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Lydia Pinkham

AKA Lydia Estes

Born: 9-Feb-1819
Birthplace: Lynn, MA
Died: 17-May-1883
Location of death: Lynn, MA
Cause of death: Stroke
Remains: Buried, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA

Gender: Female
Religion: Quaker
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Herbal supplements for "ladies' problems"

Lydia Pinkham suffered from painful menstruation, and in her kitchen she devised an herbal concoction that lessened her monthly pains. Beginning in about 1865, she brewed large batches of a brown, bitter-tasting mixture of roots, herbs and 18% alcohol and gave it to any woman who requested it. Virtually all these ladies raved about its medicinal properties, and after her husband's financial ruin in the Panic of 1873, Pinkham began charging a nominal fee. In 1876 she patented her recipe as Mrs Lydia E Pinkham's Vegetable Compound.

Drawing on her pre-marriage experience as a political activist and pamphleteer for the abolition of slavery and for women's rights, she wrote numerous pamphlets as effective sales pitches for the product. Her ads promised that the compound would cure "all those painful Complaints and Weaknesses so common to our best female population", including everything from flatulence to "all ovarian troubles", but it was most widely advised for menstrual pain and menopause. Pinkham urged customers to write to her with their medical concerns, and in a time when physicians were generally uncomfortable and unknowledgeable about "women's ailments" and women were discouraged from asking such questions, Pinkham's replies were generally sound and helpful.

She died in 1883, only eight years after first selling her "vegetable compound", and the business was already grossing about $300,000 per year. Labels and pamphlets were published in English, French and Spanish, and the product's popularity continued to grow after her death, becoming a multi-million dollar business and one of the most popular patent medicines of the early 20th century.

The American Medical Association criticized the compound's efficacy, and in her lifetime Pinkham was often condemned as a "snake-oil peddler". Of course, most of her harshest opponents were men, and as Pinkham herself wrote in one of her pamphlets, "Only a woman can understand a woman's ills". Several of her medicine's herbal ingredients are known to have medicinal qualities, and the product -- somewhat reformulated after the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1927 -- is still available at most drug stores.

Father: William Estes (cordwainer and farmer, b. 29-Jan-1768, d. 3-Mar-1848)
Mother: Rebecca Chase Estes (b. 20-Jan-1781, d. 11-Feb-1862)
Sister: Elizabeth Estes (half-sister from father's first marriage, b. 1801)
Sister: Hannah Estes (half-sister from father's first marriage, b. 1805; d. 1823)
Brother: William Estes Jr. (b. 1806; d. 1806)
Brother: Thomas Estes (b. 1806)
Sister: Eunice Estes (b. 1808; d. 1839)
Brother: William Henry Estes (b. 1810)
Sister: Gulielma Maria Estes (b. 1812)
Brother: Springett Penn Estes (b. 1812; d. 1861)
Sister: Ruth Estes (b. 1815)
Brother: Ezra Baker Estes (b. 1817)
Brother: Isaac Hacker Estes (b. 1820)
Sister: Lois Estes (b. 1823; d. 1824)
Husband: Isaac Pinkham (b. 25-Dec-1815, m. 8-Sep-1843, d. 22-Feb-1889, five children)
Son: Charles Hacker Pinkham (President of Pinkham Medicine Company, b. 9-Dec-1844, d. 10-Nov-1900)
Son: Daniel Rogers Pinkham (b. 1847, d. 1849)
Son: Daniel Rogers Pinkham (b. 19-Nov-1849, d. 12-Oct-1881)
Son: William Henry Pinkham (b. 30-Dec-1853, d. 3-Dec-1881)
Daughter: Aroline Chase Pinkham Gove (b. 17-Jun-1857, d. 1940)

Official Website:

Author of books:
Lydia Pinkham's Private Text-book upon Ailments Peculiar to Women (1900)

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