Lydia Estes Pinkham Wanted To Cure ‘Hysterical Women’ Of Their Menstrual Weaknesses

LYDIA Estes Pinkham made “women’s tonic” to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains.




In 1875,  Lydia Estes Pinkham reaction to straightened times by creating tonics for “all those painful Complaints and Weaknesses so common to our best female population”.

The original recipe for Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound is as follows:

Unicorn Root (Aletris farinosa L.) 8 oz.

Life Root (Senecio aureus L.) 6 oz.

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt.) 6oz.

Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa L.) 6 oz.

Fenugreek Seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) 12 oz.

Alcohol (18%) to make 100 pints

Pinkham was an adept marketeer. Her company produced post cards carrying pictures of esteemed institutions. This card features Leland Stanford Jr. University (now Stanford University).


pinkham cards 2

pinkham cards


Trade cards were left in stores:


pinkham cards trade


Sometimes, she was more subtle. This is the front of another card:


card pinkham front


And the back:

card pinkham back


Pinkham had her face on a range of women-friendly objects, such as sewing kits:



Packaging was in the medicinal fashion:

pinkham blood


pinkham tablets


Her business began in Massachusetts. It soon spread. This advert for her restoratives appeared in the Salt Lake Weekly Herald on December 8, 1881.


ad utah



ad utah 1



This is a little clearer to read:




Lydia cared for all her customers, so much so that she would write replied to their queries. She would continue to write letters from Pinkham HQ long after her death. Such was her dedication:


Dec 12 – 1910

Mrs Rogers

Dear Friend

I never advise an operation for removal of the ovaries except as a last resort after all known remedies have failed.

Painful menstruation is usually caused by congestion of the mouth [of the womb] and leucorrhea is due to inflammation of the neck of the womb, vagina or both. These conditions and ovarian trouble prevent conception.

My Vegetable Compound is excellent for womb and ovarian trouble[,] relieves painful menstruation[,] strengthens the nerves and whole system and in connection with my Santative Wash [a douche powder] cures leucorrhea. My Blood Purifier will cleanse and build up the blood.

Bowels must move daily, if sluggish take my Liver Pills. If they are hard to move it may require with the Pills injections of warm soapy water. Keep skin active by frequent baths. Do not over work.

Take sitz baths two or three times a week. To help relieve trouble use Andersons Vaginal Capsules size two.

Prepare one as per enclosed slip.

Medicate it with with glycerine and Dr Andersons Prescription (which is a powder) and insert it into the vagina. Let it remain twenty four hours with an injection of one teaspoon Paxtine [?] to each quart of hot water first before using my Sanative Wash as directed on [the?] package.

After injection insert another Capsule as before. Use hot foot baths and hot applications to abdomen at time of menses.

Spray throat night and morning [with?] warm water and a little Paxtine [?]

Bathe hands and feet with equal parts alcohol and warm water and rinse with a [? ] to restore the circulation.

Your trouble destroys sexual fervor and desire.

The leucorrheal discharge and disease condition of mouth causes offensive odor of menses.

Yours for health

Mrs. Pinkham



pinkham letter



There would be books:




Women would bond over a Pinkham’s:

home talks



It was good enough for the founder:

pinkham girls



* …the Pinkham Pamphlets were a means for distributing important medical advice about menstruation to women in an era when the standard treatment for vaginal cramps was the removal of the ovaries—a dangerous procedure in the 19th century with a mortality rate of 40 percent—as well as a reflection of 19th-century women’s desires to take care of their own health, rather than leaving it in the hands of male medical practitioners… the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company was a true multi-national corporation with production centers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. “Lydia Pinkham Herbal Compound” is still available for sale in pill and liquid form.






In 1915, Pinkham was working up a hot sweat:

exercise 2 exercise



In the 1920s, Pinkham could help women Stretching Your Dollar.

dollar pinkham



She could cook up a storm in her book Fruits And Candies:

fruits and candies



In 1930, when the pamphlet Come Into The Kitchen was produced, Pinkham was a domestic goddess:


come into the kitchen


She never did cut a record. But others did:

Would you like to support Flashbak?

Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.