January 7, 2021 — The plight of a Grafton, North Dakota girl was reported on this day in 1916. The girl, Miss Helga Thompson, had made a devastating mistake that nearly ended in tragedy.

Thompson arrived in Grand Forks from Grafton on January 4 in order to enroll in a commercial course at one of the schools there. She secured a room at the city’s Y.W.C.A. and soon begin to feel ill. Thinking that she needed a laxative, but too modest to request one from the pharmacy, Thompson asked a younger girl at the Y.W.C.A. to pick her up an ‘antiseptic’, which she had been told was another word for laxative.

The pharmacist, when asked for an antiseptic, gave the girl bichloride of mercury tablets. Although the tablets were labeled as ‘Poison’, Thompson took the medication and was removed from her room an hour later after someone had heard her groaning in pain. She was taken to the Deaconess Hospital, where she convalesced for over a week, but made a fortunate recovery. The girl claimed that she thought all medications were labeled as ‘Poison’, so she did not think twice about the warning.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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