Mother’s Fraud

In 1898 it was understable if a woman facing her fifth pregnancy felt the same sense of apprehension as someone playing Russian roulette, pulling back the hammer and preparing to squeeze the trigger for the fifth time.  Death during childbirth had become less common than it had been a hundred years earlier, but eveyone knew a mother who had died of "childbed fever," and the death of a newborn infant was an everyday source of grief in many neighborhoods.

When an advertisement appeared in local papers for a treatment that promised to relieve the discomfort and danger of pregnancy and childbirth, it must have seemed foolhardy not to inquire further.

"Every mother feels an indescribable dread of the pain and danger attendant upon the most critical period of her life.  Becoming a mother should be a source of joy to all, but the suffering and danger of the ordeal make its anticipation one of misery.

"Mother’s Friend is the remedy which relieves women of the great pain and suffering incident to maternity; this hour which is dreaded as woman’s severest trial is not only made painless, but all the danger is removed by its use.  Those who use this remedy are no longer despondent or gloomy; nervousness nausea and other distressing conditions are avoided, the system is made ready for the coming event, and the serious accidents so common to the critical hour are obviated by the use of Mother’s Friend.  It is a blessing to women."

If an expecting mother laid down her dollar and brought home a sample of this miracle in a bottle, she found further reassurance on the side of the carton.

"Mother's Friend has been used by hundreds of ladies throughout the country. It has been prescribed by many of our best physicians, and all pronounce it a success, giving relief from the dreadful pains and suffering of this trying time.  Every woman expecting to become a mother should use it."

Opening the package, she would have found printed instructions which made all previous claims seem modest and restrained by comparison. 

“Morning sickness to allay and cure this much dreaded affection we confidently advise the free application of Mother's Friend.  To young mothers we offer you not the stupor caused by chloroform with risk of death to yourself or your dearly loved and longed for baby but an agent which will if used as directed invariably alleviate in a most magical way the pains, horrors and risks of labor and often entirely do away with them, it leaves her much less liable to flooding, convulsions and other alarming symptoms which so frequently follow the birth."

In 1909, agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, armed with the powers of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, intercepted forty-three cases plus another thirty-nine bottles of Mother’s Friend in Louisiana, declaring that the shipment had been misleadingly branded.  The manufacturer, the Bradfield Regulator Company of Atlanta, Georgia, was ordered to advertise and sell the impounded goods to defray the cost of the seizure and court proceedings.  Any money left over would be deposited in the Teasury of the United States.

It was a tentative first step toward a new era of consumer protection in the United States.  The Department of Agriculture had served notice that there could be repercussions if a manufacturer claimed magical healing properties for what turned out to be a bottle of oil mixed with a small quantity of soap.

And that is why nothing like this fraud could ever be attempted today.

More details about the government’s case, and information about old medicine bottles, can be found at

© Dale Switzer 2023