More patent medicine
Cardui | Dr. Grace Feder Thompson's letter appealing for patients | Dr. Pierce's medicines | Dr. E. C. Abbey's The Sexual System and Its Derangements (1882) | Dr. Young's rectal dilators | Lydia Pinkham's medicine | Orange Blossom medicine | ad for Dr. Schenk's Mandrake Pills, appearing on a trade card for journalist Nellie Bly.
CONTRIBUTE to Humor, Words and expressions about menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
Some MUM site links:
homepage | MUM address & What does MUM mean? | e-mail the museum | privacy on this site | who runs this museum?? |
Amazing women! | the art of menstruation | artists (non-menstrual) | asbestos | belts | bidets | founder bio | Bly, Nellie | MUM board | books: menstruation and menopause (and reviews) | cats | company booklets for girls (mostly) directory | contraception and religion | costumes | menstrual cups | cup usage | dispensers | douches, pain, sprays | essay directory | extraction | facts-of-life booklets for girls | famous women in menstrual hygiene ads | FAQ | founder/director biography | gynecological topics by Dr. Soucasaux | humor | huts | links | masturbation | media coverage of MUM | menarche booklets for girls and parents | miscellaneous | museum future | Norwegian menstruation exhibit | odor | olor | pad directory | patent medicine | poetry directory | products, current | puberty booklets for girls and parents | religion | Religión y menstruación | your remedies for menstrual discomfort | menstrual products safety | science | Seguridad de productos para la menstruación | shame | slapping, menstrual | sponges | synchrony | tampon directory | early tampons | teen ads directory | tour of the former museum (video) | underpants & panties directory | videos, films directory | Words and expressions about menstruation | Would you stop menstruating if you could? | What did women do about menstruation in the past? | washable pads
Leer la versión en español de los siguientes temas: Anticoncepción y religión, Breve reseña - Olor - Religión y menstruación - Seguridad de productos para la menstruación.

Small boxes of old American patent medicine for women's diseases,
headache, stomach illness, menstruation, and birth control

See also Cardui, Orange Blossom medicine and Lydia Pinkham's medicine.
Murray & Nickell Blue Cohosh Root | Murray & Nickell Cotton Root Bark | Allaire Woodward & Co. Oak Bark-White | Wampole's Vaginal Cones with Picric Acid | Humphreys "31" | Orange Blossom Suppositories | Dr. Pierce's Vaginal Tablets | Micajah's Medicated Wafers | Santrex Formula 52T | Sedets
SarahAnne Hazlewood generously donated the medicine to this museum, part of her huge gift of medical instruments, books and advertising material about women's health.
Harry Finley created the images.

The "patent" medicine you see here usually bear a trademark, not a patent - just the first of many white lies associated with this medication, many or all of which originated in the 19th century, when both doctoring and medicine were at best loosely regulated. Until the beginning of the 20th century similar boxes and bottles often contained narcotics that would be banned or tightly controlled today, or, like Wampole's suppositories, featured the explosive picric acid. Or coal tar-based chemicals, which were the first linked to cancer.

But an interested and knowledgeable reader writes,

"With regard to the picric acid acid suppositories and the other patent meds involving douching or suppositories, they were likely intended to be spermicidal. Lowering the pH below 3.5 WILL successfully kill sperm (though not reliably or safely enough to be a method recommended nowadays), and a lot of the acidic vaginal products of the 19th and early 20th centuries were sold for that purpose, even though the Comstock laws prevented them from advertising themselves as such (according to a cool book I read called 'Abortion and Contraception in 19th Century America').

"The patent medicine folks would package ANYTHING they thought might be acidic enough to work - hence the explosive, toxic, and corrosive agents that got sold to women for their 'personal daintiness' to kill 'germs,' or as an 'inhibitory antiseptic,' as Dr. Pierre's suppositories are described." [See also sponges sold for reasons other than spermicidal effect in the same era although probably used to prevent conception.]

The American advertising industry cut its teeth on patent medicine - for example, this trade card for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound.

Many of these products are for douching. Read why you normally should not douche.

Dr. Pierre's Boro-Pheno-Form suppositories

Many of these medicines contain acid, increasing the natural acidity of the vagina. Acid helps prevent dangerous organisms from thriving, like those that cause vaginitis. Naturally occurring Döderlein bacteria in the vagina make lactic acid (and it's in the ingredients on the box, above), helping keep it healthy. Menstruation decreases the acidity of the vagina, making it more susceptible to certain harmful organisms. But as a reader pointed out, the main use for these suppositories might have been to kill sperm, which sufficiently strong acid can do.

Boric acid is a "chemical substance with mild antiseptic, antifungal, and antiviral properties," according to

Oxyquinoline sulfate is made from coal tar and "The manufacturer claims: it is externally used as a powerful nontoxic, noncaustic antiseptic and for use in treatment of gynecological infections (meritritis, vaginitis) as it restores the vaginal acid balance . . . . These claims are not currently supported by FDA classification . . . . There are no currently approved OTC uses for oxyquinoline sulfate, all formerly listed uses skin protectant or antifungal are classed as category II and not generally recognized as safe and effective or misbranded." (from (Coal tar was the first chemical associated with cancer, in 1775, among chimney sweeps in London.) Salicylic acid: "The major use of salicylic acid is in the preparation of its ester derivatives; since it contains both a hydroxyl (-OH) and a carboxyl (-CO2H) group, it can react with either an acid or an alcohol" (from Http://,1524,399,00.html writes that Methenamine kills bacteria in the urinary tract by forming ammonia and formaldehyde. Sodium phenolsulfonate "Has been used in tonsillitis and as an intestinal antiseptic; has no antiseptic properties," states (cryptically) As a phenol I believe it's based on coal tar. Lactic acid: "Lactic acid is produced commercially for use in pharmaceuticals and foods, in leather tanning and textile dyeing, and in making plastics, solvents, inks, and lacquers" (from and is also present in the vagina, helping to keep it acid and healthy. Chlorthymol, according to the German site, is an antiseptic and fungicide - and I believe it is also based on coal tar.

The box measures 2 1/8" x 1 5/8" x 1" (5.5 x 4 x 2.54 cm).
The black material is heavy and shiny; the two end pieces (above) look like stickers. As you see in the pictures, the material bulges out, forming an irregular outline.

NEXT ···>
Murray & Nickell Blue Cohosh Root | Murray & Nickell Cotton Root Bark | Allaire Woodward & Co. Oak Bark-White
| Wampole's Vaginal Cones with Picric Acid | Humphreys "31" | Orange Blossom Suppositories | Dr. Pierce's Vaginal Tablets
| Micajah's Medicated Wafers | Santrex Formula 52T | Sedets

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