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“Women’s Healing Art: Domestic Medicine in the Turn-of-the-Century Ozarks” by Janet L. Allured

The following article is reprinted with permission from the Spring 1992 issue of Gateway Heritage , vol. 12, no. 4 ©1992 by the Missouri Historical Society.

In the mid-1800s, one of the few female physicians in the United States argued that women, unlike men, were natural healers. Dr. Ella Flagg Young explained, “Every woman is born a doctor . . . [while] men have to study to become one.” [1] It certainly must have seemed that way. In most nineteenth-century communities, female healers performed almost all of the tasks that professionally trained doctors, nurses, and pharmacists later assumed. As regular physicians became more prevalent, and medical training became more scientific, domestic medicine fell into disrepute. By 1900, academically trained physicians were dismissing traditional female healing practices as irrational and superstitious, ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. However, a historical look at folk healing tells a different story. Far from being random or illogical, domestic medicine was based on empirical evidence, rational calculation, and the time-honored method of trial and error. Women called on an impressive knowledge of native herbs, modern pharmacology, traditional rituals, preventive medicine, and loving care to maintain their families’ well-being. Before the widespread use of antibiotics, the holistic care practiced in the home by female healers was as effective as almost anything contemporary physicians had to offer.

Although academic medicine began to supplant domestic medicine by the end of the century, in isolated communities like the Ozarks region of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, women remained their communities’ primary healers until well into the twentieth century. The material collected by folklorists on these women’s healing practices makes the turn-of-the-century Ozarks an excellent laboratory in which to study what was once a more widely practiced domestic art. [2]

Until New Deal programs and World War II changed the region’s economy and infrastructure, bad roads and a lack of ready cash forced most Ozarkers to rely on remedies prepared by their mothers and wives to carry them through periods of illness. As one resident of Taney County, Missouri, remembered:

The nearest doctor was 20 miles away and there was no way to travel only horseback and no money to pay with if he did come. . . . Mother watched over us carefully. There wasn’t money to buy medicine. In the spring she would make sassafras and sage tea to condition our blood. In the summer and autumn we would eat . . . anything we found growing wild, without washing it. Naturally, we would get “wormy.” [Mother] knew the symptoms. Some morning before breakfast she would stir up a mixture of wormfuge [vermifuge] in a skillet of molasses. . . . Before night we were rid of our worms. If one of us needed a tonic Mother went to the woods, peeled some bark from a wild cherry tree, dug some sarsaparilla, some blackroot, and other herbs (I have forgotten), boiled a brew out of it and gave it in regulated doses. . . . She made tea of pennyroyal, mullein, and tansy for our stomach cramps; slippery elm she made poultices of and applied to boils. . . . I have often heard Mother wish she would have studied medicine and have been a doctor. She would have made a good one. [3]

Though women were not the sole possessors of herbal lore in the Ozarks (many neighborhood “yarb” – or herb – doctors were male), domestic medicine was an almost exclusively feminine art, passed down from mother to daughter. Pioneer women, who brought their family remedies west, learned a great deal about indigenous plants from local Indians. [4] Each generation of women built on the knowledge of their forebears, modifying the ingredients of some mixtures, discarding those that did not bring the desired results, and inventing new ones as the need arose. Home remedies seldom actually cured the patient; instead, they alleviated the symptoms of the disease. But since, left untreated, the symptoms often killed the patient, this was a highly effective type of medicine.

Nearly all remedies read like recipes, and, like special recipes, women usually learned to prepare them under their mother’s supervision. Here, for example, is one woman’s remedy for whooping cough:

1 ounce fresh red clover blossoms
1 pint boiling water
1 cup honey

Boil blossoms in water and strain. Add honey; bottle. Dosage: 1 teaspoon twice daily. [5]

Like this cough medicine, most recipes used staple household ingredients, such as lard, honey, or onions; to these women added herbs that they grew in their gardens or cuttings from wild plants collected from the surrounding hills.

Doctoring a family required a great deal of knowledge and skill. The array of natural medicaments was vast, and girls had to learn to recognize each one accurately, for mistakes could be fatal. In 1938, in what was undoubtedly not an isolated incident, a six-year-old girl died because she mistook the poisonous water hemlock for angelica root, which Ozarkers often chewed for stomach ailments. [6] Women also needed to know how much of each ingredient to use (often measured by the pinch or the handful), how long to boil (till soft, or till all water save a pint had boiled away), and how much to administer. Herbs could either be decocted (boiled), infused (steeped but not boiled), or demulsified (used in an ointment). The leaves of a plant might be used for one ailment, its roots for another, and its berries for still another; the seeds of some plants were medicinal even though their flowers were poisonous. In addition, women had to know when to pick the plants to assure their potency. Most roots, for example, had to be gathered in February or March before the sap began to rise. And some plants, such as sassafras and poke, became poisonous at certain points in their growth cycle.

Among the most commonly used medicinal plants were those with astringent qualities, such as sweet gum, myrtle, and yellow dock, which grew wild in the Ozark hills. Administered as teas, these plants shrank the swelling of a sore throat, and, though they could not cure tonsillitis or diphtheria, they lessened the danger of asphyxiation and left the patient considerably more comfortable. Packed into a poultice and applied to the skin, the astringent properties of these plants helped close open wounds and stem bleeding. Astringents were also used to treat diarrhea in adults and a condition known as “summer complaint” in children. Summer complaint, a case of dysentery contracted the first summer after weaning when the child was exposed to warm-weather microbes for the first time, could cause death from dehydration and an imbalance in the electrolytes if left untreated; therefore, immediate action was imperative. Ozark mothers dosed sick toddlers with blackberry tea, a powerful astringent, and the children were soon out of danger. [7]

Women also knew how to calm colicky babies. Often they would “blow” milk with tobacco smoke to infuse it with a hint of nicotine. Since nicotine stimulates the bowels, this technique aided the expulsion of gas. Calamus root, which acts on the digestive system, was also used to cure colic. One Ozarker reported that even women without babies carried calamus to church to treat suffering infants:

My mother or some of the other motherly souls carried a piece of calamus root, a little penknife and a spoon in the long inner pockets of their long, full skirts. They would go behind the church house and the baby’s mother would hold it while my mother shaved off a bit of the calamus into the spoon, then, she took the baby while its mother milked some of the warm breastmilk into the spoon, mixed it with the calamus and poured it down the baby. In a little while the baby was gurgling and playing as if nothing had been wrong. [8]

Other commonly employed natural pharmaceuticals included elder tree bark, which was used as a diuretic; we now know that it contains a purgative resin. Chapped skin was treated with possum fat, mutton tallow, or beeswax. To disinfect wounds, Ozarkers applied turpentine or kerosene. Some women also applied mold – scraped from bread, jam, or orange peelings – to cuts to prevent infection. Others dabbed cuts with honey, which helped kill bacteria by drawing water from the microorganisms. Serious wounds were stanched with flour, the dust of puffballs, or cobwebs, and then stitched up with needle and thread. [9]

Another therapeutic tool was the poultice, which was used to treat a variety of ailments. Women usually made poultices by adding pharmaceutical agents to a soft ingredient like cornmeal or lard. They often applied the poultices hot, which brought blood to the surface and thus aided healing. When applied to wounds, poultices commonly included a disinfectant and an analgesic for cleaning and anesthetizing. When applied to the chest (onion and mustard poultices were the favorites for this area), they unclogged congested breathing passages. Not only did the heat help to relieve congestion, but the fumes from the onions and mustard loosened phlegm and provoked coughing. By helping the victim expel secretions from the throat and lungs, the poultice worked to lessen the risk of infection and forestall the development of pneumonia, a frequent cause of death before the widespread use of antibiotics.

Women also treated colds and other congestive diseases by wrapping a woolen sock or cloth around the patient’s throat. This worked like a fever, raising the temperature within the throat, to aid the immune system’s fight against the infection. They also plied the patient with plenty of hot liquids – chicken soup and weak herbal teas – which loosened secretions and thus sped healing. [10]

Botanical pharmaceuticals formed the basis of most remedies, but farm women also used the staple nineteenth-century drugs – laudanum (an opium preparation), morphine, and quinine – which were readily available in local stores. [11] Women generally knew about advances in medicine and changed their recipes to use new drugs and techniques. Witness this remarkable salve concocted by a woman born in 1892 in Carroll County, Arkansas: “Perhaps there is no better healing salve known than the Green Persimmon Salve. This is made by slicing twelve persimmons straight through while the seeds are still tender. Add one teacupful of hog’s lard and fry until well done. Strain and add fifteen drops of carbolic acid. Pour into well sterilized jars and use on cuts and wounds.” [12] This remedy combined traditional elements with modern medicine. The persimmons in the recipe acted as an astringent, which would have helped close the wound. The lard aided absorption because it is oil-based, like skin. But the use of carbolic acid and sterilized jars indicates that this woman knew about antiseptic techniques.

In addition to fighting diseases after they struck, women also worked to forestall illness. Spring tonics were a favorite method of preventive care. Ozarkers believed that tonics restocked vital reserves of energy and nutrients, which people needed for good health. In an attempt to replenish all parts of the system, most women made their tonics from a number of roots harvested in February and March before the sap rose. Although sassafras tea was a popular spring tonic in the Ozarks, it was by no means the only one. Every family had its own favorite concoction. One Ozark woman’s recipe, which had been passed down in her family for generations, consisted of equal amounts of sassafras, burdock, sarsaparilla roots, blue burvene, wild cherry, dogwood bark, and mayapple root. This was boiled until a heavy liquid formed; whiskey was added as a preservative and the mixture was then bottled. She dosed all the adults in her family with one tablespoonful (the children got a teaspoon), two to three times a day for a month. [13] Another woman recommended the following: “Boil equal parts Sarsaparilla root, Wahoo root and Dogwood bark for 1/2 hour. Strain. Add enough whiskey to preserve liquid: Add 1 cup rock candy to sweeten. Give three tablespoonfuls each morning before breakfast as a spring tonic.” [14]

These tonics achieved several different results. Made from botanicals rich in vitamins and trace minerals, they were prepared and drunk in early spring, and hence provided much-needed nourishment after a nutrient-poor winter. Tonics also stimulated the appetite; thus, dosed with tonics, Ozarkers ate more, which helped them build strength for the grueling labor that greeted every farm family as the weather warmed. In addition to stimulating digestion, various chemicals in the tonics also stimulated circulation and liver and excretory functions. [15] Thus fortified, Ozarkers were far better equipped, psychologically and nutritionally, to fight off the warm-weather diseases of the months ahead.

Ozarkers took many other preventive measures as well. “When I was little,” one University of Arkansas student reported in 1955, “my mother never let me get through a winter without a ‘coal oil rag’ on my chest. She mixed a little hog lard, turpentine, coal oil, and camphor on a piece of Daddy’s woolen underwear and pinned it next to my skin. She always got it good and hot ‘so as to open the pores good.’ When my two sisters came along, Mom added Vicks salve.” [16] Coal oil rags were also known as “Sally rags,” which many children wore during the Ozark winters. Sally rags did, indeed, help keep the children warm, and their fumes helped keep nasal passages clear, so bacteria would not find a welcoming environment. In addition, Ozark mothers frequently required their school-age children to wear, hung around their necks, a bag containing the odoriferous asafetida (the name is derived from the Latin foetida, meaning smelly). One man quipped that if “asfidity” did work to ward off germs, it was probably because “a cold germ might well back down when faced with the odor.” [17] Perhaps by making sure their own children smelled bad, mothers prevented other children with runny noses and dirty hands from getting close enough to pass along an infection.

Most of the “doctoring” a woman did was confined to her own family; occasionally, however, she treated neighbors as well. A woman would consult the more accomplished herbalists of her areas when her own remedies had failed to give sufficient relief. [18] Women were also likely to be called to a neighbor’s to assist during childbirth. By the 1890s, male doctors delivered some babies in the Ozarks, but many women continued to rely on their local midwife aided by female neighbors until after the turn of the century. Poor roads and long distances sometimes prevented doctors from arriving in time even when they were called. Thus, expectant mothers usually had neighborhood women stay with them during their confinement. Furthermore, doctors relied on midwives for assistance since there were few trained nurses. [19]

Midwives in the Ozarks were well-respected members of the community, who performed their duties as a service to their neighbors, not for remuneration. Most were older women whose own children were grown (leaving them free to stay with a laboring woman for days at a time, if need be), and who had learned their trade from another midwife. They carried a “midwife’s book” with them to assist them during complicated deliveries when no doctor was available, but most of their knowledge came from experience. [20] Midwives knew to give their patients blackberry tea (an astringent) both during and immediately after the birth to prevent hemorrhaging. Raspberry tea, which relaxes uterine muscles, was administered to improve the efficiency of labor. Slippery elm bark (which was also used as an abortifacient) could be given to speed delivery. And finally, when labor was particularly protracted, a woman might be “quilled”: a turkey quill was filled with snuff and blown into her face. The resulting sneezes helped expel the baby as well as the tobacco. [21]

When there was a doctor in attendance, his job was done after the baby’s delivery. The midwife, however, stayed to care for the newborn and the recovering mother. She first attended to hygiene, cleaning up the bed and the mother (which helped prevent puerperal fever) as well as the infant. She often wrapped the newborn in its father’s shirt or its mother’s petticoat for luck. Many midwives washed the newborn’s eyes in the mother’s milk or even the mother’s urine. A woman from Alpena, Arkansas, explained that urine “was what they always used when she was young and in her mother’s time too. They used this instead of silver nitrate that they use now.” [22] Most midwives also gave the newborn a weak catnip or onion tea to make the infant break out in hives, considered essential for the infant’s health. Having doctored both mother and child, the midwife would then depart, leaving the mother in the care of her female neighbors and kin, who performed her household chores the next few days so that she could remain in bed. (Indeed, it was considered bad luck to leave a mother and her newborn baby by themselves the first night of birth). [23] This kind of care – having someone to help with cooking and housework – was among the most beneficial new mothers received.

The midwife and the neighborhood women who gathered to aid a delivery performed a number of rituals that gave the laboring woman psychological, if not physical, relief from her pain. Sometimes they gave the woman her husband’s hat to hold, which brought him symbolically into the delivery room. If the labor was particularly severe, an axe or knife might be placed under the bed to “cut” the pain in two. During prolonged labor, the assisting women would sometimes throw open every door and window in the house, in a symbolic representation of opening the birth canal. But when the pain grew too relentless, the mother was given a morphine tablet procured at the local crossroads store. [24]

Childbirth, then, like all other aspects of domestic medicine, often contained elements of superstition and symbolism as well as effective and creditable pharmaceuticals. Although herbalism was at the heart of domestic medicine, many treatments involved myth and ritual as well. Indeed, this was part of their power and was an integral component of women’s healing art. While physicians concentrated on fighting the disease, women concentrated on caring for the patient in ways that involved far more than simply dispensing a drug. Women practiced a kind of care toward which many modern physicians are gradually returning, a holistic approach that combined an understanding of local belief systems with a knowledge of herbalism and modern pharmacology. [25]

The competence of female healers cannot be dismissed as simply superstitious nonsense. The range of problems they treated was vast, and their efforts at curing sometimes succeeded after physicians had given up hope. One man, a resident of Washington County, Arkansas, tells how his grandmother saved him from near death. “After the doctor gave me up with diphtheria, my grandmother stripped a long turkey feather down until there was a small duster on the end. She ran this down my throat and brought it out with a twisting motion. The phlegm that had clogged my throat came out with it.” [26]

Yet some home remedies were of questionable value, and as medicine became more professionalized, regular physicians denounced domestic medicine as unsafe and unhygienic. However, these doctors greatly exaggerated the risks of folk medicine. Domestic healing practices were certainly unscientific, rooted in superstition, ritual, and myth, but most were relatively noninvasive. In addition, the women who administered cures washed dishes several times a day in hot, soapy water, so their hands stayed clean. Furthermore, most botanical medicines administered by women were nontoxic, so overdosing was seldom a problem. The few plants known to be dangerous, like belladonna and jimsonweed – both powerful narcotics – were used sparingly or not at all. (Jimsonweed was applied directly to wounds so that some of its anesthetizing agents could be absorbed through the skin, but it was seldom taken internally since the line between a therapeutic and toxic dose was too difficult to determine.) [27]

Probably the most accurate charge leveled against home healing techniques was that some of them were simply ineffective. Without a doubt, many practices had no medicinal value whatsoever. Many Ozarkers believed, for example, that certain ailments could be magically cured by someone with special powers. This might be a person who had never known his father, or the seventh son of a seventh son, or someone who had been born with a caul. This “power doctor” (who could be male or female) would pass his or her hands over the sufferer and mutter a few words, and, with any luck, the patient’s abdominal pain, thrush infection, bleeding, or other ailment would be cured. [28] Such superstitious behavior (and there were many others) caused doctors to dismiss home care out of hand.

What regular physicians failed to understand, however, was that rural medicine was rooted in the folk beliefs of the people it served and that the mysticism surrounding it aided its power to cure. Prayer and ritual encouraged confidence in the treatment and tapped the mind’s healing powers in the fight against disease. Healing resulted as much from faith in the cure, and trust in the person administering it, as from any objective qualities in the poultice, tea or ointment. A patient’s belief in the healing process has curative power of its own, and recent studies bear out the idea that a patient’s state of mind can speed or delay healing. [29] As one Boone County, Arkansas, woman, who had the power to “blow out the fire” of a burn, explained, “First, you have to have faith or you can not do it.” [30] Women themselves swore by their cures. “I had to do my own doctoring for my children,” one mother reported. “I never paid out very much for doctor bills with my kids, for I could doctor them very well myself. . . . I believe there’s just a lot of remedies like that that beats the medicine they have today.” [31] Armed with a belief in their power to cure, Ozark women were able to instill in their patients a similar confidence in their abilities. [32]

The bitter taste of most herbal remedies increased patients’ belief in their effectiveness (the very chemicals which give herbs their medicinal qualities also give them their horrible taste). As one woman remarked of her mother’s mullein cough syrup: “It really works. The stuff tasted so bad that I was afraid to cough.” [33] Vance Randolph, the well-known observer of Ozark life, also reported that “the hillfolk seem to feel that the efficacy of a treatment varies directly with its unpleasantness; bitter tea is always best, and the more a poultice hurts, the better they like it.” [34]

In addition to their confidence in herbalism, women generally regarded prayer and faith in God as essential to both spiritual and bodily health. They not only prayed for the patient but with him or her, and they sometimes recruited others to come into the home and pray when the situation grew grave. One Ozark woman, Mary Brisco, recorded in her memoirs that “god is best of healers if we will only trust him. . . . Oh, if we could only trust him more maby we wouldent be sick so much.” When her husband lay near death, a group of “Christian folks” from the local church gathered at his bedside and stood in silent prayer. She had no doubt that their prayers cured him. [35] Although the degree of religious commitment varied from individual to individual, most Ozarkers, whether “churched” or not, shared Brisco’s deep faith in the healing powers of prayer.

Ozark medicine also involved “magico-religious” chants, amulets, and charms. Ozarkers tended to view diseases as caused by evil poisons (“pizens”) that had invaded the body. They were, of course, correct in that view, since most killer diseases of their day (unlike today) were bacterial in origin. While mothers administered teas and liniments to ease the suffering caused by an infection, they also tried to drive out the invader through a “counterspell” involving ritual and incantation. To treat chills, for instance, a child was instructed to tie a string around a hickory tree and recite “With chills and fever I cannot agree; I tie you hard and fast around this hickory tree.” Ritualistic repetitions – sometimes words, more often numbers – were commonly used as well. The numbers three and nine, which have been symbolically significant to both pagans and Christians for hundreds of years, were most often employed. For example, one woman treated malaria by giving the sufferer eighteen dogwood berries, doled out in a particular ritualistic sequence: one a day for nine days; wait three days; three per day for three days in a row. Another mother made a tea for treating colds from nine buds picked from nine different mullein plants. [36] Likewise, spring tonics were often taken three days at a time, although this may have been partly functional since herbal teas generally take about three days to work. [37]

Many Ozark mothers also recommended amulets, in the form of string, ribbon, or necklaces, to relieve pain and ward off illness. Many Ozarkers wore buckeyes, a piece of lead, or a mole’s foot around their necks to keep from getting sick. While these had no therapeutic value, they served as a reminder that someone cared, which gave the wearer a psychological edge against disease. [38] Amulets, ranging from beads made of cotton seed to rattlesnake bones, were hung around babies’ necks to try to ease the pain of teething. For rheumatism, many elderly people wore copper or brass bands around their wrists or ankles. Still others believed that wearing a pair of “crawdad” claws on a string around the neck would cure a stomachache. [39] These amulets could provide a sense of mastery over pain – and they were the only alternative treatment to addictive narcotics such as belladonna, laudanum, or morphine.

Doubtless many of the magico-religious cures were used with the understanding that they provided little more than psychological relief, but even when herbal remedies were employed, most Ozark mothers believed that a charm would not hurt and just might help. For example, most women treated nail wounds by greasing them and applying jimsonweed “to draw out the poison,” but some greased the nail as well as the foot, for added insurance. The nail was then buried or thrown away, symbolically carrying the poison with it. [40] Ritual was also practiced when procuring medicinal plants. When acquiring elder bark for treating boils, for example, the bark was supposed to be scraped upward in order to help draw out the infection. When they gathered peach tree leaves to make a tea to stop vomiting, however, women stripped the leaves downward, a symbolic representation of the hoped-for result. To relieve diarrhea, on the other hand, peach tree bark was scraped upward. [41]

Healing rituals helped patients in ways that modern medicine cannot. They aided them in dealing with their distress and gave them a sense of control – a powerful psychological medicine. They also helped to dispel the fear of disease and to provide group support, for participation in ritual such as prayer reinforced patients’ belief that they had allies in their battle against the disease. [42] And the most important ally of all, the one most likely to be administering both the ritual and the medicine, was the patient’s mother, daughter, or wife.

A final weapon in a woman’s medicinal arsenal was her heartfelt concern for the sufferer. Since the patient was probably her husband, child, parent, or neighbor, the illness was likely to trouble her deeply. She demonstrated her love and concern by acting quickly to medicate the patient, changing the dressings throughout the day, keeping vigil at the bedside throughout the night, spooning warm soup into a child’s feverish mouth, and praying. When the patient regained health, it was partly due to the botanical cure, but it was partly due, too, to the loving care administered at the bedside.

Women healed the sick by ministering to their souls as well as their bodies. They mobilized patients’ hopes and restored their confidence; their role was psychological, spiritual, and physical. While none of their techniques could match the power of today’s antibiotics and other tools of modern medicine, domestic medicine was more effective than it has been given credit for. At a time when little else was available, women maintained the health of their families and neighbors with home remedies, prayer, ritual, and love. That was no small achievement.

Janet L. Allured is Assistant Professor of History at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana

[1] Quoted in Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (New York, 1985), p. 5. [Back]

[2] I have chosen to focus on the Ozarks because the area offers a rich array of sources for study. The Ozarks was one of the regions of the United States which became of interest to “local color writers” and folklorists in the 1920s. As a result, a great deal of material about Ozark folk life was collected. However, the healing practices described in this paper were by no means unique to the Ozarks. Cf. Thomas R. Brendle and Claude W. Unger, Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans: The Non-Occult Cures (New York, 1970); John Q. Anderson, Texas Folk Medicine (Austin, Tx., 1970); Ray B. Browne, Popular Beliefs and Practices from Alabama (Berkeley, 1958); William Madsen, The Mexican-Americans of South Texas (New York, 1964). On the history of academic medicine, see John S. Haller, Jr., American Medicine in Transition, 1840-1910 (Urbana, Ill., 1981). [Back]

[3] Ruth Siler Deen, “Pioneer Remedies,” n.d. (probably 1940s), “Otto Ernest Rayburn’s Folk Encyclopedia,” vol. R7, scrapbook, Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. [Back]

[4] The Mary Parler Collection of folklore is replete with references to cures with Indian derivations. Mary Celestia Parler, ed., “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” bound typescript, 1962, Mullins Library, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, nos. 1300, 1452, 1612, 1642, 1731, 1763. “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas” consists of fifteen typescript volumes of information gathered by the students in Mary Celestia Parler’s folklore classes at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, over the period 1955 to 1961. See also Cora Pinkley Call, Within My Ozark Valley (Eureka Springs, Ark., 1956). Call’s mother was an accomplished herb doctor, but she had been taught by her father, who was part Cherokee. [Back]

[5] Opa Lee Arnold Taylor, Medicine Time in the Hills of Home (Silver Hill, Ark., 1963), p. 3. [Back]

[6] Vance Randolph, Ozark Magic and Folklore (New York, 1964), p. 95; originally printed as Ozark Superstitions (New York, 1947). Angelica is used worldwide for a variety of stomach and intestinal disorders. Matthias Hermann, Herbs and Medicinal Flowers (New York, 1973), p. 20. [Back]

[7] Walter H. Lewis, Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man’s Health (New York, 1977), p. 287; Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 796, 2058; Interviews with Polly Anne Carroll and Clara Hubbard Murray, conducted by author, Boone County, Arkansas, May 1987. [Back]

[8] Call, Within My Ozark Valley, p. 27. [Back]

[9] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 699, 1478, 1690, 1696, 1699, 2026-30, 2032-33, 2529. [Back]

[10] Ibid., nos. 1788-1844, 1946-70, 1994-2015, 3178-79. [Back]

[11] Ellen Gray Massey, ed., Bittersweet Earth (Norman, Okla., 1978), p. 309; Call, Within My Ozark Valley, p. 44; Nancy McDonough, Garden Sass: A Catalog of Arkansas Folkways (New York, 1975), p. 251. [Back]

[12] Call, Within My Ozark Valley, p. 45. [Back]

[13] Massey, ed., Bittersweet Earth, p. 319. [Back]

[14] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” no. 1371. [Back]

[15] Simon Mills, The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism (New York, 1985), p. 203. [Back]

[16]. Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 1814-20, 2010. [Back]

[17] Quoted in McDonough, Garden Sass, p. 251. The wearing of asafetida was widely reported in the folklore collections at the University of Arkansas. My own interviews with elderly Ozarkers confirms that it was a common practice to wear asafetida to school. [Back]

[18] Call, Within My Ozark Valley, p. 43. [Back]

[19] Interviews with Ola Hodges, Polly Anne Carroll, and Hazel Jenkins Jones, conducted by author, Boone County, Arkansas, May 1987; “Physicians Visiting Lists of Dr. Leonidas Kirby,” 1878-1910, Harrison, Arkansas, in the possession of Dr. L. Ben Kirby, Baton Rouge, La. (Copy in possession of the author.) [Back]

[20] “Otto Rayburn’s Folk Encyclopedia,” s.v. “Granny Woman,” Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville; Ella Ingenthron Dunn, Granny Woman of the Hills (Branson, Mo., 1978); Walter O. Cralle, “Social Change and Isolation in the Ozark Mountain Region of Missouri” (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1934), pp. 185-186; Call, Within My Ozark Valley, p. 41; Interview with Bertha Sparks, conducted by Kay Murnan and Nancy Sneed, Pruitt, Arkansas, June 10, 1983, Upper Big Buffalo Area Oral History Project, Center for Ozark Studies, Harrison, Arkansas. [Back]

[21] Dunn, Granny Woman of the Hills, p. 6; Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 93, 146-165; Vance Randolph, The Ozarks: An American Survival of Primitive Society (New York, 1931), p. 201; Ben Charles Harris, Kitchen Medicines (Barre, Mass., 1968), p. 128; Samuel J. Touchstone, Herbal and Folk Medicine of Louisiana and Adjacent States (Princeton, La., 1983), p. 106; Mills, The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism, pp. 179, 194. Quilling was a common practice among American midwives. See Richard W. and Dorothy C. Wertz, Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America (New York, 1977), p. 15. [Back]

[22] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 602, 720-23; Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 202. [Back]

[23] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 181-85, 190, 735-51; Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 204; Interview with Clara Hubbard Murray, conducted by author, Boone County, Arkansas, May 1987. [Back]

[24] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 146-49. 162; Randolph, Ozark Magic and Folklore, pp. 199-201; Interviews with Ola Hodges, Eulah McMahan Hudson, and Hassie Hudson Pfifer, conducted by author, Harrison, Arkansas, May 1987. [Back]

[25] Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (Old Westbury, N.Y., 1973); Jeanne Achterberg, Woman as Healer (Boston, 1990). [Back]

[26] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” no. 2071. [Back]

[27] Mills, Dictionary of Modern Herbalism, p. 131; Maida Silverman, A City Herbal: A Guide to the Lore, Legend and the Usefulness of 34 Plants That Grow Wild in the City (New York, 1977), p. 9; Lewis, Medical Botany, p. 54; Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 2527, 2643. [Back]

[28] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 887, 1377, 1490, 1492, 1495, 1498, 1500, 2073, 2480. See also Randolph, Ozark Magic, pp. 122-24. [Back]

[29] Henry K. Beecher, M.D., “The Powerful Placebo,” Journal of the American Medical Association, December 24, 1955, pp. 1602-6; Herbert Benson, M.D. and Mark D. Epstein, “The Placebo Effect: A Neglected Asset in the Care of Patients,” Journal of the American Medical Association, June 23, 1975, pp. 1225-26; Eugene L. Vickery, M.D., “Our Art, Our Heritage,” Journal of the American Medical Association, August 19, 1983, pp. 913-15. [Back]

[30] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” no. 1632. [Back]

[31] Quoted in Massey, ed., Bittersweet Earth, p. 182. [Back]

[32] Ozarkers’ conviction that these home remedies were effective is reported throughout the Mary Parler Collection. Nearly every person who recorded one of these cures also noted that “it really works.” [Back]

[33] Ellen Gray Massey, ed., Bittersweet Country, p. 253. [Back]

[34] Randolph, Ozark Magic, pp. 92-93. Folklorists in other areas of the country reported similar findings. In the Midwest, for example, “Home remedies and botanical medicines were esteemed in proportion to their potency or bitterness.” Madge E. Packard and R. Carlyle Buley, The Midwest Pioneer: His Ills, Cures, and Doctors (New York, 1946), p. 42. [Back]

[35] Mary Susan High Brisco, “The Story of My Life,” typescript, 1954, MS D774, Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. [Back]

[36] Reported in McDonough, Garden Sass, p. 251; Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 1744-51, 1832. The ritualistic use of the numbers three and nine can be found frequently throughout the cures reported in the Mary Parler Collection. [Back]

[37] Touchstone, Herbal and Folk Medicine of Louisiana, p. 14. [Back]

[38] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 822, 1225, 1322, 1699, 3017, 5751. [Back]

[39] Ibid., nos. 811-45, 3001-10, 3276-77. [Back]

[40] Ibid., no. 2647; Randolph, Ozark Magic, pp. 157-58. [Back]

[41] Parler, “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas,” nos. 1551, 3497, 3907. Vance Randolph observed similar practices: “The old-timers say that if the pain is in the lower part of the body, it is best to scrape the bark downward, to drive the disease into the legs and out at the toes. If the bark in such a case were stripped upward, it might force the pizen up into the patient’s heart, lungs, or head, and kill him instantly.” Ozark Magic, p. 95. [Back]

[42] Ari Kiev, Magic, Faith, and Healing: Studies in Primitive Psychiatry Today (New York, 1964), p. 63; Lauri Honko, “On the Effectivity of Folk Medicine,” in Carl-Herman Tillhagen, ed., Papers on Folk Medicine Given at an Inter-Nordic Symposium at Nordiska Museet, Stockholm, 8-10 May 1961 (Stockholm, 1963), pp. 140-41. [Back]

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