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Lydia Pinkham


Lydia Estes Pinkham (February 9, 1819 – May 17, 1883) was an iconic concocter and shrewd marketer of a commercially highly successful herbal-alcoholic "women's tonic" meant to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains.



A resident of Lynn, Massachusetts, Lydia Pinkham first began developing home remedies after the near bankruptcy of her husband. Mass marketed from 1875 on, Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was one of the best known patent medicines of the 19th century. Descendants of this product are still available today. Lydia's skill was in marketing her product directly to women and her company continued her shrewd marketing tactics after her death. Her own face was on the label and her company was particularly keen on the use of testimonials from grateful women.

Pleurisy root in the traditional formula is diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, and anti-inflammatory. Life root is a traditional uterine tonic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and emmenagogue used for amenorrhea or dysmenorrhea. Fenugreek is vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, tonic, emmenagogue, galactogogue, and hypotensive.[1] Aletris farinosa was used by several Native American tribes for dysmenorrhea, uterine prolapse, pelvic congestion and to improve ovarian function.[2] Black cohosh is an emmenagogue, anti-spasmodic, alterative, nervine, and hypotensive and is used traditionally for menopausal symptoms.[3]

Of the newer additions, motherwort is a nervine, emmenagogue, anti-spasmodic, hepatic, cardiac tonic, and hypotensive. Piscidia erythrina (Jamaican dogwood) is an eclectic remedy that has been found effective for painful spasms, pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea and ovarian pain.[4] Licorice is anti-inflammatory, anti-hepatotoxic, anti-spasmodic and a mild laxative. Gentian is a bitter, sialagogue, hepatic, cholagogue, anthelmintic, and emmenagogue. Dandelion is a potassium-sparing diuretic, hepatic, cholagogue, anti-rheumatic, laxative, tonic, and a bitter.[5]


(It is often suggested by the alternative medicine community that black cohosh (and a purified version, Remifemin) really do provide relief from symptoms of menopause. A report by the Natural Standard, which performs evidence-based reviews of alternative therapeutics, says:

Black cohosh is a popular alternative to prescription hormonal therapy for treatment of menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood problems, perspiration, heart palpitations, and vaginal dryness. Initial human research suggests that black cohosh may improve some of these symptoms for up to six months. However, most studies are not well designed and results are not conclusive.
The report gives the evidence a "B" rating, "good scientific evidence for this use."

In a day when the mainstream treatment of these conditions was sometimes surgical removal of ovaries—with a mortality rate of 40%—it can be argued that at the very least Pinkham's remedy followed the sound medical principle of "first, do no harm."

However many of the ingredients have been traditionally used by a number of unrelated Indian tribes, in Chinese medicine and in western medicine, which gives credence to at least some relief being actively given even if double blind tests have not been done to confirm their usefulness. The persistence of Mrs. Pinkham's compound long after her death is testament to its acceptance by women who sought relief from menstrual and menopausal symptoms. The company continued under family control until the 1930s.[6] Although Lydia Pinkham's company continued increasing profit margins fifty years after her death, eventually the advent of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) caused changes in the formula. The compound is now produced by a pharmaceutical company.

Advertising copies urged women to write to Mrs. Pinkham. They did, and they received answers. They continued to write and receive answers for decades after Lydia Pinkham's death. These staff-written answers combined forthright talk about women's medical issues, good advice, and, of course, recommendations for her product. In 1905 the Ladies' Home Journal published a photograph of Lydia Pinkham's tombstone and exposed the ruse. The Pinkham company insisted that it had never meant to imply that the letters were being answered by Lydia Pinkham, but by her daughter-in-law, Jennie Pinkham.

Although Pinkham's motives were partly self-serving, many modern-day feminists admire her for distributing information on menstruation and the "facts of life," and consider her to be a crusader for women's health issues in a day when women were poorly served by the medical establishment.

In 1922, Lydia's daughter Aroline Chase Pinkham Gove founded the Lydia E. Pinkham Memorial Clinic in Salem, Massachusetts. The clinic, still in operation as of 2004, provides health services to young mothers and their children. It is designated Site 9 of the Salem Women's Heritage Trail.

The original product and its modern descendants

  The original formula for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was:

As of 2004, Numark Laboratories of Edison, New Jersey markets a similar product named "Lydia Pinkham® Herbal Compound." The product is carried by the Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid. drugstore chains. Ingredients listed in this product are:

Time of Your Life Nutraceuticals of St. Petersburg, Florida produces a product named Lydia's Secret for Said to be "based on" the original formula, it has these listed ingredients

  • Black cohosh root (Cimicifuga racemosa)
  • Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Chastetree berry (Vitex agnus-castus)
  • False unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum))
  • Jamaica dogwood bark (Piscidia erthrina)
  • Gentian root (Gentiana lutea)
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B6
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc.

Drinking songs

Drinking songs that consist of numerous verses describing the humorous and ribald invigorating effects of some food or medicine form almost a small genre in themselves. Lydia and her "medicinal compound" are memorialized in the folk songs "The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham," and "Lily the Pink". A sanitized version of Lily the Pink was a number one hit for The Scaffold in the United Kingdom in 1968/69. It should not pass without mention that the reason a humble women's tonic was the subject of such and sundry ribald drinking ballads and an increasing success in the twenties and early thirties was its availability, as a 40-proof patent eye-opener, during Prohibition. As folk songs, they have no definitive versions. Some representative samples will convey their flavor:

The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham

Let us sing of Lydia Pinkham
The benefactress of the human race.
She invented a vegetable compound,
And now all papers print her face.
Mrs. Jones she had no children,
And she loved them very dear.
So she took three bottles of Pinkham's
Now she has twins every year.
Peter Whelan, he was sad
Because he only had one nut
Till he took some of Lydia's compound
Now they grow in clusters 'round his butt.

Lilly the Pink

So we'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the pink the pink the pink
The savior of the human race.
She invented a medicinal compound
Most efficacious in every case.

Here's the story - a little bit gory,
A little bit happy, a little bit sad -
Of Lily the Pink and her medicinal compound
And how it drove her to the bad.

Johnny Hammer had a t-t-terrible s-s-stammer.
He could b-barely speak a word.
So they gave him medicinal compound,
And now he's seen, but never heard.

And Uncle Paul, he was terribly small. He
Was the shortest man in town.
So on his body he rubbed medicinal compound,
And now he's six foot, underground.

Ebenezer thought he was Julius Caesar
So they put him in a home
And then they gave him medicinal compound
Now he's Emperor of Rome.

And Freddie Clinger, the opera singer,
Who could break glasses with his voice they said.
He rubbed his tonsils with medicinal compound,
And now they break glasses over his head.

And Mr. Frears, who had sticky out ears.
And it made him awful shy.
So they gave him medicinal compound,
And now he's learning how to fly.

Brother Tony was notably bony
He would never eat his meals
And so they give him medicinal compound
Now they move him round on wheels

Jennifer Eccles had terrible freckles
All the boys would call her names
So they gave her medicinal compound
And now he joins in all their games

Lily the Pink, she - turned to drink, she -
Filled up with paraffin inside.
And in spite of medicinal compound.
Poor Pink o'Lily died!

Up to heaven her soul ascended.
Oh, the church bells they did ring.
She took with her medicinal compound.
Hark the herald angels sing!


  1. ^ David Hoffman Herbal Medicine Materia Medica
  2. ^ Brinker, F. A comparative review of eclectic female regulators. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, Winter, 1997, Vol. 7, (1), pp. 11-26.
  3. ^ David Hoffman Herbal Medicine Materia Medica
  4. ^ Brinker, F. A comparative review of eclectic female regulators. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, Winter, 1997, Vol. 7, (1), pp. 11-26.
  5. ^ David Hoffman Herbal Medicine Materia Medica
  6. ^,9171,882665,00.html?iid=chix-sphere
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Lydia_Pinkham". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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