DESCRIPTION: A bawdy and scatological testimonial in multiple stanzas for the restorative powers of Mrs. Pinkham's patent medicine for women.
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (Sandburg)
KEYWORDS: bawdy scatological sex drugs medicine
FOUND IN: US(So)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Randolph-Legman I, p. 485-489, "Lydia Pinkham" (5 texts, 1 tune)
Sandburg, p. 210, "Lydia Pinkham" (1 text, 1 tune, expurgated)
Shay-Barroom, pp. 46-47, "The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham" (2 texts, 1 tune)
cf. "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" (tune)
NOTES: This is sung to the Protestant hymn tune "I Will Sing of My Redeemer," Legman notes in his extensive annotations in Randolph-Legman I. - EC
Unlike most patent remedies found in the nineteenth century, Lydia Estes Pinkham's concoction was not originally designed simply to lure the public. DAB, Volume VII, p. 624, says that she was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, where she spent almost her entire life. She was one of ten children of her father William Estes and his second wife Rebecca Chase. She was a schoolteacher who became involved in many liberal causes, notably in the fight against slavery. But she also favored women's rights and temperance -- as well as oddities such as Swedenborgianism, phrenology, and spiritualism.
She married Isaac Pinkham in 1843 and settled down to bear four sons (one of whom died young) and a daughter.
Schwarcz, pp. 218-222, reports that she was originally just a local woman who devised a vegetable brew to deal with "female complaints." It was not until her husband lost his money in the Panic of 1873 that Lydia (1819-1883) started trying to sell the glop.
Schwartz lists the compound's ingredients as licorice, chamomile. pleurisy root, Jamaica dogwood, life plant, dandelion root, and black cohosh. Plus, of course, alcohol. Interestingly, there is some evidence that black cohosh actually can ease some of the symptoms associated with menopause. But the main "active ingredient" was doubtless the booze.
DAB, Volume VII, p. 624, says that she made "Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound" available to the people of Lynn in 1875. Her children set about hawking it -- one of them, Daniel, travelling as far as New York and picking up financial support from outsiders. In 1876, the compound was patented; after that, the family advertised it in newspapers. In 1879, her portrait began to appear on the packaging.
According to Schwarcz, she was successful enough to become the first millionairess in America, although the DAB entry does not mention this.
Schwarcz notes that "Lydia Pinkham's" is actually still sold. But it's been reformulated, and is now apparently mostly a vitamin mix. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- DAB: Dumas Malone, editor, Dictionary of American Biography, originally published in 20 volumes plus later supplementary volumes; I use the 1961 Charles Scribner's Sons edition with minor corrections which combined the original 20 volumes into 10
- Schwarcz: Joe Schwarcz, That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles, ECW press, 2002
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