Pregnancy and contraceptive advice has evolved drastically over the past few decades. With all the research we now have on reproductive wellness, looking back at what these shocking vintage ads had to say to women will make you cringe.
From the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, many company ads encouraged pregnant women to drink and wear baby-bumping-hiding corsets as part of their journey to becoming a mother. On the other hand, ads for birth control suggested that if women don’t use their products, their husbands will leave them.
Keep scrolling to find out how these companies tried—and at the time, presumably succeeded—in convincing women to practice acts that we know are extremely dangerous today. These shocking vintage ads will not disappoint.
1. A Little Every Now and Then Won’t Hurt
This 1983 ad by Seagram, famous for its ginger ale and whiskey, advises mothers to drink in moderation. At the time, research on the effects of alcohol intake on pregnant women and their yet-to-be-born children was still in progress. Seagram noted this and took advantage of this period of uncertainty, encouraging expecting mothers to drink every once in a while to “celebrate” their children.
2. Don’t Forget to Hide That Baby Bump
This tiny vintage ad from Berthe May urges expecting mothers to “preserve a normal appearance” with their unique maternity corset. Although the corset conveniently allows its users to “dress as usual,” its purpose to make pregnant women look “normal” is questionably offensive in the least.
3. Flush Your Marriage Problems Away
You may be familiar with Lysol as a household cleaning product. But in the 1950s and 60s, this germ-killing solution had another very different purpose: “feminine hygiene,” also known as birth control. Since the Comstock Act of 1873 banned the distribution of contraceptive products or information, either across state lines or through the mail, companies renamed their birth control products under the guise of “feminine hygiene.”
Condoms and diaphragms were expensive, so in the mid-20th century, vaginal douching became a very popular method of female contraception. Now, douching is highly discouraged as it seems to hurt more than help. And at the time, many women suffered from poisoning due to Lysol douching.
Lysol’s shocking vintage ads truly preyed on the insecurities of their target demographic—explicitly asserting that wives’ neglect to maintain proper”feminine hygiene” was to blame for their failing marriages.
4. Beer for Babies
Though there may not be a pregnant woman pictured on this vintage ad, the message is obvious: Blatz Beer is good for your baby! The vintage ad even claims that the hard beverage will be “nourishing,” appetizing,” and “stimulating,” for not only the expecting mother but also her unborn child.
5. Preserving Your Youth
This snippet of an old Lysol ad isn’t afraid to scare women with the thought of their fading youth and beauty—which apparently is what the institution of marriage relies heavily on. Though this particular Lysol ad may not be as blatant as its more straightforward siblings, it’s “subtlety” could still incite outrage amongst feminist audiences today.
6. Exercise With a Compressed Ribcage
With proper diet and frequent exercise supported by the Gossard Maternity Corset, you’re bound to have a healthy pregnancy and consequently, a “better” baby! Of course, you’ve got to be perfectly fine with feeling like you’re constantly breathing through a straw. But at least your figure is “trim” and “shapely” during this critical time in your mothering journey, right?
7. The Joys of Motherhood
It’s hard to read, but this vintage ad is telling mothers that the way to achieve a “happy” and “healthy” motherhood is through taking alcohol, specifically Pabst Extract. Like the last ad promoting alcoholic beverages to mothers, this one claims Pabst Extract will provide the necessary “additional nourishment” an expectant mother needs.
8. How to Get His Attention
Once again, Lysol preys on wives’ marriage insecurities to sell their product. Like a lot of Lysol’s other ads, this one assumes the husband’s automatic reaction to his wife’s lack of “feminine hygiene” would be to avoid her and grow distant, rather than being communicative with his discomfort. If that’s the case, perhaps such a marriage has more serious issues than a neglect of “feminine hygiene.”
9. An Ordinary Appearance
This maternity corset from Finlay’s isn’t for exercise or even for the baby’s health. Rather, it’s for the expecting mother. Finally, with Finlay’s corset, she can boast a flattering, “ordinary appearance”—whatever that’s supposed to mean.
10. Always Tired? Try Douching!
This Lysol vaginal douche ad isn’t like most we’ve seen. Though it still blames the woman for turning what seemed to be a good marriage sour, it pegs their failing marriage on her constant fatigue—which Lysol claims it can fix.
11. Physical and Mental Comfort
For only $2.00, this maternity corset can be yours. This relatively flexible piece of clothing will not only bring about physical comfort, but also mental comfort. Users will be beyond relieved to know they look “normal” and “ordinary” while their unborn baby is constantly squeezed by an undergarment that was seemingly socially necessary in its time.
12. Don’t Get Caught in a Web of Indifference
Here’s another ad depicting yet another marriage that seems to be falling apart. Her husband seemingly conjured a web of apathy around the woman he supposedly pledged his mortal fidelity to. The solution? You already know: Lysol douching.
13. Be Your Best Self?
A big round of applause to Lysol for coming up with yet another way to say don’t let “feminine hygiene” destroy your apparently very fragile marriage.
14. Nearly Painless Childbirth?
The lucky owner of this maternity corset can finally conceal her “condition,” since pregnancy back then was equivalent to a disorder. Wearers will also be rewarded with an almost painless childbirth—because evidently forcing your ribcage into a tightly wound cone for the majority of the day will greatly reduce your labor pains.
15. How to Not Spend Evenings Alone
Clipped from another Lysol ad, this little bit hopes to convince women that they can win back their husband from whatever shenanigans he’s up to every night if — and only if — they started douching.
16. The Fatal Flaw
According to another of Lysol’s shocking vintage ads, the perfect wife—no matter how loving, caring, and thoughtful she may be—is no match for neglect to take contraceptive measures.
17. “Perfect for Health”
Yet another ad claiming mild self-induced suffocation will end up being extremely beneficial to yourself and your yet-to-be-born baby.
18. I’ll Never Go Back … Unless?
If your husband is constantly ignoring you, maybe getting your “feminine hygiene” act together will completely fix your marital problems. At least that’s what Lyson (again) advises.
19. Who’s to Blame?
“Sue was furious at Tom for the way he’d been treating her. But she was really to blame!” Classic victim-blaming by the one and only Lysol. Of all the shocking vintage ads out there, this may rank as one of the worst.
20. An Impossible Standard
Aside from maintaining proper “feminine hygiene,” the “perfect wife” without exception must also never express sadness? What about the perfect husband?