Artifact Corner: Episode 33 – Fanoline

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. March is Women’s History month, and to commemorate that, we will be spending this entire month focused on the stories of women. Today’s artifact is a medicinal product created by the last member of our family to live in our home, Fannie Webb Hall. Let’s explore Fannie’s life, and her invention, Fanoline.

Frances Delord Webb was born in Albany on the 11th of February, 1834. She was a healthy and happy baby girl. Sadly, her birth was extremely difficult for her mother, also named Frances. Fannie’s mother contracted child bed fever, and less than a month after Fannie’s birth, her mother passed away. Her father Henry, now a widower, decided that it would be best for Fannie to spend the first few years of her life with her grandmother, Betsey. Fannie’s early childhood was spent in Plattsburgh, being dotted upon by her loving grandmother. At the age of four, Fannie moved to CT with her Aunt to start her formal education. Her father wanted only the best for his young daughter. Fannie’s upbringing stressed service, caring, and devotion to faith, which was common for young women in the mid 1800’s. She was a good student and an avid reader. She continued to visit her grandmother in Plattsburgh, but not as often as Betsey would like.

On October 12, 1846, Fannie’s father Henry passed away at the age of just 51. Fannie writes to her Grandmother about the loss of her dad stating: “I am left an orphan. But I have many kind friends who I know love me. But no one can fill a father’s place.” This, coupled with the loss of her mother must have effected Fannie deeply. Thankfully her Aunt and Grandmother did their best to console Fannie, and she grew into a compassionate and intelligent woman. Frances completed five years at Hartford Female Seminary, and then another year in Philadelphia at a French finishing school. It was around this time that she met her future husband, Frank Hall. Frank was in seminary school, and the young couple had to wait three years before Frank graduated and they could be wed. On May 14, 1856 the two were married in Hartford, CT.

In the subsequent years, Frank and Fannie endured many trials. Frank served as a chaplain in the Civil War, leaving Fannie on her own. By 1863, Frank and Fannie had moved to Plattsburgh. Fannie cared for Betsey and her step father William in their final years. William passed away in January of 1864, and her beloved grandmother Betsey died on May 23, 1870. Now, Fannie focused on making herself useful to the residents of the city of Plattsburgh. Fannie studied medical books extensively. She devoured all of the latest medical texts, and used that information to help the less fortunate of the city. She opened a section of the home up to the public, and treated those who could not afford to go to a doctor. She never charged for her services, and was always willing to help anyone in need. It was her interest in medicine, and philanthropy that lead to her creating Fanoline.

So, what is Fanoline? Fanoline is a kind of all purpose ointment meant to soothe skin irritation. On the back of the container it states that this can be used to treat, “Eczema, Fever-sores, Piles, Burns, Corns, Sore eyes, Chapped hands and lips,” just to name a few. It also boasted to be an antiseptic, and could be applied to wounds before bandaging. Like many things in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period, this was touted to be a multipurpose product. Some of the ingredients include Spermaceti (which is a whale oil), paraffin wax, and almond extract. Fannie and Frank created Fanoline, and produced it in their home. It was marketed from 1890 to 1900, and sold well throughout Upstate NY and all of New England. A 25 oz container of Fanoline sold for just 25 cents.

Fannie cared deeply about helping people. Her creation of Fanoline was an extension of her desire to ease pain, and better the lives of those around her. She continued to care for her fellow neighbors and friends until her death on October 4, 1913. Fannie devoted her life to the service of others, and in doing so, left a legacy of selflessness and care. We are so lucky to still have some remaining boxes of Fanoline, a testament to a remarkable woman. Thanks for spending March with us, and learning about some of the professions and individual women that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,