ISU professor studies ‘wild west of medicine’

Ames, Iowa — An Iowa State University professor who’s developing a new class for pre-med students has studied the company behind the traveling “Medicine Shows” of the late 18-hundreds. Sarah Dees, an American religions professor at ISU, says the Kickapoo Medicine Company sold a variety of concoctions.

And Dees says it’s where the term “snake oil” originated.

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 marked the end of these kind of traveling medicine shows by prohibiting the sale of misbranded food and drugs. Dees says there are many modern, “New Age movement” examples of companies that turn a profit by misrepresenting products or services as being connected to indigenous cultures. Her fall semester class at Iowa State¬†will focus on the religious and cultural backgrounds behind various healing practices. Dees is writing a book about Indigenous traditions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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