Abstract: The Cost of Rejuvenation: Marketing Hormones from the Age of the Flapper to the Great Depression

Michael Pettit


This paper investigates the role played by the 1920s fad for medical rejuvenation in the identification and commercialization of hormones as scientific objects and therapeutic agents. A host of physicians claimed that an array of simple procedures (vasectomies, organ grafts, or the application of X-rays) could prolong life and renew a person's energy by stimulating the production of the body's internal secretions. The aim of this paper is to write the history of rejuvenation from the perspective of the consumer. In 1923, the avant-garde publishing house Boni &amp; Liveright released <em>Black Oxen</em> by Gertrude Atherton, which offered a fictionalized account of the novelist's experience of undergoing the rejuvenation treatment with the New York City physician Harry Benjamin. Over the next decade, Atherton regularly received letters from women seeking more information about the treatment. Their letters offer a unique window into the consumption of a highly commercialized medical technique. They reveal both fascination with the treatment's possibilities and skepticism about its efficacy and cost. These women also linked the availability of hormones to their own economic productivity, especially during the Great Depression. This paper draws on both the promotional material for rejuvenation and the knowledge-gathering letters of potential consumers.