Mother Hutton

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Mother Hutton was an 18th-century British pharmacist and herbalist responsible for the discovery of digitalis and its essential use in the curing of heart problems.[1]

She is sometimes referred to as Mrs. Hutton, Old mother Hutton and "the old woman from Shropshire".[2] As her last name alludes, she hailed from Shropshire, England.[3] She was a successful practitioner of general medicine but became most famous for her ability to treat heart disease, kidney troubles and dropsy.[1] She discovered the usefulness of the foxglove plant (Digitalis purpura) in treating the above.[1] She experimented with the foxglove until she worked it out to a science.[1] She added it and a variety of other herbs to a specially brewed tea, which she gave out as a remedy to those who needed it.[2]

One of her most famous success stories was with the Dean of Brazen Nose College of Oxford University, Dr. Cauley in 1776.[4] He came to her with a severe case of Dropsy which was a condition in which liquid built up in the tissue due to an inability of the heart and kidneys to remove it.[4] During the 18th century this was considered a fatal disease.[4] She successfully cured him.

William Withering heard of this successful case and started to pursue Mother Hutton in order to find out the ingredients of her secret tea recipe.[1] In 1785 he persuaded her to sell it to him and upon discovering that it was the foxglove which was the key, he published a paper called An Account of the Foxglove and Some of Its Medical Uses which has ever since, caused his name to be associated with the discovery of digitalis as opposed to hers.[1]

In reality 'Mother Hutton' was created in 1928 in an illustration by William Meade Prince as part of an advertising campaign by Parke-Davis who marketed Digitalis preparations. There is no mention of a Mother Hutton in Withering's works and no mention of him meeting any old woman directly - he is merely asked to comment on an old woman's receipt (Recipe) by a colleague. Since 1928, Mother Hutton's status has grown from being an image in an advertising poster to an acclaimed Wise Woman, Herbalist, Pharmacist and Medical Practitioner in Shropshire who was cheated out of her true recognition by Dr. Withering's unscrupulous methods. Withering was in fact informed of the Brazen Nose College case by one of his medical colleagues (and the Dean was treated with Digitalis Root not Leaves) . This myth has been created by authors not going back to primary sources but instead copying and then embellishing the work of others. See "Withering and The Foxglove; the making of a myth" by D.M. Krikler Br Heart J 1985 54: 256-257.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Silverthorne, Elizabeth (1997). Women Pioneers in Texas Medicine. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 10, 19–20. ISBN 0-89096-789-X. 
  2. ^ a b Duffin, Jacalyn (2005). Clio in the Clinic: History in Medical Practice. Oxford University Press. p. 194. ISBN 0-19-516127-0. 
  3. ^ Kass-Simon, Gabriele (1993). Women of Science: Righting the Record. Indiana University Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-253-20813-0. 
  4. ^ a b c Bandelin, Fred J. (1986). Our modern medicines: their origins and impact. Woodbine Publishing. p. 152. ISBN 0-912067-03-9.