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Female pills and the reputation of iron as an abortifacient.

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
  • Research Article
  • Medicine


Medical History, 1977,21: 291-304. FEMALE PILLS AND THE REPUTATION OF IRON AS AN ABORTIFACIENT by P. S. BROWN* "FEMALE PILLS" or other internal medicines for "complaints peculiar to females" formed a small but distinct group among the medicines advertised in eighteenth- century newspapers. There were, for instance, six such preparations found in a sample of Bath newspapers in the second half of the eighteenth century and one of them, Hooper's Female Pills, was the fourth most frequently advertised among the 302 medicines mentioned in the sample.1 Similarly, two samples of Bristol newspapers taken from the beginning and the middle of the nineteenth century (1802 to 1810, and 1850 to 1859)2 between them contained advertisements for 318 medicines of which thirteen were offered purely for female use. The names of two suggest that they were probably advertised for other conditions on other occasions; one other was specifically for leucorrhoea, and another for women in childbed. The remaining medicines form the group now under consideration, and they were advertised primarily for menstrual disorders, in particular for "all obstructions and irregularities", and often for associated general symptoms, sometimes with specific reference to the green sickness. The objects of this paper are to examine the female medicines which appeared in these samples of Bath and Bristol newspapers; to compare them, as far as the limited information allows, with the medicines of the regular practitioners; and to trace from other sources the developments in advertised female medicines towards the end of the nineteenth century and public reactions to them. FEMALE MEDICINES IN THE NEWSPAPER SAMPLES OF 1744 TO 1859 1. Pills and wafers Hooper's Female Pills, as already mentioned, were frequently advertised in the eighteenth century, when they were offered for treatment of the general complaints of females and claimed to be the best medicine ever discovered for the green sickness. They have been discussed more fully else

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