The Keeley Cure for Grip

Dr. Leslie E. Keeley, 1892

Nebraska newspapers from the late nineteenth century include numerous advertisements for local Keeley hospitals or treatment centers for patients addicted to alcohol, nicotine, and narcotic drugs. Dr. Leslie E. Keeley opened the first Keeley Institute in Dwight, Illinois, in 1879. It relied heavily on injections of “bichloride” or “double chloride” of gold, from which its treatment for alcoholism became known as the “gold cure.” By the 1890s every state had a number of Keeley institutes where this cure could work its reputed wonders for the addicted. In Nebraska, Dr. Keeley himself attended the opening of a new Keeley Institute in Blair in January 1892.

The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) on March 12, 1894, announced another discovery by the man some regarded as a quack: “Dr. Keeley, the discoverer of the cure for alcoholism, announces a revised formula for the cure of the grip [characterized by influenza-like symptoms]. As he made enough out of his whisky cure to place himself beyond the danger of want he gives this remedy to the public without money and without price. It is simply asafoetida and iodoform.” Dr. Keeley’s formula: “iodoform, grain one-eighth; asafoetida, grains four, in one pill or capsule. Four of these capsules to be taken every six hours during the day or night.”

Two women wearing protective masks during the flu epidemic of 1918. NSHS RG1351-32-18-6

There were some drawbacks to Keeley’s treatment. A folk remedy for children’s colds was asafoetida (a bitter resinous material from the roots of several plants in the parsley family) mixed into a foul-smelling paste and hung in a bag around the afflicted child’s neck. Iodoform, used as a disinfectant, also had a pungent odor. The Journal commented, “Time was when the smart newspaper scoffed at asafoetida as being worse than the disease that it was intended to cure. Now nobody cares to make light of this apparently trivial but very serious ailment.”

Nebraska’s last serious outbreak of influenza occurred in 1918. It was at its worst during the fall, throwing a damper on most social gatherings. Even World War I victory celebrations on Armistice Day, November 11, were limited in many towns. However, by mid-January 1919 (although national news stories indicated the epidemic still was claiming thousands of victims), in this state the worst was over. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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