Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A "Sure Cure" for Epilepsy - Part I - "Plausible, Ingenious, and Despicable"

This po
st begins the first of three posts on the "Converse Treatment" for epilepsy (named for its "inventor," Mrs. C. E. Converse).

In Part I, below, you will see a 1929 le
tter (my collection) from the "Converse Treatment Co." to a potential customer, extolling the virtues of the medicine.

In Part II, you will see a similar letter from 1902 (!) from Mrs. C. E. Converse herself (!), kindly shared by my friend (and oft-collaborator!) Dan Cowman, M.D. (one of the country's premiere antique medicine collectors) from his collection.

And finally, in Part III, I'll share photos of an unlabeled
Converse bottle in my collection as well as information about this Ohio company that was featured in the classic Nostrums and Quackery as one of the worst offenders among those firms peddling quack epilepsy cures.

You can find links to all of my my previous "patent/quack/proprietary" medicine posts here.


Columbus, Ohio
March 20, 1929

Mr. S. E. Henry
Malvern, Ark.

Dear Sir: I think you received a letter from Mrs. G. F. Sickinger of Lexington, Ohio, regarding the Converse Treatment in Epilepsy and am glad to send you our book on the subject.

The treatment is a combination of a certain herb with other valuable ingredients. This herb is especially gathered for us at the proper season each year and prepared for use in our Laboratory. Our treatment has been responsible for some remarkable results during the past fifty years and now probably has a wider usage in this disease than any other preparation made. It contains no opiates or other habit-forming drugs.

Purchasing from us by mail is veryconvenient, customers at a distance receiving as careful attention as those who come here personally. For prices, see order blank enclosed.

Yours truly,
Herbert E. Sanderson

As it turns out, the letter from Mrs. G. F. Sickinger to Mr. Henry was probably as much a hoax as the medicine itself: an article in the New York Tribune, January 11, 1911, outlined the scheme used by the Converse Company to attract customers...a scheme it was apparently still using almost twenty years later:

Do you have fits? Or fainting spells? Or sudden losses of memory?

Then perhaps you may receive a personal long-hand note from Miss Ella M. Hussey of Kendallville, Ind. Or if not from Miss Hussey, possibly from Mrs. T. J. Ford, of Hastings, Mich. They both have a friendly word of advice to give you. It is very friendly. And disinterested.
The Tribune is fortunate enough to have in its possession these original notes from the ladies, one to us direct from a reader, the other submitted to The Tribune by the American Medical Association:

A friend told me about your trouble, and I thought yoo might appreciate hearing from me. I never like to talk about this, but, since my relief from that terrible sickness, I always try to help others whenever I can.

To tell you in a few words. At ten years old I was taken with fainting spells. My father, who was a minister of the Gospel, got the best physicians at home and from a distance, but I received only slight temporary relief, and the spells kept getting worse until I had them from a few hours apart to a week apart, and going from bad to worse. Finally we heard that a medicine called Converse Treatment had cured several people. My father had no faith, but sent for it, anyhow, and it helped me from the first.

We feel we can never repay the Converse Treatment Company for what it has done for our family, and I would earnestly advise you to write them about your trouble. They were fair and honest with me.

Hoping you may be benefited as I was, believe me truly a friend.

Kendallville, Ind.

P. S. You may address your letter just "Converse Company, Columbus, Ohio."

A friend, Mrs. Frank Dawson, spoke of you and asked me to write you. I don't like to talk of this, but my husband's recovery from a terrible malady makes me want to help others

For more than eleven years he suffered with epileptic spells and was treated by four doctor?, besides several kinds of medicine, but to no avail. By accident we learned of the Converse Treatment, and we decided to give it a trial.

I am so glad to say for more than five years he has had no attacks, and is now in the most robust health. He can now do any kind of work.

I am so thankful for such a remedy and would advise yo to write them. You can rely on anything they tell you.

Believe me to be a friend,

Mrs. T. J. Ford

Mrs. Ford, however, let the cat partially out of the bag by the reference to Mrs. Frank Dawson in the opening sentence. Presumably this friend is the wife of Mr Frank Dawson, and Mr. Frank Dawson is secretary and treasurer of the Converse Treatment Company, of Columbus, Ohio. And, among other things, The Tribune is also fortunate enough to possess a copy of the pamphlet, "Epilepsy Cure Frauds," issued by the American Medical Association in 1915. The Converse Treatment Company leads the list of the sixteen quack cures therein described. Perhaps Mr. Dawson was too modest to talk about his own virtues.

To one of the officials of the propaganda department of the American Medical Association we are indebted for this report:

"An interview with Miss Hussey today regarding the Converse Treatment brought out the fact that, in her own words, 'she was only benefited, but not cured.' Though her testimonials as published in the Converse pamphlets and her letters convey the impression of a complete recovery. She has been taking the treatment for ten years, and still has two or three seizures weekly. As might be expected, she has the appearance of suffering from chronic bromism. As to the 'personal' letters sne writes, they are copied by her from a form sent on by 'Dr.' Herbert Sanderson, president of the Converse Treatment Company, who supplies the list of names as well."

How many people have been taken in by this scheme during the year in which it has been worked we have no means of knowing. Probably a great numb
er, for it is very plausible, very ingenious - and thoroughly despicable your ability. Much of the company's direct correspondence seems also to be written with a view to instilling confidence .by appearing to be personal. Such a letter, written in long-hand, is the following, turned over to the Tribune by a man who was luckily more amused than convinced:

[Note Though the names and dates have changed, you will immediately see similarities below with the letter above from my collection!]

I received a letter today from Mrs. Ella Hussey, Kendalville, Ind., asking that I send you my book on Epilepsy.

The strong drugs known as opiates frequently given for this trouble should be avoided.Our treatment relies largely on a valuable herb gathered for us at a distance and especially prepared for use in our laboratory, and has been responsible for some remarkable results. Its success in both old and new cases can be judged by reading the many voluntary letters in the booklet. Some probably describe cases similar to your own.

If you will faithfully observe our directions, we shall be pleased to serve you to the best of our ability.

H. E. Sanderson

Quite so Mr. Sanderson. Perhaps you will be pleased to serve to the best of your ability, if by your ability you mean the power of getting money out of those who trustingly look for a cure and receive only an over-priced drug. Yet if you can find real pleasure in your task, we are sorrier for you than we are for your victims.

1 comment:

Coburn's Photos said...

Mr. Schmidt, I've found in a bundle of booklets I bought from an auction, a pamphlet on the Converse Treatment in Epilepsy from 1927. Your blog is about the only thing I've found online about it. I would love to send this to you if you'd like it. Email me at for your address and I'd be happy to mail this to you. Thanks so much.
Traci Coburn