Dr. Pembroke’s Remedies – Electric Corsets!

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The most enduring folly of civilization is the persistent focus on personal aesthetics; sleek, flowing hair, accentuated toned muscles, minuscule waists, youthful and blemish-free skin. Like the beauty equivalent of a carrot tied to a stick held before the most gullible donkey of all time, humans spend their entire lives pursuing an ideal of beauty that once acquired is revealed to be the shimmering mirage it always was.

And frankly, it’s all so boring. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, why not try an extra ear? Imagine how helpful an extra arm would be, or perhaps you only feel the need to have one leg. Would you like to actually be able to have eyes in the back of your head to outwit your irritating children? Dr. Pembroke can grant it all (for a fee) and the possibilities are endless.

Alas, these revolutionary ideas have yet to be acknowledged by our morally myopic society and I continue to be inexplicably branded a ‘monster’. Yet, there are ‘medical professionals’ (and I use that term extremely loosely) who have managed to convince you smart folks to part with your hard-earned pennies in exchange for some wondrously ridiculous devices. 

When binding  oneself to the point of asphyxia just won't cut it - try electrocution!

When binding oneself to the point of asphyxia just won’t cut it – try electrocution!

When it comes to wantonly strapping electrically charged items to ones person, I thought the men had it beat with electrocution of the genitals. Turns out I was completely wrong. I present to you Dr. Scott’s Electric Corset. Whilst I always feel a strange sort of admiration for women and their penchant for wearing the types of torturous and debilitating clothing that makes the Spanish Inquisition look like they’re just not trying anymore, this abdominal strangler, er, I mean corset, takes the proverbial baked good.

“If you have any pain, ache, or ill feeling from any cause, if you seem “pretty well” and do not “feel up to the mark” […] we beg that you try these remarkable curatives…” So says the advertisement. With such unambiguous diagnostic criteria as this, who could not feel obliged to snatch up one of these wonder-garments?

Lined with wires and plates charged with mysterious electrical powers, these devices claimed to resolve any ailment from total paralysis to a slightly iffy tummy. Just read this glowing testimonial from the Sydney Herald, 1882:

“I have an invalid sister who has not been dressed for a year…”

(One hopes she was aware of this – how many of us have those dreams where we turn up for public functions with no pants on and a meat cleaver in your hand? Just me? Damn. Or did that actually happen? I forget.)

Anyway, it continues:

“… She has worn Dr. Scott’s Electrical Corsets two weeks, and is now able to be dressed and sit up most of the time. – Melva J Doe – De Witt, N.Y.”

And unconsciousness in 3... 2... 1...

And unconsciousness in 3… 2… 1…

Positioned upright being of course the default position of any corset-wearing lady – once it’s on you have the maneuverability of an overturned tortoise. Remember ladies, boots first, then corset.

Dr. Scott was not modest in his claims of the restorative powers of his product. It could cure almost anything, including (take a deep breath): “Nervous Debility, Excess Fatness or Leanness, Spinal Complaints, Rheumatism, Paralysis, Numbness, Dyspepsia, Liver and Kidney Troubles, Impaired Circulation, Constipation And All Other Diseases Peculiar To Women.”

Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but it seems we could chalk up most of the aforementioned maladies to wearing a corset at all.

Here we have another lovely little nugget of a testimonial, this time from Julie J McFarland, Princeton, Minn. (taken from an advertisement in the New York Times in 1887):

“Your Corsets have accomplished wonders in my case. I was previously thoroughly incapacitated, and could not help myself. I have worn your Corsets now for two weeks, and I am able to be up and around, helping to do housework etc. My friends are astonished. With Many Thanks.”

She’s absolutely right. Total incapacitation is no excuse to not perform ones womanly duties. “Look dear, I know you’re probably dying of something, but I bought you this thing so get out of bed and do the dishes for goodness sake.”

Back in the days when 'facts' and 'truth' weren't a required element of selling something... not like today, of course.

Back in the days when ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ weren’t a required element of selling something… not like today, of course.

Produced in the finest English sateen and modeled on the hottest Parisian styles, you could acquire your very own for the low price of $1 dollar. Or $1.50. Or $3. What’s the difference? Quality of materials apparently, because when you’re paying good money to have an electrically charged garment pressing firmly against your bosom, quality really matters.

These items sold like hotcakes in the 1880’s and the curiously reclusive Dr. Scott produced other items such as electric toothbrushes, electric hair brushes, electric curlers, electric insoles and so on. And let’s not forget that your acquisition was guaranteed – not only in money returned for a defective product, but also in the additional gift of a small compass with every purchase “by which the Electro-Magnetic influence can be tested.” Just in case you were in doubt as to its efficacy, you incurable cynic, you.

So ladies, what are you waiting for? If you’re looking for a little more than just the sensation of a boa-constrictor wrapping about your midriff, why not purchase one of these Medical Miracles and cure every one of your ailments, short of a lazy husband and an overbearing sense of lifelong gender oppression.

It’s the “Very Thing” for ladies, didn’t you know.


Dr. Pembroke – surgeon, physician, alienist; these are the collected writings of the doctor’s demented journals and articles as he studies the peculiar, disturbing and downright strange history of medicine and the macabre. You can find more of his ‘Remedies’ series HERE.

You can also find him on The Book Of Faces for his whereabouts, performances and other medically related items.


 

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