Women’s Health and Wellbeing: advertising from the Special Collections of the Dublin and Irish Collections

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Almanac 1907 W.F. Wells & SonView Women’s Health and Wellbeing Image Gallery.
A preoccupation with health can be seen in advertising going back to the early 18th century. Potions "especially formulated" to make us feel better, younger, or more beautiful, were packaged and marketed, with advertisements carried in Irish newspapers and periodicals. Patent medicines such as Dr James’s Fever Powder, Norris’s Antiscorbutic Drops and Dr Daffy’s Elixir originated in England and were imported into Ireland.

These products were expensive and were aimed at well-off customers, while country cures using plants and herbs could be gathered for free and compounded by those with suitable skills. Dublin and provincial newspapers used their networks to distribute patent medicines, so advertising was essential to promote them. Services were also advertised, such as dentists, and those offering cures for specific ailments. These advertisements were aimed at all potential customers. Literary references to medicines such as Dr James’s Powder, made it a household name. It was even included in the story line of the book Goody Two-Shoes by Oliver Goldsmith. This was an early instance of product placement, as Goldsmith’s books were published by the firm of John Newbery, proprietors of the medicine. The content of Irish newspapers and periodicals points to an expectation of a female readership. Regular features on fashion from Paris, aimed at women and men, were carried. Magazines carried embroidery and lace patterns, music scores, and fashion features aimed at women.

Health advertising specifically targeting women fell into two main categories: care of children and family, and personal enhancement and beauty. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries health and nutritional products for children were advertised extensively. At a period of high infant mortality mothers were encouraged to guard their children from sickness through cleanliness, good nutrition, health and food supplements. To preserve their own energy, products which would raise eyebrows today, such as Conyngham’s Coca Wine, were marketed. In the early 20th century products such as “pure” milk from local dairies saw the value of placing advertisements in the press. Beauty products to enhance the figure, skin and hair have a long tradition in advertising, but they came into their own as technology allowed drawings, and especially photographs, to be used to display the magic results. From the late 19th century female models were featured as sources of inspiration for Irish women.

The historic collections of Dublin City Library and Archive hold a wide range of newspaper and periodical titles. The earliest volumes of Irish newspapers, from the library of Sir John Gilbert, date from 1700 and include many unique titles and issues from the 18th century. More recent titles, such as The Lady of the House, published by Findlater’s, fine food and wine merchants, is a mine of top-end advertising. Why not visit the Reading Room, located at the Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street, Dublin 2.

View Women’s Health and Wellbeing Image Gallery.

Further Resources

The following online resources can be accessed free of charge at your local library (access links via our NetVibes portal). Ask library staff for information and assistance.

  • Libraries and Archives Digital Repository: Digital records relating to Dublin, including photographs, postcards, letters, maps and ephemeral material. Highlights of the collection include the Fáilte Ireland Photographic Collection, Wide Street Commission Map Collection (1757-1851), the Irish Theatre Archive and the Birth of the Republic Collection, which comprises material from the period of the foundation of the Irish state.
  • Irish Times Digital Archive: This online archive service gives access to contemporary editions of the Irish Times from the mid-nineteenth century until the present.
  • Irish Newspaper Archive: This online archive service gives access to contemporary editions of the Irish Independent and a range of other newspapers.
  • The Ireland-JSTOR Collection: This online archive of academic articles can also be accessed free of charge at your local library.

For further reading, consult the Library Catalogue.

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