Victorian Death: Murder Bottles & Arsenic Wallpaper

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The Victorian era would’ve been so exciting. They had gas and oil lamps, and for the first time they could see inside the home after dark. People began to really care about their homes, and what was on their walls; wallpaper was all the rage – even better, Green Wallpaper. If you were keeping up with fashion, you had a green room, with green wallpaper, and the popular shade of green to have was called Scheele’s Green. It was the most vibrant available and it was everywhere. It’s estimated that there was approximately 100 square miles of this beautiful green wallpaper throughout British homes alone!
The problem? This color green was made from copper arsenite; yes, extremely lethal Arsenic.

This is Scheele’s Green

Many of the deaths were children who would lick the wallpaper, or spent a lot of time touching the walls; the arsenic absolutely could soak through your skin just by touch. As if this isn’t scary enough, the arsenic was actually in the air. Fumes, especially on a hot day, would fill victorian homes and death would follow.

So, if a person survived the deadly green wallpaper, there were still a multitude of other things waiting to kill them: lead paint on children’s toys, radium poisoning, exploding bathrooms, deadly milk, and even gas stoves blowing up.

Back in the Victorian era, mothers didn’t have it very easy. There were silent killers everywhere: baby toys were deadly, medications made for children could take their lives, it’s amazing that anyone survived it.

In the Victorian era, women wore corsets; even if they’d been nursing a brand new baby, they still wouldn’t have left their home without a corset. As you can imagine, nursing would’ve been very challenging. Plus you know, their homes needed to be perfect, they had to look perfect, a hot dinner needed to be ready for their husband the moment he walked through the door; frankly it sounds like a nightmare! So, when a bottle was invented which permitted the baby to supposedly feed himself, it would’ve seemed like the answer to these mother’s prayers.

These bottles were made of thick glass or earthenware, equipped with a rubber tube attached to this glass bottle, and a nipple.
These bottles were marketed well, with names like “Mummies Darling” or “The Empire”.
But, they were also the perfect breeding ground for deadly bacteria, and they were so very difficult to clean.

In 1861 a woman named Isabella Beeton wrote a very popular book called Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management; this book was a reference guide on how to properly run a Victorian household. She claimed to be an expert cook, she gave her advice on all things feminine like hiring and firing household staff, and raising children. She was a Victorian Martha Stewart, if you will, and yep, you guessed it! She was all for the new feeding bottle.

Here’s the thing, Mrs. Beeton advised new mothers that it was not necessary to wash this bottle for two or three weeks. Can you imagine how much mold would build up inside that straw like tube and nipple within those weeks? Can you picture all of that bacteria? Doctors warned young mothers against using these “Murder Bottles”, but the mortality rate just continued to skyrocket. At one point, only 2 out of 10 babies were said to live past their 2nd birthday.

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