I’ve written before about the nineteenth century use of abortifacients – in an age without reliable contraception unwanted pregnancy was a risk for women, especially unmarried women.

One of the most common remedies was pennyroyal, often sold in pill form


(Incidentally I’m not advocating its use in any way – it can cause serious liver damage and people taking it can suffer serious bleeding requiring hospitalisation.)

However in the nineteenth century it was one of the few remedies that was both accessible and which had a reasonable chance of bringing about the desired outcome if taken early enough.

However, how did people access them?


Obviously no one wanted to go into the local pharmacy and ask for pennyroyal pills. In a small town it would be tantamount to admitting you’d been having sex with the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker.

For a married woman, especially if her husband was away, supremely embarrassing. For an unmarried woman be she the village schoolmistress or a girl who helped out in the haberdasher simply impossible.

So, the answer was mail order

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A search of Welsh Newspapers online Papers Past NZ and Trove here in Australia for ‘pennyroyal’ turns up numerous adverts from chemists offering to post out pennyroyal pills, as well as adverts for  apiol and steel pills as an alternative (Apiol is a distilled extract of parsley, and was also used as an abortifacient.)

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(Apiol and steel pills are still available in India for those who wish to practise ayurvedic medicine, and as with pennyroyal there are potentially serious health risks associated with their use)

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About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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