Can you imagine reading an advertisement for ladies’ tonic that promised a “baby in a bottle”?

Women having trouble conceiving would throw out their ovulation charts and fire their fertility doctors knowing their baby dreams were only a pill away!

Obviously the promise of finding motherhood in a bottle is completely false but the underlying intention of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound encouraged women to buy endless supplies of it. Many women believed the pills made them feel more energetic and better equipped to handle the challenges of being a woman.

And challenges they were, from marriage and sex, to motherhood and healthy aging. This was a tall order for Lydia’s tonic, a compound she developed to help women who experienced illness from menstruation and menopause.

Take a look at WomanScape’s featured article about Lydia and her herbal compound in Lady Liberty and Lily of the Pink to learn more but because this article was so popular, we decided to share a little more about her contribution as well as some of the fun advertisements of the day.

During the Victorian era and into the early twentieth century, Lydia gave women something the medical profession could not: HOPE!  She offered them a natural remedy but wrote and distributed free health manuals that gave women a better understanding of their bodies and more confidence.

Lydia’ tonic also seemed larger than life because it encouraged women to stay away from doctors.

Ironically, this was great advice at the time and women loved that the tonic was “made by, invented by, and prepared by a woman.

Women could rely on Mrs. Pinkham’s Department of Advice, (an all-female letter writing crew) for responding to every letter despite the more than a hundred letters they received each day.This was hugely beneficial since practicing doctors did not need a license. In fact, many methods they did use actually killed people from bacteria transfers during surgery and generally unsafe medical practices.

Because doctors were concerned with protecting a woman’s privacy, any exams related to their sexual reproductive system involved a hand going up her hooped skirt to feel around blindly with the hope of finding a cause and solution.

Often the two most popular treatments given after such an exam were:

  • Placing leeches on the cervix to remove blockages that were responsible for the  absence of menstruation; or
  • Removing ovaries to treat menstrual cramping.

Obviously, Lydia’s recipe was a welcome tonic and the ingredients she used to create the tonic were natural herbs and vegetables. These were steeped and macerated before she combined them in cloth bags and added alcohol to help preserve the mixture.  At first, the  alcohol content was 40 proof but it was reduced to 15% proof after the FDA introduced new rules in the 1950s.

The original recipe of roots and herbs created in Pinkham’s home kitchen contained:

  • black cohosh (treat symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, sedation and anti-inflammatory properties for menstrual cramping);
  • life root
  • unicorn root (thought to give energy to the uterus and lessened the likelihood of miscarriage)
  • pleurisy root (allegedly helped cure prolapsed uterus) and,
  • fenugreek seed (aphrodisiac)

It’s now a popularly accepted practice for practitioners of herbal medicine to use these traditional remedies to alleviate ailments.Lydia was a pioneer businesswoman but everyday women, even some very famous ones like Cher, Jennifer Aniston, and Tina Turner, are avid home herbalists.

Today, there are many easy-to-prepare remedies for simple ailments like a sore throat or a bad headache.

Returning to the simple life of Lydia Pinkham isn’t such a bad idea and books like Women Healers of the World: The Traditions, History, and Geography of Herbal Medicine offer the perfect opportunity for getting started.

Lydia recognized the importance of building a sound body and peaceful place. Thanks to women today, like Jillian Maas Backman’s in her book Beyond the Pews, we can easily explore all kinds of therapies and meditative techniques for holistic health. Jillian shows us how to free the mind from modern-day stressors and tune into our natural voice, ultimately bringing us closer to our best self.

Rose McInerney

Author Rose McInerney

Rose combines her love of all things artfully-designed to connect women to a shared community of learning and a richer, more fulfilled self. As a passionate storyteller, published writer, and international traveler, Rose believes women can build a better world through powerful storytelling.

More posts by Rose McInerney

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