Title

THE OPIUM OF THE CHILDREN: DOMESTIC OPIUM AND INFANT DRUGGING IN EARLY VICTORIAN ENGLAND (DRUG REGULATION, CHILDCARE, MORTALITY, WOMEN)

Date of Completion

January 1985

Abstract

Widespread narcoticism seems anomalous in Victorian England, a culture esteemed for its moral rectitude and strong family values. Yet, both early and mid-Victorian adults consumed staggering amounts of opium, and child drugging was commonplace in this environment. In some areas and among some income groups, opium feeding was nearly ubiquitous.^ The practice of feeding opiates to children was not clandestine, and was considered inhumane by contemporaries. Engels and Marx both mentioned child doping, and parliamentarians and medical men publicized the recklessness with which opiates were dispensed to infants. A large amount of evidence was gathered in the Parliamentary Papers and in professional journals, but child drugging and its ramifications have not been studied adequately.^ This dissertation is a two-fold study: of child doping and of inaction against drugging. The reasons why children were fed dangerous amounts of opium and the effects of excessive drugging are examined first. Opium-related infant mortality, deficiency diseases, and retardation are investigated using case studies and parliamentary testimony. Although it is impossible to determine with precision how many children were harmed by opium, the evidence of significant damage is convincing and consistent.^ The last chapters examine Victorian attitudes toward inebriates, and the dramatic increase in opium use by all age groups from 1821 to 1851. The conclusion surveys opium's decline and the movement to regulate drugs. Although the sangfroid of the early Victorians toward the maiming and killing of children is startling, especially in contrast with twentieth century antagonism toward drug abuse, critics of doping frequently noted their limitations--in medical theory, in law enforcement, and in altering custom and the social order. Reformers relied on public education to turn the public against opium feeding. Periodic investigations, as well as changes in living and working conditions did reduce drugging. By the 1890's opium's popularity had waned, and a social consensus on the desirability of controlling narcotics had emerged. ^