix well, wet a rag in it and apply to the forehead.
  • Crumble a piece of dry bread into a cup, put in a little butter, pepper and salt to suit the taste, pour boiling water over it and drink it.

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