In honour of the birth of The Quack Doctor’s new baby niece, who arrived early Saturday morning in the car park of Harlow Hospital, this post looks at a liniment that claimed to make labour a doddle.
Mother’s Friend was on sale in the US and Canada by the mid-1880s, though some adverts said it had been around for longer. During the last couple of decades of the 19th century and into the 20th, the advertising made some far-fetched claims.
The packaging stated that the liniment would ‘cause an unusually easy and quick delivery’ and that it would ‘alleviate in a most magical way the pains, horrors and risks of labor’. Used early in pregnancy, it would also cure morning sickness.
Some of the advertising went further and suggested that the use of Mother’s Friend would make the resulting baby clever and good-looking. In this 1901 ad, for example, an anonymous father sets up a potential fratricide situation by describing the youngest of his three children as the ‘healthiest, prettiest and finest-looking of them all’.
The advert below rings a few alarm bells by insisting that there is no opium, morphine or strychnine – but in fact this was true. Twice in 1909, consignments of Mother’s Friend were seized under the Food and Drugs Act (1906) and deemed misbranded because of the claims made. Analysis showed them to be a mixture of oil and soap (the type of oil is not specified in the misbranding reports but presumably it was a vegetable oil).
The Bradfield Regulator Company was allowed to continuing selling the product provided it did not make unrealistic claims, so from then on Mother’s Friend was marketed as a massage oil to help with dry skin and the aches and pains of pregnancy. Later, under ownership of the S.S.S. Company, it became a body lotion, firmly in the category of toiletries rather than medicines.
The bolder claims of the early advertising, however, were not without some merit – for pregnant women, accustomed to having to listen to everyone else’s birth horror stories, the positive outlook of Mother’s Friend must have been a welcome change.