Early feminist, Lydia E. Pinkham, upheld women’s health with homeopathic remedies using herbal tinctures to relieve menstration and other womanly issues. Her early patent for Vegetable Compound may have been for economic considerations, but it helped many women who could not afford the common medicine of calomel, a mercury compound that was highly toxic and expensive.
Lydia Pinkham was born in 1819 to Quaker anti-slavery parents. Frederick Douglass, fugitive slave and aboilitist was a neighbor during her childhood. Like many women of the early 19th century, Lydia learned to grow, blend, and brew various herbal and root concoctions. Some called her a perveyor of snake oils, but the testamonials show great appreciation of her knowledge of tinctures and oils blended with herbs to create real medicine. Ms. Pinkham began giving her formula to neighbors, but eventually patented her medicine. She continued her quest to help women and their specific health issue, staying with the feminist movement in the 1840’s even though the rest of her family supported the anti-slavery movement.
Not surprisingly today the common medicine, prescriptions, has dangerous side effects that are many times ignored. The herbal solutions often are represented in mainstream medicine and media as “not safe, ” because they are not validated by the FDA. The five herbs contained in Lydia Pinkham's original formula are pleurisy root, black cohosh, life root, feugreek, and unicorn root. They were used by Native American tribes and used for anti-inflammaton and women’s issues. Today, they are used for the same things by herbalists. Also, today her legacy remains as a clinic (run by 4th generation in Salem, Massachusetts), many songs (including Lily the Pink 1968 in United Kingdom), and the family home on the national registry (Lydia E. Pinkham home in Lynn, Massachusetts).
In an old family album from the 1860’s (purchased at auction), I began to look at the photos and discovered that some were really ads. In particular, the photo of Lydia E. Pinkham with a reverse side describing the benefits of the Vegetable Compound. This family thought enough of Ms. Pinkham that they saved her photo in their important family collection of daguerreotypes, tintypes, and cartes de visite.
Lydia Pinkham is an inspiration because she used her knowledge of herbs to make the world a better place. She did not succomb to societal forces, but marched forward for women and homeopathic cures. Good job, Lydia!