Mary Wagner, a young mother, was sick at her home in Hespeler, Ontario, with a fever and diarrhea. Her husband wrote this account of the start of her illness in his diary: 2 May 1887
"Mary seems rather worse this a.m. I gave her 3 drops of Laudinum & Digitalis in a teaspoonful of glycerene & reported to the Dr. He was very indignant at me interfering with his patient, called it a 'terrible blunder,' but I believe what I gave her, did her good for it relieved her. He pronounced her a 'very sick woman'."
Mary Wagner, a young mother, was sick at her home in Hespeler, Ontario, with a fever and diarrhea. Her husband wrote this account of the start of her illness in his diary:

2 May 1887
"Mary seems rather worse this a.m. I gave her 3 drops of Laudinum & Digitalis in a teaspoonful of glycerene & reported to the Dr. He was very indignant at me interfering with his patient, called it a 'terrible blunder,' but I believe what I gave her, did her good for it relieved her. He pronounced her a 'very sick woman'."


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Mary Wagner

University of Waterloo Archives

© University of Waterloo Archives


On May 10, Mary died. Three days earlier, her complaint had finally been identified as typhoid fever, a serious and often fatal disease caused by bacteria spread through contaminated food, milk, or water.

Her husband had treated her with laudanum - tincture of opium - which was commonly used at the time for pain relief and also, because of its "binding effect on the bowels", as a remedy for diarrhea. Digitalis, from the leaves of the foxglove, is prescribed today for heart problems, but at the time was often given for fever.

Although opium is now a controlled drug and digitalis is available only by prescription, at the time they were readily available to all Canadians. It is unlikely that her husband’s home remedy affected the outcome of Mary’s illness in any way.

On May 10, Mary died. Three days earlier, her complaint had finally been identified as typhoid fever, a serious and often fatal disease caused by bacteria spread through contaminated food, milk, or water.

Her husband had treated her with laudanum - tincture of opium - which was commonly used at the time for pain relief and also, because of its "binding effect on the bowels", as a remedy for diarrhea. Digitalis, from the leaves of the foxglove, is prescribed today for heart problems, but at the time was often given for fever.

Although opium is now a controlled drug and digitalis is available only by prescription, at the time they were readily available to all Canadians. It is unlikely that her husband’s home remedy affected the outcome of Mary’s illness in any way.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Digitalis purpurea

Missouri Botanical Garden

© Missouri Botanical Garden


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • recall how Mary Wagner was healed by traditional medicine;
  • indicate if an illness like the one that affected Mary Wagner could happen again today.

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