Pictures of Health: Gendered Medical Advertising in the Daily Colonist from 1867 to 1917

  • Robert Steele


Canadian perceptions of gender radically shifted between the formation of the Dominion in 1867 and the end of the First World War in 1918. While Victorian gender ideals grew increasingly unstable as new roles for men and women appeared, such as the suffragette, the new woman, and the shell-shocked soldier, Canadians grew anxious over the gendered health of men and women. Alongside these social developments, this period also saw the mass-proliferation of advertisements in Canadian newspapers, many of which exploited contemporary concerns over men’s and women’s physical and mental health to sell their products. In the following essay, I will examine health advertisements in eight issues of the Daily Colonist (Victoria’s most popular newspaper in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century) published between 1867 and 1917, paying particular attention to three types of health ads: ads for patent medicine, ads for medical practitioners, and non-medical ads for health-preserving products. I argue that these gendered medical advertisements are uniquely positioned to help us understand late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century gender dynamics precisely due to their role in both responding to and shaping gender ideals.