Mrs. Southworth endorses Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters

September 1, 2010

Recently I came across an 1864 advertisement for Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, a very popular medicinal tonic or “cure-all,” sold in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In this particular ad (not the one pictured above) from the National Republican (publicly accessible via the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database), a paper published in the District of Columbia, the company includes celebrity endorsements of the product. One of these letters is written by E. D. E. N. Southworth. I quote below the letter in full:

* * * * *

Prospect Cottage, Georgetown, D. C.,

April 2, 1863

Messrs. Hostetter & Smith:

GENTLEMEN: It gives me pleasure to add my testimonial to those of others in favor of your excellent preparation. Several years of residence on the banks of a Southern river, and of close application to literary work, had so thoroughly exhausted my nervous system and undermined my health, that i had become a martyr to dispepsia and nervous headache, recurring at short intervals, and defying all known remedies in the Materia Medica. I had come to the conclusion that nothing but a total change of residence and pursuits would restore my health, when a friend recommended Hostetter’s Bitters. I procured a bottle as an experiment. It required but one bottle to convince me that I had found at last the right combination of remedies. The relief it afforded me has been complete. It is now some years since I first tried Hostetter’s Bitters, and it is but just to say that I have found the preparation all that it claims to be. It is a Standard Family Cordial with us, and even as a stimulant we like it better than anything else; but we use it in all nervous, bilious, and dyspetic cases, from fever down to toothache. If what I have now said will lead any dyspeptic or nervous invalid to a sure remedy, I shall have done some good.

I remain, gentlemen, respectfully yours,

E. D. E. N. Southworth

* * * * *

While it is difficult to verify that this letter was actually written by Southworth, it does strike me as sharing formatting conventions and stylistic characteristics with her other letters. The writer of the copy prefacing the celebrity letters even encourages “all readers who may feel interested in the subject to ADDRESS THE INDIVIDUALS THEMSELVES.”  Since this ad appeared in a DC paper, it is likely that it would have come to Southworth’s notice and that she would have denounced it if the letter hadn’t been written by her.

The only mention that I could find of this sort of product in her novels comes in her 1869 novel, Cruel as the Grave, in a scene in which a farmer offers a startled and confused bailiff Munson “a glass of morning bitters,” telling him that it “will set you up again, and give you an appetite for your breakfast besides.” He “quaffed the offered restorative at a draught” and is then ready to pursue the escaped prisoners (Ch. 34). Here then, the bitters are portrayed positively as an effective restorative.

Anyway, according to Frank Baxter’s  “A Century of Hostetter’s Bitters or . . . It Pays to Advertise” (Bottles & Extras), Hostetter’s was 47% alcohol.  It’s interesting to think about the possibility of Southworth regularly using this product and even writing under its influence; perhaps some of the more imaginative plot twists in her novels might even be attributed to a spoonful or so of Hostetter’s.


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