Of all the patent medicines of the 19th century, Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, made of alcohol and herbs, was perhaps the best known.
Aimed at relieving menstrual and menopausal symptoms, its success was due as much to Mrs. Pinkham’s shrewd marketing as it was 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 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 he was ruined in the Panic of 1873. She began selling her homemade remedy to survive, inviting customers to write to her and ask questions about the facts of life. Today, Lydia E. Pinkham is credited for discussing women’s troubles more forthrightly than just about anyone else in her day.
Lydia E. Pinkham died on May 17, 1883 at the age of 64. Her house in Lynn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Her daughter founded the Lydia E. Pinkham Memorial Clinic in Salem, Mass. to provide health services to young mothers and their children. Designated Site 9 of the Salem Women’s Heritage Trail, it is still in operation.