Research Not My Own – History of Birth Control

Sometimes I get requests for assistance on research not my own.  And, while these topics rarely have anything at all to do with my own research, I tend to really find joy in the process.  Learning is never useless, and I’ve been really finding some amazing things in this History of Birth Control search.

My pet peeve is when people post pictures without references/sources.  Random pictures aren’t scholarly and removes the context of the picture.  Of course, that being said, I’m not really in a position to spend the hours it takes to do so.  Please forgive my hypocrisy in posting these pictures without the appropriate sources.  When time is on my side, I hope to return in order to give these pictures the respect that they deserve.

Pelicans Bring Babies
A satirical Victorian postcard; Found on Wikipedia Commons

19th century "Female Pills" packaging

Boxes of 19th century female medicines.
Taken from:

It is important to understand that at this time the goal was not to prevent pregnancy by never having it happen, but to abort it once an unwanted pregnancy had occurred.  As a lecturer on the history of medicine and common cures and practices of the 18th century, I know how enticing the world of ‘natural’ medicine is.  More times than I can remember I’ve been asked for medical advice to modern issues using my 18th century understanding of medicine, herbs, and their medicinal uses.  I cannot stress this enough: I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL. I CANNOT GIVE HEALTH CARE ADVICE.  Therefore, I will not tell you how these medicines worked, or how they were perceived to work.  I will not have that on my hands if someone decides it’s something they want to try.  Paranoid?  You betcha.

Ad for lunar tablets

Circa 1839
Taken from:

I found this particularly interesting.  Infallible pills.  Sold at a time when mercury pills were being taken off of the market, but Morison’s Vegetable pills were in full swing.  This was a time of pharmaceutical dread – when we knew just more than enough to be dangerous.  That bell-curve had started to swing in favor of being helpful in the late 18th century when physician John Hunter made his views on the toxicity of mercury as medicine known.(1, 2)  However, we weren’t quite out of the woods yet.  I can’t help but wonder what where in those pills.

Taken from the Margaret Sanders Papers Project, which can be found right here on WordPress.

The Margaret Sanders Papers Project is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in woman’s rights, gender issues, suffrogates, and the history of birth control

1. Hunter, John. (1786) A Treatise on the Venereal Disease. London.
2. Mathias, Andrew (1811) The Mercurial Disease: An Inquiry Into the History and Nature of the Disease. London.


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