Exposure to Tranquilizer Use

Due to restrictions on advertising directly to consumers, advertisements for prescription tranquilizers are supposed to be in magazines for doctors only and consumers are generally exposed to tranquilizers through commercials showing pill consumption, testimonials, articles, magazines, and newspapers where there is discussion of tranquilizer use.1

Housewives and mothers in this period were inclined to feelings of emptiness, boredom, and stress as their work was often exhausting, and monotonous. Receiving no pay or recognition for their work and with few abilities to work outside the home or use their higher education, if they had any, these feelings were common. Exposure to tranquilizers appealed to these problems because this is what women were experiencing and what they were talking about, because of this, the idea that tranquilizers could enhance a woman’s life and productivity quickly and without disruption was everywhere. The word Tranquilizer was often used in the context of something that could bring comfort, ease, relief, or improvement. In this job advertisement, Miltown is referred to as something one would not need while working this job, to make the job more desirable. This is an example of how prevalent the drug was and perhaps notes a common use of it due to unfulfilling work.2

References to tranquilizers show up frequently in advertisements for comfort items, referring to the item as a “tranquilizer” or how one would not need a tranquilizer if they had this item. This advertisement for a comfortable chair is an example of the use of the word in this manner. Other examples include the connection between tranquilizer pills and mattresses as seen in the image below, these images serve as increased exposure to the idea as well as reference to what a tranquilizer was used for as companies of all kinds capitalize on the connotation behind the word.3

Exposure also included commercials promoting the idea of pill consumption as well as even more directly reaching for the use of pills to control anxiety by describing the pills with a different name than the company or prescription name. This is seen in the commercial “The Relaxed Wife” where the seemingly wise wife works to find a solution to her husband’s anxiety. It appears that the connotation behind the wife already being relaxed may be that she has already used a tranquilizer as this is where the commercial leads, calling these pills “ataraxic” and promoting them as a way to reduce anxiety amid stress.4

Commercials showing the consumption of pills were quite common and also led to curiosity and acceptance of the use of medication for health problems. Pill consumption was seen as a “modern” way to solve health problems, as seen in this commercial for Vicks vapor rub https://repository.duke.edu/dc/adviews/dmbb21107.5 Although pills are not being promoted here, the reference to pills being modern denotes the common belief around this as Vicks reaches for ways to promote their product. Although prescription drug companies could not promote their brands in commercials, other products with pills to relax or give energy were prevalent and served to promote the idea of pills to improve quality of life which led people to be more open to trying prescription tranquilizers. An example of this is found in an advertisement for “Cope” which shows a woman who is a mother and calls attention to her tiring and stressful life. She is shown at more peace and with more energy after taking the medication which is “gently relaxing”. 

Articles such as “It Helps” in The Washington Post in 1957 indirectly draw attention to the drug and its uses and also highlight the relaxed rules around what could make one a candidate for trying Memprobamates. In this case, linking to a woman’s PMS symptoms is something that many women of this age can relate to and therefore effectively increases curiosity in female clientele without explaining the caution that should be used.6

In the “How to keep well” section in this edition of Chicago Daily Tribune where a doctor answers questions we see a woman curious about the different effects the drug had on her sister than herself, this speaks to the curiosity and lack of knowledge that the public had about these drugs.7 For women reading this question, the answer implies that the doctor, and potentially any prescribing doctor, knows perhaps more about the drugs than what they do and that they can safely lead women through using it, furthering women’s comfortability with trying tranquilizers.

  1. Jeremy A. Greene. “Hidden in Plain Sight Marketing Prescription Drugs to Consumers in the Twentieth Century,” Am J Public Health (May 2010), 793-803, accessed November 2, 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853635/
  2. “Classified Ad 7 — no Title.” 1958, Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Feb 11, 1-a15, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/classified-ad-7-no-title/docview/181995205/se-2. ↩︎
  3. “Display Ad 38 — no Title.” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), Jan 20, 1967, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/display-ad-38-no-title/docview/143312984/se-2.
    “Display Ad 35 — no Title.” The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959), Feb 25, 1957, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/display-ad-35-no-title/docview/148883263/se-2.
    “Display Ad 1114 — no Title,” New York Times (1923-), Mar 25, 1962, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/display-ad-1114-no-title/docview/115711445/se-2.
    “Display Ad 52 — no Title,” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Jun 17, 1969, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/display-ad-52-no-title/docview/175932897/se-2.
    “Display Ad 3 — no Title,” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), May 04, 1969, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/display-ad-3-no-title/docview/168934309/se-2.
  4. Jeremy A. Greene. “Hidden in Plain Sight Marketing Prescription Drugs to Consumers in the Twentieth Century,” Am J Public Health (May 2010), 793-803, accessed November 2, 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853635/
    “The Relaxed Wife : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming,” Internet Archive, accessed November 2, 2023, https://archive.org/details/the-relaxed-wife.  ↩︎
  5. “Vicks, 1950s / AdViews / Duke Digital Repository,” Duke Digital Collections, accessed November 2, 2023, https://repository.duke.edu/dc/adviews/dmbb21107. ↩︎
  6. By Nate Haseltine, Staff Reporter, “Magnificent Singers, some Female Canaries,” The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959), Jul 14, 1957, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/magnificent-singers-some-female-canaries/docview/148896307/se-2.

  7. Van Dellen, ,T.R, “HOW TO KEEP WELL,” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jan 14, 1957, accessed November 2, 2023, https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/how-keep-well/docview/180029806/se-2. ↩︎