Home Business and Labor Lydia Pinkham Sells a Vegetable Compound (With a Little Booze In It)

Lydia Pinkham Sells a Vegetable Compound (With a Little Booze In It)

For those who refused to be a plaything of nature

by
6 comments

Of all the patent medicines of the 19th century, Mrs. Lydia Pinkham  Vegetable Compound, made of alcohol and herbs, was perhaps the best known.
lydia_pinkham_card

Aimed at relieving menstrual and menopausal symptoms, its success owed as much to Mrs. Pinkham’s shrewd marketing as it did to its effectiveness. Her kindly face peered out from every package, and she printed booklets of advice for women. She used advertising slogans such as, “A wife can blame herself if she loses love by getting ‘middle age’ skin!” and “Are YOU just a plaything of nature?”

Lydia Pinkham

Lydia E. Pinkham was born in Lynn, Mass., on Feb. 9, 1819, to a well-to-do family.  She married Isaac Pinkham, a shoe manufacturer, in 1843, but the Panic of 1873 ruined him. She began selling her homemade remedy to survive, inviting customers to write to her and ask questions about the facts of life.

Today, Pinkham is credited for discussing women’s health more forthrightly than just about anyone else in her day. Her remedies — well, maybe not so much. The original vegetable compound included pleurisy root, life root, fenugreek, unicorn root and black cohosh. They had anti-spsmodic, anti-inflammatory properties. Some had traditional uses as treatments for dysmenorrhea and restoratives. The vegetable compound also included drinking alcohol, which can alleviate pain and improve the mood.

Doctors, who did little to treat women’s health problems, dismissed the compound as quackery.

The National Institutes of Health conducted a clinical trial of herbal remedies in 2005-06 and found they didn’t work.

The Pinkham Family Empire

The company continued under family control until the 1930s. When the Food and Drug Administration began enforcing the Pure Food Laws, the vegetable compound underwent some changes.

Lydia E. Pinkham died on May 17, 1883 at the age of 64. But women continued to write to her about their health problems. Her staff continued to answer them.

Pinkham’s house in Lynn was then placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Her daughter  also founded the Lydia E. Pinkham Memorial Clinic in Salem, Mass. to provide health services to young mothers and their children.

Lydia Pinkham Memorial Clinic in Salem, Mass.

Designated Site 9 of the Salem Women’s Heritage Trail, it is still in operation.


This story updated in 2023.

Image of Salem clinic: By Dpbsmith at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17741538.

6 comments

Jim Brunelle May 17, 2014 - 10:27 am

My 4x GGFather.

Kim Elaine Gardner May 18, 2014 - 6:05 pm

Know this ???

James Cook Ayer, Sarsaparilla King of Lowell, Mass. - New England Historical Society May 5, 2015 - 1:27 pm

[…] Cook Ayer would become the most successful patent medicine manufacturer of his age. He accumulated one of the great fortunes of the era, an estimated $20 […]

Shelia Wray December 5, 2017 - 10:25 pm

I have a small Lydia E. Pinkham vegetable compound metal tube .Would like to see if anybody has any information on this

Elton John Sings The Praises of 19th-C Quackery Queen, Lydia Pinkham - New England Historical Society July 31, 2018 - 2:40 pm

[…] 1968, a song about a quack medicine became a No. 1 hit in the U.K. nearly a century after Lydia E. Pinkham began mass-marketing the stuff in […]

Comments are closed.