Female Troubles

"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:

Upset stomach
Blind spells
'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
'bearing-down feeling'
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.'

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17 responses to “Female Troubles

  1. Most of us know the song, "Lilly the Pink", but I'd never seen it in its original form. When I was a child I always thought of Lilly as an elephant becuase the tune seemed so circusy (if that's a word).

  2. interesting indeed!

  3. I think I'm on the verge of a blind spell myself…

  4. This is heartening. I love her ingenuity.

  5. As a good business woman I expect she'd think "Can that be bottled at a buck-ninety-five?" though probably in a more ladylike manner.

  6. Anything that will solve any ovarian problems and enable me to lace up my corset should be bottled at any cost and yet would be a bargain at twice the price.

  7. It does sound like a grapefruit 'neath the whalebone stays–ow!

  8. Ulcers of the womb
    Egad! That sounds like the most painful thing ever. Er…how could one tell??

  9. These are fabulous! "But how can a woman be cheerful and happy when dragged down by
    backache, headache, and often on the verge of a nervous breakdown?' Indeed. I'm still trying to figure that one out! Great posting.

  10. Those are the coolest booklets! I love the fashions from back then but sheesh it sounds like it was tough being a woman.

  11. This is so neat. I think it is interesting that all those herbs are things that have long been used for relief of woman problems.

    I found it amazing myself that the most relief I ever got for the ulcer I had was teh old time herbs which were so much beter than thos expensive purple pills.

  12. Jando – I could have added another verse, but it was a little rude, and we at the Cafe are nothing if not descreet.
    Alex – There are certain things that our foremothers never told us.
    WBaby – Mrs. Lydia Pinkham's elixir still exists! Perhaps you could avail yourself of a bottle or two?
    Ellie – It was rough going. And though I love the fashions from then and earlier, 30 years before these books came out it just hurt to look at those poor waists.
    Annie – One of those ingredients (Life Root) was also known as St. John's Wort – a plant used to ease pain for hundreds of years.

  13. Wow. I remember the song 'Lilly the Pink'. Now I know where it came from.This is so cool…fenugreek seeds (and carom seeds) are thought to be uterine cleansers, for lack of a better word. And St. John's Wort is still used to treat depression. I'm still wondering, though, did Mrs. Lydia Pinkham exist? Or was it a male barber physician in disguise?

  14. Neat! These herbals really work for some things. I think the alcohol also helped ease the nerves.She must have been one wealthy woman.Lucy

  15. Somehow I doubt that my own 'female derangements' would be helped by Mrs. Pinkham's brew, but I'd love to have her on a marketing team.

  16. LOL – love the "female derangements" term. God forbid that I couldn't get my corset on!

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