The product was advertised as “likely to sooth any human or animal”, and it was specifically targeted at quieting restless infants and small children.
The formula’s ingredients consisted of a large amount of morphine sulphate, powdered opium, sodium carbonate and aqua ammonia. Mrs Winslow’s soothing syrup was widely used during the 19th century to calm wild children and help babies sleep. This cocktail of drugs worked immediately and slowed the children’s heart rate down by giving them harmful depressants. The syrup had an enormous marketing campaign in the UK and the US, showing up in newspapers, recipe books, calendars and on trade cards. During the early 20th century the product began to gain a reputation for killing small babies. In 1911, the American Medical Association incriminated Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup in a publication named Nostrums and Quackery, in a section titled Baby Killers.
Within the precarious, the unlikely, the bold pursuits of our lives, we continually expand the sense of our own strength and limits. When we test ourselves, we connect with what is most essential in our humanity. We scale the uncertain heights of existence itself – of physical risk, bodily endurance, emotional depth, creative power, and human connection. Safety is a blessing, but there’s also something to learned from risk. As Diane Ackerman puts it , “Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.” In the context of a lifetime, these realizations and moments of intensity are ours to carry with us. They help expand the proportions of our living and fill a well that sustains the life we go back to.