I found this ad the other day in an old Carleton Place newspaper from 1911 in the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum archives and wondered if it was an ad for what I thought it was. Good gracious Miss Molly it was! People did go to rehab.. well of some sorts! Father Nugent guaranteed three days to cure you! Hail Mary!
Tucked in between the Dominion Chalmers United Church and a garage, is an unassuming, two storey home located at 373 Cooper Street. For a brief time, starting in 1910, it housed the The Neil Institute a rehab centre for the Capital’s “respectable” alcoholics.
In his book, “Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in American”, William L. White notes that “business-oriented addiction cures” like those offered by the Neil Institute, became so popular in the late 19th century, “that they developed into what today would be called ‘chains’ or ‘franchises.’
The Neil Institute had eight franchises in Canada including the one in Ottawa. Like it’s main competitor, the well respected Keeley Institute, the Cooper Street location was either owned by a private citizen or some investment group. The head office in Des Moines, Iowa charged owners a one-time fee and collected a percentage of fees billed to patients. It also made money on the sale of it’s three day vegetable medicine.
A High-Class Hotel For Ottawa’s Alcoholics
The Neil Institute was a comfy, cozy kind of a place. An ad that ran in The Ottawa Journal on March 23, 1912 features four large photographs of the interior of 373 Cooper Street with the following comments:
Throughout its twenty-two rooms, the Neal Institute is furnished in the most modern manner. It’s decorations and quietness suggest home. Its service suggests a high-class hotel or club.
Today, looking at this house from the outside, it’s hard to imagine it having 22 private rooms. The advertisements suggested that these rooms were quite large, each equipped with a bed and large dresser with mirror.
In keeping with it’s theme of a “high-class hotel”, the Neal Institute also offered meals tailored to the tastes of individual clients, as well as physicians and male nurses around the clock.
Kick Your “Drink Habit” In Only Three Days!
The Ottawa branch of the Neil Institute boldly proclaimed that anyone could kick their “drink habit” in only three days! The claim was made even more remarkable by the fact that a signed contract was handed to each incoming patient guaranteeing a cure! In the highly unlikely event that a patient didn’t kick the drink habit, E.L. Plumber, the manager of the Institute on Cooper Street, would refund their money.
The Neal ads suggested that treatment was so painless and quick, a businessman could slip away from his office for three days without his absence hardly being noticed!
A Painless Cure
The Neil Institute was fond of emphasizing in their ads that patient’s were not required to inject medicine. One such ad, appearing in The Ottawa Evening Journal on March 23, 1912 stated:
Instead of the use of some metal which is daily injected into the blood of the patient and gradually acts on the tissue cells in such manner as to take the place of the hardening action of alchohol, and too often leaves the patient a wreck, there is employed a substance which directly neutralizes the immediate effect of alcohol, and so in the short period of three days the mucous membrane of the stomach is practically renovated…
Back in the day, any doctor or keen observer reading such an ad, knew this to be a swipe at their main competitor, The Keeley Institute. Patients checking into one of those facilities were subjected to daily injections of a controversial, but popular remedy called the “Double Chloride of Gold”.
Many Painstaking Years Spent Concocting 3 Day Cure For Alcoholism
So, what did Ottawa’s “high class” alcoholics get for what must have been a costly miracle cure? Vegetables.
In 1910, the Boston Evening Transcript revealed that Dr. Benjamin Neal, had spent many “painstaking” years concocting his own “purely vegetable medicine taken only internally…”
It goes on to report that Dr. Neal’s research demonstrated “that the drink habit, instead of being a disease or an inherited affliction, is due to the stored-up poison in the system, coming from the continued and excessive use of alcohol.”
Dr. Neal’s former employer, the Gatlin Institute of Colorado, launched a law suit on September 11, 1910, claiming the three day cure for the “alcohol habit” was stolen from their labs. It sought $100,000 in damages and an injunction preventing the further treatment of patients.
The outcome of this law suit is unknown, but the Neil Institute was still placing ads in major U.S. publications like The Rotatian in 1914 and the outfit at 373 Cooper Street was still in business in 1916.
Think Twice Before Lifting A Glass To Your Lips – Run up to 373 Cooper Street
It was probably not the vegetable concoctions being doled out at 373 Cooper Street that “cured” the alcoholic, but the twin forces of positive and adverse conditioning.
Ads, like the one seen below, admonished the alcoholic to “think twice” about taking a drink.
Likewise, positive conditioning could be found in the cozy atmosphere of 373 Coopers Street, the camaraderie of fellow addicts and even the doctors who were, in some regards, counselors.
Was the Neal Institute a success? It’s difficult to say. It had a presence in Ottawa for at least six years and possibly longer, but disappeared as early as 1921 when John G. McGuire and his wife Kathleen operated 373 Cooper Street as a rooming house.