Who was the original Lily the Pink?

Lydia Pinkham You might not have heard of this lady but she is seen as an  outstanding woman by two different groups of people. One are women who recognise the effects she had on improving the lives of many women. The other are business people who  recognise that she developed some new ways of encouraging people to use her products.

She was born as Lydia Este in 1819. She was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. She married Isaac Pinkham in 1843. Isaac tried hard to support his family but by 1875, his real estate business was not doing well due to the prevailing economic situation and the family had to do something to avoid bankruptcy. It was then that Lydia’s son came up with the idea of selling the herbal mixture that his mother had been making and giving away to neighbours. The business was set up in his name as everyone else in the family had so many debts.

Mrs. Pinkham’s herbal compound became of the best known patent medicines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was sold as a remedy for “women’s ailments”. Many of which today would be relieved by hormonal treatments. However when it was first available such things were not available and the main treatment for such problems was surgical removal of the ovaries, something that was often recommended by doctors. This idea would not be well-received today but it was worse then as at that time 4 in every 10 women who had that operation died, in large part due to the unhygienic conditions of the hospitals. In more recent times, medical research seems to suggest that some of the herbs in this herbal mixture would have genuinely improved the conditions that it was supposed to treat.

It was sold as Lily the Pink’s Vegetable Compound and was seen to be a health-giving mixture even though it contained nearly 20 per cent alcohol to act as a solvent. This was despite Mrs. Pinkham being a member of the Temperance Movement. Of course this did not exactly hinder sales during the era of prohibition in the USA when it was one of the few legal ways of obtaining alcohol. It was also why it was the topic of a drinking song of the period. This song became the basis for a song that was taken to the top of the pop charts in 1968 by a group called Scaffold. The version sung by members of the Tank Regiment in the 1940s and some of the lyrics on the internet would shock someone who attended a presbyterian church like Mrs Pinkham.

It was not just the alcohol content or that it provided an alternative to unpleasant medical treatment that helped to sell this product it was also that they used some very effective marketing techniques. Lydia Pinkham’s face became as well known as many logos are today. She provided a way that ladies could get help on delicate issues at a time when medical help for such issues was hard to find and became trusted source of help to many ladies. The adverts used the good reports they had received about how this “medicine” had helped people. By the time she died Lydia Pinkham died she had become the first female millionaire and at its peak, some 50 years after her death the family business was earning over $3 million dollars a year.

Today Lydia Pinkham is not only seen as a role model by entrepreneurs but she is also respected by the women’s movement for the way that she provided practical advice to women in need while creating employment for others.

The song about Lily the Pink

The story of Lily the Pink became the basis of a drinking song in the 1920’s. This song was the basis of a pop song from the 1960s. Here is a video of the original group who took it to number one in the pop charts that I found on YouTube.

©
2008 Lily the
Pink

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