Oh Baby! Birth-control in the 19th-cent.

Posted Jan 23 2015, 7:51 pm



Hold on to your knickers, Coffee Klatchers…I’m sharing a rarely-discussed tidbit. Here we gooooo….As most of us now know, there were no reliable birth-control methods in the early days. In Mesopotamia & ancient Egypt they used leaves, honey & lint. Famous Lothario Casanova allegedly even inserted lemon rinds in his lovers as a method of preventing little Casanovas. All to no avail.




Published in 1826, the small volume “Every Woman’s Book” by Richard Carlile [agitator for the establishment of universal suffrage and freedom of the press in the U.K.] stated that women should enjoy intercourse without the dread of pregnancy by utilizing ‘the sponge method’ [sea sponges soaked in vinegar, quinine & olive or tansy oil]…which we know now rarely worked.

Sponges 1


But in 1844, Charles Goodyear (the same chap who gave the world the tire), along with his business partner, Thomas Hancock (yep, there’s that ‘cock’ word ☺), manufactured the first vulcanized rubber ‘cap’ [condom] for men! Mass-produced quickly AND cheaply. Men were in hog heaven!! But, what about the ladies? Nope. Nothing. Nada. sponges 3They only had their sponges & pessaries [the vinegar, quinine, oils pastes] as their contraceptive of choice. And this marine sponge was held in cotton netting to aid in extraction. sponges 2English chemist, Walter Rendell manufactured the first commercial pessary paste in 1880 from quinine & cocoa butter. And he coined it ‘Wife’s Friend’, but, advertised his ‘contribution’ under female ‘hygiene’ rather than contraception because society during this timeperiod frowned upon a woman blocking pregnancy. 

sponges 5


Regardless, and of course, in spite of the gross failure to prevent pregnancies, these forms of contraception DID give women some influence over their fertility as so many married before their 20s & had an average of NINE births. sponges womenTo slow down their conception ‘rate’, most women even extended breastfeeding to help postpone ovulation. Condoms, on the other hand, were sold in tobacconist shoppes & pharmacies, & even by mail order. They washed ’em & reused. And the gents were having a heyday. In fact, British playwright & essayist George Bernard Shaw called the rubber condom the “greatest invention of the nineteenth century.” sponges 4Females demanded their own lil’ ‘cappy’ thing, too!  So…in 1860, American inventor Edward Bliss Foote developed the “womb veil” out of vulcanized rubber to cover the cervix.  


sponges 6


Things were progressing along nicely. Now, more and more women demanded (in secret) that their fellas…well…cooperate. Finally, weekly newspapers began to allow advertisements with the wording of ‘MARRIAGE hygiene’ products. sponges 7These replaced the sponges & even the Helonia vaginal tablets with opium [which obviously didn’t stop pregnancies , either, but after dosing the ladies didn’t care…LOL].  By the turn of the century, birth rates were beginning to slow.  


sponges friedrich

Then, in 1906, everything changed dramatically when Friedrich Merz, at the young age of 24, developed the first known spermicidal jelly, called Patentex.  Hallelujah brother!  Now the men AND their ladies were happy.  So much so, in fact, that by 1930, birth rates had significantly plummeted to only 2.1 births per woman.  Now how’s THAT for an historical tidbit?! Oh yes, in this department, we’ve come a long way, BABY…for sure. LOL.  ☺



1 Comment


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