Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mrs. Joe Person's Remedy

Alice Morgan Person - An Extraordinary Woman

“My life has been out of the ordinary run of woman’s life. Circumstances have forced me to the front, where I have met both Knights and Cowards. Circumstances have compelled me to stand my ground and fight the great Fight single-handed and alone. …” This is in the Foreword of Alice Morgan Person’s autobiography, The Chivalry of Man as Exemplified in the Life of Mrs. Joe Person, the story of Alice Morgan Person and “Mrs. Joe Person’s Remedy,” from 1858 until 1892.
In the Preface of her book, Mrs. Person gives us a glimpse of her life: “…For fifteen years I have led a drummer’s life, have come into contact with all manner of mankind, high and low, rich and poor, patricians and plebeians, knights and cowards, and it must be an opaque nature that could not, in turn, learn a lesson from each, as they came along. …”

Alice Morgan Person was a colorful woman who met life’s challenges head on. She succeeded as a business woman—at a time when women were supposed to stay close to the hearth; as a talented professional musician—when women were supposed to play sweet melodies for dinner guests; as the primary provider for her family of nine children—not to mention producing the children; and as an example of what a determined woman could do—when women had few such examples!
Mrs. Person’s primary business was the manufacture and sale of “Mrs. Joe Person’s Remedy,” a well-respected patent medicine. In 1872, she was given the mixture by a neighbor who convinced her to use it to treat her gravely ill daughter, Josephine. Her daughter survived what was thought to be a fatal illness, and for the next six years Alice Person gave the remedy to friends and family and observed its success in the treatment of a variety of illnesses.

In 1878 she registered the remedy’s trademark with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, making it official that she was now a business woman. She continued to sell “Mrs. Joe Person’s Remedy” until 1910 when, at the age of 70, she sold the trademark and the formula to her son, Rufus.
Alice Person’s career was not an easy one. At first, she sold her product locally. Her children helped her prepare the mixture. In February 1882, filled with big dreams of expanding her market, she approached several doctors in Raleigh, seeking their help in performing supervised trials of her remedy with the expectation that, having seen its usefulness, they would prescribe the medication. They turned her down, and, for several months, she seemed to have lost her buoyancy about the future of business. However, in the fall, she traveled to Charlotte for the same purpose, and there she was more successful.

In Charlotte, Alice tried a more direct approach. She had only a few circulars describing “Mrs. Joe Person’s Remedy” and could not afford to print more, so she attached a label to each one that asked the recipient to read and save the circular which she would pick up the next day. She then left them at every house along a prominent Charlotte street. The next day, when she called to redeem her circulars, she was invited into many homes to talk about it, but she didn’t sell a single bottle. However, within two weeks of returning home, she began to receive orders from Charlotte doctors whose patients were asking for it. She had developed a successful marketing strategy which she continued to use.

Mrs. Person’s story is one of many ups and downs. She spent a good part of her life on the road, visiting towns and stopping at houses throughout the area of North Carolina east of Charlotte and in central South Carolina and Central and eastern Virginia. She kept a record of the places she stayed—those that were satisfactory and those where she would not stop again.

She worked with several partners, all of whom turned out to be unsatisfactory—one embezzled from her, one failed to pay her the agreed on price for his partnership, and one didn’t understand her business methods. Despite these setbacks, she persevered and somehow managed to provide for her family.
Before the Remedy

Alice Morgan Person’s beginnings were ordinary enough. She was born in Petersburg, VA in 1840. Her father was often in financial straits, but she seemed to have received a good education for that time. She married Joseph Arrington Person in 1857 when she was 17 and he was 42.
Joseph, who was from Franklin Co., NC, was well-to-do and he and his bride made their home at Greenwood, his 466 acre plantation. In her autobiography she says: “…I found that my lines had indeed been cast in pleasant places. Not a care, not a responsibility, not a thought or fear for the future did I have.”

But this ideal life did not last long. The Civil War was just around the corner and change was coming for the Person family. Joseph suffered a debilitating stroke in 1863 and was no longer able to look after his growing family. Alice says, after the end of the war: “At one fell stroke our means of income were swept away and we were left … with only a tract of land, which my husband was powerless to look after, and a family of little children depending upon us. Our income became less and less and I knew we were powerless to stem the tide. My husband’s condition improved so that he could walk around some, look after his stock, hitch his horse to the buggy and visit his neighbors, could saddle his horse and ride to town, but, as a man of business, his career was ended.” [Joe Person died on April 8, 1884. A few months before he died, Person signed the documentation necessary for Alice Person to register herself as a free trader. This was not possible without her husband’s permission.]
As the years passed and the Person family continued to grow, Alice felt she had two choices: try to make a living on the land, with the help of her children, or sell the land and use the money to continue their way of life. She chose the latter. But the money could not last forever, and she began to dream of what she could do with her marvelous remedy. And so, when the time came, she was ready.

How did she know what to do? How did she know about registering her trademark and formula? How did she arrive at a design for the packaging for her remedy or know where to get it? How did she know how to write the circulars that were her main tool for selling her product? How did she have the courage to leave home and live the life of a door-to-door saleswoman? It is hard to imagine where her knowledge and strength originated.
Her Music

Alice Person was not satisfied with a single career. Beginning in the mid-1880s, she found a way to add to the family income with her piano-playing ability. She began traveling to fairs and expositions where she was employed to demonstrate pianos. She also played regularly at a hotel near Kittrell, Vance Co., NC. In 1889, she published an assortment of her musical arrangements, Collection of Popular Airs as Arranged and Played Only by Mrs. Joe Person at the Southern Expositions. From then on, she was busy selling both the remedy and the music.


Mrs. Person’s son, Rufus, joined his mother’s business in 1887. By that time, the operation had been set up in Kittrell, N. C. In 1898, the Kittrell laboratory burned and had to be rebuilt. In1904, mother and son moved the enterprise to Charlotte. In 1910, the company was incorporated as the Mrs. Joe Person’s Remedy Company and in that same year, Rufus leased the remedy and trademark to Guy Barnes. After Mr. Barnes died in 1916, Rufus again took up the reins and continued the company as the sole proprietor. It was finally closed in 1943 when no buyer could be found for it.

Seeing the West

Alice and her sister Lucy traveled to San Diego in 1908 to visit the grave of her brother Rufus who had died there after eating poisonous mushrooms. The sisters made a second trip out west in 1911 and were in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on their third western journey when Alice Morgan Person died suddenly of a stroke on June 12, 1913. Her sister brought her back to Charlotte for burial.

Preserving the Memories

Beginning in October 2007, several people donated material about Alice Morgan Person to the East Carolina University Library. This included copies of her musical publications. In 2009, David Hursh, head music librarian and associate professor at East Carolina University’s J.Y. Joyner Library, published a biography of Alice Person which also included her own autobiography. The book is Good Medicine and Good Music. He also assembled a digital collection from the material in the Alice Morgan Person Collection. The music she played at the expositions around the south can be heard by accessing the ECU Digital Collection at:    Select Alice Person: Good Medicine and Good Music, Browse, and select Collection of Popular Airs and Plantation Melodies  or Transcription of the beautiful song The blue Alsatian mountains. Click on Audio File(s) to hear any of the songs in the collections.

Source: The material for this story was taken from Good Medicine and Good Music by David Hursh and Chris Goertzen [McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers: Jefferson, North Carolina and London] 2009.

The illustrations were taken from the Alice Morgan Person Collection (#1116), Special Collections Department, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA which can be found at:

The University of North Carolina also has a collection of Alice Person papers in the Southern Historical Collection: Collection Number 03987, Alice Morgan Person Papers, 1872-1972. A description of this collection can be found at :,Alice_Morgan.html

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