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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Mrs. Dinsmore

For over twenty years I have collected the medicine bottles, advertising, and promotional items associated with a 19th century proprietary medicine called Mrs. Dinsmore's Cough and Croup Balsam, made in Lynn, Massachusetts. The advertising (and a few of the bottle labels) have the stern image of Mrs. Dinsmore. Products like Aunt Jemima Syrup, the Betty Crocker Cookbook, and even Chicken of the Sea Tuna became HUGE commercial successes using images of women that never existed and it set me to wondering, was there really a Mrs. Dinsmore and if so, who was she? I mean, gee whiz, if she was real, why couldn't they use a friendlier image of her, maybe one that is at least smiling?? I realize she's not as cute as Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima, so would her medicine have sold better with a more fetching image? Hmmmm - Chicken of the Sea Cough and Croup Balsam - umm, maybe not.

Well, through a combination of collecting, research, and pretty nifty detective work, I was able to determine that there really was a Mrs. Dinsmore, there was a reason she wasn't smiling, and her remedy sales were pretty terrific for decades, even though she didn't have blonde hair and a fishtail. You can check out the whole story by looking at an article I published a few years ago: The Man Behind the Woman's Face (just click on that title under the sidebar heading, "MORE FASCINATING QUACKERY" in the melon-colored sidebar on the right).

Every time I look over that article, my thoughts wander to the years of research, hundreds of miles travelled, and many dollars spent in my quest for the truth about Mrs. Dinsmore. I found out she existed, as well as about her parentage and siblings, and her husband and children; I followed them, figuratively and literally, as they travelled from China to St. John's, New Brunswick, Canada, then to Pittsfield, Maine, then to Lynn, Mass. - and why they made each move. I found out why their house smelled and I met their descendents who live in a wonderful house. And I found out that I was able to buy my first house because of her medicine. There's so much of a story behind the story of Mrs. Dinsmore. I thought it would make a great follow-up article to the first, but it still remains to be done. Maybe I'll do a blog entry in the future about Finding Mrs. Dinsmore. But right now, it's supper and I'm hoping that Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, or the mermaid have something waiting for me in the kitchen.


  1. I bought at a flea market a Mrs Dinsmore's advertising label with not a stern face of Mrs. Dinsmore but a beautiful child sitting on a victorian chair. I bought it because the graphic is in pristine condition. The baby is wearing a lace bonnet, lace trimmed dress with blue bow on sleeves edged with lace, and holding a round toy with a wooden toy on lap.

  2. Sounds great! I'd love to see the label and would be happy to post it here on the blog if you're willing. -Quackmd


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