The Golden Age of Purgation

Constipation was an obsession in the early 20th century. It was thought to pollute the blood and in turn cause everything from bad breath to liver failure, madness or syphilis.

In books such as “The Conquest of Constipation” doctors warned that the contents of the colon created “sewer-like blood” leading to 90 percent of disease.

Ref: AWNS-19220615-35-5, Sir George Grey Special Collections
“How can I emphasise enough the importance of bowels in those days?” wrote New Zealand author Ruth Park. As a child in Te Kuiti she was forced to drink castor oil every day. “It was given to me in orange juice on the top of which it floated in a viscid greenish layer. I wanted to throw up before I drank it.”

Ref: 4-4144, Sir George Grey Special Collections
At the time, people tended to have poor diets lacking in fibre, fresh fruit and vegetables. In 1906 a leading American physician, however, dismissed fresh fruit and vegetables as “the foods of fanatics, old maids and backward peoples.”

Fear of constipation was exploited by laxative manufacturers who competed for consumers with lurid advertisements for 'bowel-bloat' and the terrible dangers of constipation for babies and children.

In our new display in the Central Auckland Research Centre - 'The Golden Age of Purgation' - we show constipation-cure advertisements from our heritage serials NZ Graphic & Ladies Journal, NZ Woman’s Weekly, The Mirror and the New Zealand Herald.

Ref: The Golden Age of Purgation display, Central Auckland Research Centre
“There is more than one pebble on the beach, but there is only one sure cure for constipation, that’s Llorente’s Laxative Pills”.

Ref: The Golden Age of Purgation display, Central Auckland Research Centre
Author: Leanne, Central Auckland Research Centre


  1. Hm. I've never seen a display on constipation before. Thank you?


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