The problem with addiction to tranquilizer drugs became more apparent by 1970 and at this point, there was a real concern about how comfortable Americans had become with the use of “popping pills” and the association of tranquilizers with the American housewife. This is evident in the “Anti Pill Plan” in a 1970 edition of The Washington Post, pictured below, where US Representative Paul G. Rogers asks drug companies to stop showing the consumption of pills on TV and discusses a potential ban on commercials like this, linking these commercials to over-use of tranquilizers and housewives.1
During this period an increasing number of stories began to emerge of women who had been prescribed tranquilizers now struggling with addiction and ill-effects from the medications. An example of this is Cyndie Maginniss who is a typical young American mother who began taking prescription tranquilizers after her doctor recommended them. Stories like these show a lack of understanding of the effects on the part of the doctor and the trust that the patient had in the doctor to guide them through proper use.2
In a 1970 edition of Everywoman magazine, however, an advertisement for Valium appears along with the words “Valium does it again!” and being in a woman’s magazine, its message appears to be targeting women. The original ad would have been in a medical journal directed at doctors. The original advertisement makes references to a 35-year-old woman’s lack of ability to marry as the reason for being distraught, unhappy, and having low self-esteem.3 The ad promises that Valium can help the female patient relax and make progress in therapy. The ad is interesting as it draws attention to marriage being the key to success for a woman and without it, she is likely to feel like a failure. This gives insight into what society saw as women’s needs during this period as well as how much marriage was a part of a woman’s perceived success, marriage, denoting the limited options available.
The appearance of the ad within a woman’s magazine along with the added wording, seen in the image below, denotes a different meaning of the ad within the context of a feminist magazine. While societal views are still placing women as having the need to be married, the connotation of this ad here is that women are not feeling the same way. This is an example controversy towards the idea of using drugs to pacify women in traditional roles which appears to be an increasing idea by the 1970s.4
Even with more education options accessible for women, the option to use the education in a meaningful way was limited and women who dropped out of school to be mothers often felt a high level of frustration at the lack of meaningful work as being a mother was often the only thing they could do, which is evident in women’s responses to “Young Wives” in Newsweek.5
It is evident in articles about Miltown that the sales were highly important to the drug companies and that there were mixed opinions about the use of the drugs. An article from The Washington Post in 1957 gives the opinions of several women who tried them, showing the varying opinions from women and the effects the drugs could have.6 Articles like this one promoted curiosity in women through exposure but also showed the concern some women and doctors had for their use. “Happy Pills can make you Sad . . .”, an article in The Chicago Tribune in 1957 shows the growing concern for the amount of people who are trying tranquilizers for a vast range of problems with drastically varying results. 7
While these medications were initially promising possibilities for the treatment of anxiety, they end up drawing attention to what was and still is a prevalent and pressing issue in American society. More so in this period than today, women were experiencing the effects of the viewpoint that their primary purpose was to be with a man and to pro-create along with strict ideas of femininity that would not represent most women at their core. The advertisements and articles about tranquilizers during this period make women’s struggles at this time clear as they direct attention to what problems the tranquilizers will solve for the women. It is an ongoing struggle in which women have varying opinions especially moving into the 1960s. The clientele are already made by a society filled with consumerism and convenience, making it the perfect time to easily “fix” a “mental health issue” with something as simple as swallowing a pill. Unfortunately, as many tranquilizers are consumed over these two decades, it becomes apparent that addiction to these substances is a serious problem and that they have been used far too liberally. While there is a place and use for medications, they should not be pushed to be handed out to patients without exploring other avenues and without careful observation.
- “Anti-Pill Plan,” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), Apr 12, 1970, accessed November 6, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/anti-pill-plan/docview/147950549/se-2.
- Andrea Tone and Elizabeth Siegel Watkins, Medicating Modern America, 2007, (New York : NYU Press. 2007), 156, accessed November 6, 2023, https://umw.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01UMW_INST/cr9fmi/alma991005032144103326
- “The Advertising Archives Picture Library.” Advertising Archives. Accessed November 5, 2023. https://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/search/?searchQuery=Valium. ↩︎
- SYLVIA HARTMAN, J.A., M.D.G., Emily Fishman, VARDA ONE, ANN, Madeline Belkin, et al. “Everywoman,” Everywoman 1, no. 1 (4) (July 10, 1970), accessed November 6, 2023 https://jstor.org/stable/community.28036099.
- “A Report from Our Readers,” Newsweek, March 28, 1960, 94-95, accessed November 6, 2023, https://archive.org/details/newsweek55jannewy/mode/2up?q=Edwin.
- “‘Happy Pills’ Consumed by 7 Million Americans.” The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959), Mar 17, 1957. https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/happy-pills-consumed-7-million-americans/docview/148981077/se-2.
- Norma, Lee Browning. “HAPPY PILLS can make You Sad: HAPPY PILLS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Feb 10, 1957. https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/happy-pills-can-make-you-sad/docview/180074045/se-2. ↩︎