In April I attended the Wild Rose Antique Show that is held annually at Northlands in the city. Given that I have been teaching a course on the history of the Victorian Era for the Edmonton Lifelong Learning Association, I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this item. It’s a Branston Violet Ray and it was being offered for sale by Beck’s Antiques.
What, pray tell, is a Branston Violet Ray? I’m so glad you asked.
This is a piece of “health” equipment that was primarily sold to women.
- Women especially targeted. It was believed that a woman’s womb made her weaker and more susceptible to nervous complaints. Women who exhibited signs of mental unbalance were given opium, cold H2O plunges and electric shock treatments.
- Commercially available electrostatic machines all came with a vaginal attachment.
A violet ray is an antique medical appliance used during the early 20th century in the obsolete medical therapy called electrotherapy.
Their basic construction was invented prior to 1900 by Nikola Tesla, who introduced their first prototypes at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Violet ray treatments were said to cure everything from lumbago to carbuncles. From an antique Master Violet Ray manual c. 1920 comes this treatment advice:
Brain Fog – Use Applicator No. I over forehead and eyes. Also treat the back of head and neck with strong current in direct contact with the skin. Treat the spine and hold the electrode in the hand. Ozone inhalations for about four minutes are also of importance.
For catarrh, this treatment was directed:
Catarrh, Nasal – In this condition the Nasal Tube is used within the nose with a mild current within the nasal passage, two to five minutes on each side, followed by an application with the Surface Electrode externally over the area of the nose. Use Ozone Generator.
During the 1940s and 1950s, makers of violet ray devices were subjected to numerous lawsuits and multiple actions by the US government including recalls, seizures, forfeitures and orders to have them destroyed.Advertisements for Dr. Scott’s electric corset promised that it would stimulate
blood circulation because of electrical wires that were sewn right into the corset. The
suggestion seems to have been that a woman could wear a corset tight enough to cut off her blood circulation, but maintain circulation electrically. She could escape health hazards risked by meeting a beauty ideal.
Two ads for Dr. Scott’s Electric Corsets & Belts were published in The Bulletin in 1885.
“These belts,” Dr. George Scott claimed, “are constructed on scientific principles, generating an exhilarating, health giving current to the whole system… they also become, when constantly worn, equalizing agents in all cases of extreme fatness or leanness, by imparting to the system the required amount of ‘odic force’ which Nature’s law demands.” One satisfied customer was Mrs. Abbie Monroe of London, Ontario. “Dr. Scott,” she wrote, “I have suffered for years; tried eminent physicians without benefit; yet your Electric Corset has quickly restored me to good health. I cannot praise them too highly and will neve
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