James Harvey Young: 90, Dies; Wrote on Medical Quackery

Historians in the News

James Harvey Young, a social historian of American medicine who wrote engaging studies of fraud, dubious cures and health quackery and later chronicled the birth of federal food regulation, died July 29 in Atlanta. He was 90.

The cause was complications of a stroke, his family said.

Dr. Young, an emeritus professor of history at Emory University, wrote two volumes on the study of drugs and therapeutic devices of the sort once hawked at sideshows and through mail-order catalogs.

In “The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America Before Federal Regulation” (1961), he addressed the laxatives, tonics and other concoctions “often mixed with a strong dose of alcohol” that were popular in the 19th century and profiled their salesmen.

Howard R. Lamar, an emeritus history professor and former acting president of Yale, said the book had “an ironic title, describing people who made money out of questionable medicines, created from herbs or animals or from nothing at all.”

A second volume, “The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America” (1967), continued the thread and covered false cures for cancers and other illnesses. The book also touched on a subject that became the focus of Dr. Young’s work on the history and development of federal standards for food and medicines.
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