Samantha, American Girl: Deep Dive

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

When I think of smelling salts, I’m transported to a lush, elegantly furnished drawing room in the middle of London during the Victorian era. There, sprawled dramatically across a velvet and mahogany chaise lounge, a woman reaches for her servant. My heavens, the poor dear has fainted! Smelling salts are called for. Normally reserved for flirtatious flickering, her hand fan works overtime to soothe her nerves (the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia has an excellent blog post about fans). Finally, her delicate eyelids flicker and slowly open. She regains her composure and rises.

Do you know what smelling salts don’t bring to mind? This.

Matt Martin and Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Or this.

William Clay Matthews III, Green Bay Packers

Or this.

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

No, for some reason I don’t imagine burly men shoving smelling salt packets up their noses as they apparently experience true consciousness for the first time. But why is that? While smelling salts are most commonly associated with fainting women (and later with the British Red Cross during World War II), they’ve been gaining popularity on the football field, in the boxing ring, and on the ice.

The main active ingredient in smelling salts is ammonium carbonate: breaking the prepackaged capsules (most commonly marketed form) will release ammonia (NH3) gas, which triggers the inhalation reflex. Even if you’re unconscious, your body will take a deep, involuntary breath. This begins a cycle of rapid respiration, causing you to breathe faster and flooding your brain with oxygen, increasing alertness and triggering consciousness.

But somewhere along the way, smelling salts traveled from first aid kits to the pockets of coaches and trainers. The little capsules filled with direct punch to the face have been welcomed as a part of several high contact sports, such as football and ice hockey. Although there has been no definitive studies done on short-term use, many believe that players experience an increase in concentration, energy, and strength.

So what do you think? News of her husband’s death?

“The Story of An Hour” Kate Chopin (1894)

Or prepping for game day?

“The Story of An Hour” Kate Chopin (1894) with a hilarious edit

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These Books Made Me

These Books Made Me is a podcast about the literary heroines who shaped our childhoods. @PGCMLS