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Lydia Pinkham's Geni Profile

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Lydia Pinkham (Estes)

Birthplace: Lynn,Essex, MA
Death: May 17, 1883 (64)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Estes, II and Rebecca Estes
Wife of Isaac Hacker Pinkham
Mother of Daniel Rogers Pinkham; Caroline Chase Pinkham; Charles Hacker Pinkham; Daniel Rogers Pinkham and William Henry Pinkham
Sister of Hannah Estes; William Estes, Twin; Thomas Estes, Twin; Eunice Estes; Ruth Estes and 6 others
Half sister of Elizabeth Estes and Hannah Estes

Occupation: Sales, Small Business Owner, Real Estate
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Lydia Pinkham

Lydia Estes Pinkham (February 9, 1819 – May 17, 1883) was an iconic concocter and shrewd marketer of a commercially successful herbal-alcoholic "women's tonic" meant to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains.


Lydia Pinkham was born in the manufacturing city of Lynn, Massachusetts, the tenth of the twelve children of William and Rebecca Estes. The Estes were an old Quaker family tracing their ancestry to one William Estes, a Quaker who migrated to America in 1676, and through him to the thirteenth century Italian house of Este. William Estes was originally a shoemaker, but by the time Lydia was born in 1819 he had become wealthy through dealing in real estate and had risen to the status of "gentleman farmer" Lydia was educated at Lynn Academy and worked as a schoolteacher before her marriage in September 1843.

The Esteses were a strongly abolitionist and anti-segregation family. The fugitive slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was a neighbour and a family friend. The Estes household was a gathering place for local and visiting abolitionist leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison. The Estes broke from the Quakers over the slavery issue in the 1830s. Lydia joined the Lynn Female Anti-slavery Society when she was sixteen; in the controversies which divided the abolitionist movement during the 1840s Lydia would support the feminist and moral suasion positions of Nathaniel P. Rogers. Her children would continue in the anti-slavery tradition.

Isaac Pinkham was a 29-year-old shoe manufacturer when he married Lydia in 1843, he would try various business without much success. Lydia gave birth to her first child Charles Hacker Pinkham in 1844, lost her second child to gastroenteritis, and gave birth to her second surviving child Daniel Rogers Pinkham in 1848. A third son, William Pinkham, was born in 1852 and a daughter Aroline Chase Pinkham in 1857. (All the Pinkham children would eventually be involved in the Pinkham medicine business.)

Like many women of her time Lydia Pinkham brewed home remedies, which she continually collected. Her remedy for "female complaints" became very popular among her neighbours to whom she gave it away. One story is that her husband was given the recipe as part payment for a debt,[6] whatever truth may be in this the ingredients of her remedy were generally consistent with the herbal knowledge available to her through such sources as John King's American Dispensary which she is known to have owned and used.[4] In Lydia Pinkham's time and place the reputation of the medical profession was low. Medical fees were too expensive for most Americans to afford except in emergencies, in which case the remedies were more likely to kill than cure. For example a common "medicine" was calomel, in fact not a medicine but a deadly mercurial toxin, and this fact was even at the time sufficiently well known among the sceptical to be the subject of a popular comic song. In these circumstances there is no mystery why many preferred to trust unlicensed "root and herb" practitioners, and to trust women prepared to share their domestic remedies such as Lydia Pinkham.

Isaac Pinkham was financially ruined in the Panic of 1873, he narrowly escaped arrest for debt and his health was permanently broken by the associated stress. The fortunes of the Pinkham family had long been patchy but they now entered on hard times. Lydia sometimes accepted payment for her popular remedy for female complaints. It is reputed to have been her son Daniel who came up with the idea, in 1875 of making a family business of the remedy. Lydia initially made the remedy on her stove before its success enabled production to be transferred to a factory, she answered letters from customers and probably wrote most of the advertising copy. Mass marketed from 1876 on, Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound became one of the best known patent medicines of the 19th century. Descendants of this product are still available today. Lydia's skill was in marketing her product directly to women and her company continued her shrewd marketing tactics after her death. Her own face was on the label and her company was particularly keen on the use of testimonials from grateful women.

Advertising copy urged women to write to Mrs. Pinkham. They did, and they received answers. They continued to write and receive answers for decades after Lydia Pinkham's death. These staff-written answers combined forthright talk about women's medical issues, advice, and, of course, recommendations for her product. In 1905 the Ladies' Home Journal published a photograph of Lydia Pinkham's tombstone and exposed the ruse. The Pinkham company insisted that it had never meant to imply that the letters were being answered by Lydia Pinkham, but by her daughter-in-law, Jennie Pinkham.

Although Pinkham's motives were partly self-serving, many modern-day feminists admire her for distributing information on menstruation and the "facts of life" and consider her to be a crusader for women's health issues in a day when women were poorly served by the medical establishment. In 1922, Lydia's daughter Aroline Chase Pinkham Gove founded the Lydia E. Pinkham Memorial Clinic in Salem, Massachusetts to provide health services to young mothers and their children. The clinic is presumed to be in operation as of 2011 and has been controlled under questionable circumstances since 1990 by Stephen Nathan Doty, a fourth generation descendant of Lydia, who also uses the memorial building as his personal residence. It is designated Site 9 of the Salem Women's Heritage Trail.

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Lydia Pinkham's Timeline

February 9, 1819
Lynn,Essex, MA
December 9, 1844
Age 25
Lynn,Essex, MA
July 7, 1846
Age 27
November 19, 1848
Age 29
December 30, 1852
Age 33
June 17, 1857
Age 38
S. Berwick, ME
May 17, 1883
Age 64