The items in this online exhibition evoke the stories of American women through the ages.
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"Men Love Peppy Girls" poster, Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company, 1936

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute


In the early 1870s, the patent-medicine entrepreneur Lydia Estes Pinkham developed a mixture of black cohosh, pleurisy root, fenugreek, and other herbs—plus a measure of 40-proof drinking alcohol—and sold it under the name Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. The lasting popularity of Mrs. Pinkham’s “women’s tonic” was due to careful marketing, including advertising posters such as this one. The women who bought it sought not only pep but also relief from menstrual cramps, headache, nervousness, hot flashes, depression, symptoms of menopause, and other female complaints. 

Women were encouraged to write to the company with their health questions, and over the years, a string of “Mrs. Pinkhams” wrote back. Glowing testimonials from satisfied customers were sent to the company headquarters in Massachusetts, and many found their way into ads, thus providing another important facet to Mrs. Pinkham’s marketing. Although patent medicine fell out of favor with American women during the mid-20th century, an FDA-approved version of the Vegetable Compound is still available today, sold by Numark Brands as Lydia Pinkham Herbal Compound. 

Records of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company

Catalog record:


Learn more:

Read "Advertising Motherhood with the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company."

View pamphlets from the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company.

Learn about the Schlesinger Library’s exhibit Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business.

Explore the Library's research guide on women in advertising.

Heather Min