This blog, from December 2010, covers a topic I could not fully discuss in my Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, which I thought was too bad, because it really fascinated me. In fact, I discovered that there are YouTube videos about violet ray machines that are in use today. While writing the biography, I pondered long and hard about whether Juliette Low’s use of such technologically innovative cures was caused by her desperation to hear better or her love of newfangled gadgets–or both.
Juliette Gordon Low was hearing impaired. She sought many treatments throughout her life, and one of the most interesting was the Violet Ray Machine.
Violet ray machines were at their most popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Daisy Low owned one several years before then.
According to their devotees, these contraptions could make nearly everything better. They could bring about “a feeling of well-being, increased mental vigor, [and] heightened resistance to infection,” or so wrote Dr. E. P. Cumberbatch, an Oxbridge physician in the British Medical Journal. More specifically, the violet ray machine cured infants who were unable to eat, children who were plagued by endemic fevers, and adults with the flu. It could assist in healing tuberculosis, rickets, lupus, eczema, acne, boils, and carbuncles.
|Advertisement for a later violet ray machine.|
Atlanta physician Dr. Jack Jones maintained that the basic idea of applying ultra-violet light to a patient was an old remedy, known and used by ancient Egyptians who put their sick outside to profit from the sunshine. The violet ray machine approximated sunlight, using a Tesla coil and (often) inert argon gas to stimulate nerve endings and speed healing. They ran on battery power or electricity and when on, emitted a purple, or violet, light. Hence their name.
Most violet ray machines had a wand with various attachments, useful for different ailments.
|Violet ray wand, with detachable head.|
What exactly did Daisy do with hers? I can speculate from the directions in a 1930 manual accompanying a home violet ray machine which read: “Deafness, Earache, and Ear Diseases: Apply ear electrode with very mild current into the ear. Care must be exercised so as not to touch the ear drum. Three to five minutes is sufficient.”
|A violet ray kit for home use.|
If you are interested, you can still purchase violet ray machines today. Antique machines appear on e-bay. Modern ones, along with claims about their success rate and the illnesses they ameliorate, can be found on the web.
Did the violet ray machine cure Daisy Low’s hearing loss? No. Nothing did. But it is interesting to know that she was willing to try many different cures, this one included.
Sources: E. P. Cumberbach, “Observations on Ultra-Violet Ray Therapy,”British Medical Journal, Vo. 2, No. 3523 (14 July 1928): 43-46 (quotes from page 45).
Jones, Jack. ”Ultra-Violet Ray Therapy in Dermatology,” Southern Medical Journal, Vol. XVI, No 6 (June 1923): 423-426.
First photo: Modern Mechanix (http://blog.modernmechanix.com/); second photo: Electrotherapy Museum (http://www.electrotherapymuseum.com); third photo: E-bay.