24 October 1889
The sensational trial, conviction, sentence and commutation of sentence of Mrs. Maybrick, charged with poisoning her husband, and her defense, through which she claimed that the presence of arsenical fly-paper in her boudoir was for toilet purpose, have turned public attention to the use of this poison by women of fashion. Mrs. Maybrick endeavored to explain away the presence of the poison by alleging its use for the improvement of her complexion. She explained how she skillfully prepared it for toilet purposes, and in view of the strictness of the English law regarding the sale of poison when not absolutely a necessity her explanation would probably have been accepted by the court had her diversion from the path of wifely duty been less notorious.
It is appalling to note how the demand for arsenic has increased in the last years. Before the enterprising American women discovered the complexion improving qualities of the deadly drug its use was confined to wealthy women of fashion. Soon all women began to learn of the pale pink tint that was imparted to the skin when arsenic was judiciously taken and druggists began to find in arsenic a profitable source of revenue.
Druggists do not deny (nor do reputable physicians) that arsenic carefully administered may improve the complexion or even benefit the system under certain conditions, but they deplore the prodigal use which the poisonous drug has reached. English law is so strict regarding the sale of such drugs that conscientious apothecaries refuse to supply customers except upon the prescription of a physician. In America the laws are more lax and the most trivial excuse given by the lady customer will pave the way for the purchase of arsenic which an unscrupulous customer may apply to an unlawful purpose. A well-known druggist makes the statement that fly-paper is largely used in England by women for the purpose to which Mrs. Maybrick devoted it. Soaking it in water will extract the arsenic from the sheet and transfer the poison to the liquid. It is then applied to the skin or drank (sic) in minute doses worth the result which is so apparent in Mrs. Maybrick's appearance.
Like the opium habit, arsenic eating grows upon the victim and its work is slow but sure. Arsenic is used for anointing purposes too, by large numbers of working girls who toil in the mills and factories. They have not yet learned the art of eating the drugm and employ it in a crude fashion by dissolving the substance in water and applying it in lotion form to the face and hands. Its baneful effects are not so quickly apparent as are those of arsenic eating, but sooner or later the foolish victims of the poisonous drug contract an appetite for it and their death is but a matter of months.
It is not possible to estimate the number of deaths among women for which the use of arsenic is responsible, owing to their secrecy in using the drug. But a goodly proportion of so called blood poisoning cases can be traced to an ignorant use of arsenic. There is no denying the fact that its use is daily increasing. American women, favored by the looseness of laws governing druggists, are enabled to buy arsenic in its pure stage and do not take kindly to fly-paper. Doubtless they sympathize with Mrs. Maybrick, whose confession had laid before the world the dire emergency to which women arsenic slaves in England have been reduced. With characteristic American independence they buy arsenic in powder or in lumps and seek the seclusion of their homes to make use of it.