Laudanum for Ladies

March 10, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Laudanum, the "mother's little helper" of the 19th century, was a mixture of alcohol and opium. Since at least 1821, when the book Confessions of an English Opium Eater had described its charms and also the chains of the drug, it was known that it could be hard to break a reliance on the mixture. Yet, with little else that worked so well to relieve pain, it was freely prescribed to women throughout the 19th century. With the adoption of the syringe in 1853 the miracle morphine could dull any distress. Eugene O'Neill's mother Ella's addiction began with laudanum and morphine administered after a difficult childbirth. Her son's play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, tells of her long struggle to free herself from it.

Women also gave it to their children to help them teeth and help them sleep, and some did so permanently.


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