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The Remarkable Lydia Pinkham

Lydia Pinkham TapeAlthough you've likely never heard of her, in the 1880s Lydia Pinkham was a household name. Lydia began selling her home-brewed herbal remedy to make ends meet after her wealthy husband went bankrupt, and developed a patent medicine empire. In an age when women were second-class citizens, Lydia Pinkham not only succeeded in a man's world, she became a business magnate. In the field of marketing, she is considered a pioneer and an innovater in marketing to women.

Lydia Pinkham's Tonic Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Tonic was a popular remedy for "female complaints" and the elixer was promised to cure every womanly ailment from menstrual discomfort to infertility to the dreaded prolapses uteri. Advertisements claimed there was "a baby in every bottle," and women of the time, uncomfortable discussing feminine problems with male doctors, turned to Lydia. Many were scandalized when, as required by the new Pure Food and Drug act, it was revealed that the tonic was 20% alcohol. The glass tonic bottles, advertisements, and pamphlets are now interesting collectibles (see some on Ebay).

Today, Lydia Pinkham's herbal compound is again available, although the extravagant promises have been reduced the the modest claim that it will "make you feel better" during menstruation and menopause because it offers "nutritional support". (Whether it is still made using the 40-proof recipe Mr. Pinkham won in a card game, I don't know.)

You surely want to know more about the extraordinary Mrs. Pinkham, who hobnobbed with the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Susan B. Anthony, and was even extolled in a drinking song:

The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham

Just for fun, I have to include it!
Let us sing (let us sing) of Lydia Pinkham
   The benefactress of the human race.
She invented a vegetable compound,
   And now all papers print her face,

O, Mrs. Brown could do no housework,
   O, Mrs. Brown could do no housework,
She took three bottles of Lydia's compound,
   And now there's nothing she will shirk,
                           she will shirk,

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.

Lottie Smyth ne'er had a lover,
   Blotchy pimples caused her plight;
But she took nine bottles of Pinkham's--
   Sweethearts swarm about her each night.

Oh Mrs. Murphy (Oh Mrs. Murphy)
     Was perturbed because she couldn't seem to pee
Till she took some of Lydia's compound
     And now they run a pipeline to the sea!

And Peter Whelan (Peter Whelan)
     He was sad because he only had one nut
Till he took some of Lydia's compound
     And now they grow in clusters 'round his butt.