Mother’s Little Helper

There was a time when Opium wasn’t illegal.  It wasn’t even shunned.  In fact, it was a goddamned cureall.  It was so widely accepted that it was often administered to children, even infants.  Baby’s a little fussy?  Give her a nip of Mother’s Little Helper, and she’ll nod right off!  The dosage instructions say 2 drops for under three months, 4 drops for one year olds, 6 drops for a four year old, 14 for a ten year old, 25 for a twenty year old, and 30 drops for an adult.

Laudanum bottle from the late 1800s/early 1900s.

Laudanum bottle from the late 1800s/early 1900s.

At the time, it was kind of unseemly for women to be drunk in public, boozin’ it up was a man’s prerogative.  Women just couldn’t be all dainty while guzzling beer and whiskey, but it was perfectly acceptable for a woman to have a nip off the ol’ laudanum bottle.  When addiction set in, things could get pretty ugly.  Overdoses were common.

The bottles say “poison” on them, and in the pharmacies where they sold this stuff, they’d have warnings, and scary displays like the Apothecary Doll, kinda like the doll below, except this one isn’t old, I got it from the awesomely bizarre people at Madame Talbot, who have great stuff, but a torturously disorganized website.   Anyway, I believe this bottle is from somewhere between 1900-1910, near the end of when this kinda stuff was legal.  I’m deeply amused by the total incongruity of the other things they sell, which can basically be summed up as “spices and shit”.  Hey, kids!  Which of these things is not like the other: cinnamon, vanilla, peppermint, or opium?


The most incredible thing, and this isn’t even a particularly good example, but there are dosage instructions for infants on the bottle.  Yes.  It was tooooootally cool to give opium to infants.  It wasn’t just cool, it was 4 out of 5 doctors agree kinda cool.   It’s so far removed from what would be considered acceptable today that I just can’t wrap my wits around it.  They felt that opium dens were bad, but not opium for infants?  I think the reason is probably that they just didn’t have a problem with opium, in fact,  they quite liked it.  They had a problem with “chinamen” running opium dens.  As dens of iniquity go, opium dens weren’t much worse than bars.  Both were associated with the other typical vices, prostitution and gambling.


40 years earlier, the British were *huge* fans of opium in China, you know, while they were running the drug trade.  They stopped being fans when China told them to GTFO, thus kicking off the Opium Wars, over what the British Empire felt was her undeniable right, a monopoly in the trade in opium, especially the right to sell it back to the Chinese.  They helped themselves to Hong Kong in the process, you kinda need a port to ship your opium from, right?

5 thoughts on “Mother’s Little Helper

  1. Pingback: 10 Dangerous Drugs Once Marketed as Medicine

  2. Mothers little helper is Valium. It was a bit of an un-official marketing move for the product when it was new in the 60’s. The stones songs is based on that.

    Valium is diazepam, and also there is razepam which is quite similar, both are still being prescribed.

  3. Thanks for the info, I was reading about “Mother’s Little Helper” in L.A. Meyer’s “Bloody Jack” Series, and I had suspected it was opium after reading Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days”. However, when I googled it, all that came up was the rolling stone song. Thanks for the info!

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