Lydia Estes Pinkham - February 9, 1819 ~ May 17, 1883

Born in Massachusetts as the tenth of twelve other children belonging to a Quaker couple, Lydia Estes, as she was then known, had a relatively comfortable and well-cared for childhood. When she was sixteen she followed her parents political lead and joined the Female Anti Slavery Society, before at the age of twenty-four, settling down to married life. 

Isaac Pinkham was a widower who worked as a shoe manufacturer, though he went on to try other businesses - and rarely with very much success. Meanwhile, Lydia often made a brew using various natural herbs for general everyday maladies, and especially to alleviate certain specific 'female' complaints such as menstruation pains or the side affects of the menopause. 

For this brew she added to an alcohol base crushed plants such as Life Root, Fenugreek, Unicorn Root, and Black Cohosh - the latter being frequently used by native American Indians, and all being accepted to this day as valuable remedies to alleviate inflammation, or as diuretics, or to ease pelvic congestion and muscle spasms. 

At first, Lydia was happy to give this brew as gifts to family and friends - with glowing testimonials - until her husband's fortunes failed and, in 1875, she started to manufacture it in very much larger quantities, selling it for a dollar a bottle to try and bring some much needed money into the family coffers, and resulting in newspaper advertisements such as the one below -

Thus, Lydia E Pinkham's Vegetable Compound became one of the best known patent medicines that was used in the nineteenth century, going on to gross $300,000 a year at the greatest height of its success. Not only this, but a bi-product was for Lydia to then become a sort of agony aunt when many women customers wrote to her with problems - which Lydia mostly answered - although it was quite a scandal when her answers continued to arrive long after the woman herself was dead: when a picture of her tombstone was publicised to expose the deception. 

Even so, whether Lydia herself, or her daughter in law - Jennie Pinkham - ran the Department of Advice, the fact is that information was sent on a great many personal issues that were then barely ever spoken about. Pamphlets were also printed up presenting all female facts of life through puberty, childbirth and to menopause. As such, Lydia Pinkham was quite a trailblazer when it came to women's health issues, family planning, and general family advice.

The family-owned business finally sold out to Cooper Laboratories in 1968. Even to this very day some of the Pinkham remedies are available to buy in American drug stores. And perhaps it was publicity about that sale in '68 that led a group in Liverpool who called themselves The Scaffold to release a single that became a great hit in the pop charts at number one, and which went by the name of Lily the Pink: The Saviour of the Human Race - being a modern version of a much older song about Lydia's medicinal brew. 

The VV remembers it very well, and may well have a sing-a-long right now ...


  1. I would certainly like to know which one of those ingredients alleviated muscle spasms.

  2. Fantastic piece Essie, I always wondered about the medicinal compound. Hope you don't mind, I didn't watch your clip, I'd never have gotten the tune out my head the rest of the day!