"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."
Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was one of the best known and best loved patented medicines of the 19th century. Mrs. Pinkham's brew was specifically directed towards women's problems or, as her booklets state, 'female derangement'.
I have two of these booklets, from about 1917: 'My Lady's Toilet' and 'War-Time Cook and Health Book'. Both are thinly veiled advertisements for milady's grog, Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, consisting chiefly of women's testimonials.
These wretched women drank of the Compound for a litany of complaints:
'A tumor as big as a child's head'
Pain in 'the lower parts'
Hemorrhages of the womb
'gnawing and burning sensation' in the stomach
Inflamation of the ovaries
Ulcers of the womb
hot flashes, cold feet
swollen ovary…'I could not wear a corset'
Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham warned the ladies:
'Excessive ambition leads women to exert themselves beyond their strength. Their natural powers of endurance are over taxed, then become nervous troubles, backaches, headaches and frequently organic troubles.'
But she encouraged them, too:
'The cheerful, light-hearted woman is the joy of a man's life. But how can a woman be cheerful and happy when dragged down by backache, headache, and often on the verge of a nervous breakdown?'
In each case,
'The best reliance should be placed upon that standard medicine for women's ailments, Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound.'
What were the ingredients of a Pinkham cocktail? It was a deft mix of Unicorn Root, Life Root, Black Cohosh, Pleurisy Root and Fenugreek seed – all items, to give Mrs. Pinkham her due, traditionally used for miseries of the gynecological type. In addition, Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was 18% alcohol – making it a sentimental mixer during Prohibition.
Yet, Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham addressed female troubles more forthrightly than most in pre-1920's society would dare to, commenting on the work and stress and pain women must shoulder every day. In her own words,
'Few men realize how common such heroism is.'