Not too long ago, L. H. Crawley at Virtual Dime Museum posted an advertisement for cotton root pills, an abortifacient thinly disguised as a ‘female regulator’, which appeared in the Toronto Telegram in 1893.
Apropos of this, I just came across a discussion of the aptly-named Chrimes Brothers in London, who went to trial for blackmail in 1898. This unscrupulous trio advertised in various newspapers to sell ‘Lady Montrose Miraculous Female Tabules’ for what they called FEMALE AILMENTS (‘The most OBSTINATE obstruction, irregularities, etc. of the female system are removed in a few doses’). Some 10,000 women wrote to receive their pills. Many of these women were then forced to pay the brothers after receiving threats that their pregnancy and attempt to procure an abortion would be exposed.
As Jeffery Weeks puts it, one of the most extraordinary things about the Chrimes trial was its revelation that thousands of women were attempting to bring an end to their pregnancies. Not surprisingly, numerous English papers immediately denounced the practice of selling and using ‘female pills’. In a particularly egregious instance of irony (or humbug), Reynolds published a column denouncing other papers for running and profiting from advertisements for these pills – but in the very same issue contained five of its own ads for abortifacients, and twelve for dubious surgical appliances.
There was obvious a grubbily lucrative business to be made by manufacturers of these pills. Even if they didn’t resort to blackmail à la the Brothers Chrimes, they were hardly likely to be made responsible by their female clients for pills which were dangerous or which simply didn’t work.
The Toronto Times ad. (taken from The Virtual Dime Museum)
Angus McLaren, Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History (Harvard University Press, 2002). (Observer review of this book available here).
Jeffery Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800, 2nd ed., (London and New York: Longman, 1989), p.71-2.