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Box for Dr John Hooper's Female Pills, United Kingdom, 1900-1950

John Hooper, an apothecary in Reading, England, patented his ‘Female Pills’ in 1743 – they are among the earliest and most successful ‘patent medicines’ sold in England. Promoted as anti-hysteria pills, they were also used for stomach and period problems. An advertisement from the 1750s describes them as “the best medicine ever discovered for young women, when afflicted with what is commonly called the irregularities”. It was also suggested that pregnant women should not take them, which inevitably led to the pills being used in the hope of ending an inconvenient pregnancy. The pills were still being sold both in England and the United States well into the twentieth century.

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Glossary: pill box

A small box for pills

Glossary: hysteria

A nervous affection, occurring almost exclusively in women, in which the emotional and reflex excitability is exaggerated, and the will power correspondingly diminished, so that the patient loses control over the emotions, becomes the victim of imaginary sensations, and often falls into paroxism or fits.

Glossary: miscarriage

A miscarriage is where a pregnancy ends before 24 weeks. Miscarriages occur in between ten and twenty per cent of all pregnancies.

Glossary: period

Common term for vaginal bleeding, which happens once a month as part of a female's menstrual cycle. Periods usually last from one to five days and begin when a girl reaches puberty.