When I was 9, my mum discovered I had nits the day before I started my new school. I have horrific memories of running around trying to find a chemist that was still open late in the afternoon. I was half-convinced that the foul-smelling treatment wouldn’t work and all the children would notice and I’d become ‘that nit girl’ for the next 9 years. Clearly, I had it easy.
Bearing in mind that nits like to live near the scalp, here’s 1929’s slightly more drastic response:
In bad cases, especially in children, the hair should be cut off and burnt, the head washed in warm soft soap and water. If this does not remove the crusts [of sores, from scratching], olive oil should be applied at night and the head washed again the following morning, and white precipitate or sulphur ointment rubbed gently into the scalp. Paraffin oil will kill the lice, but many accidents have occurred through the oil catching fire.
It goes on to note that for lesser cases a 1:4 solution of vinegar to water can be used to wash the hair, but what a choice. You can either look like those Protestant martyrs at the beginning of Elizabeth or risk turning into a human torch. Which, as it turns out, is what happens to those martyrs anyway… (450 years: too soon?)
Clearly headlice were a scourge, and being so hard to shift you needed to be sure they weren’t going to spread. Although at least if you did have to go down the hair-cutting route, by the 1920s you’d be able to use Gillette’s new top-of-the-range safety razor. Even if you were a baby, apparently.
* Link to original source: http://digital.lib.muohio.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/tradecards&CISOPTR=1172