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MC 181; M-79

Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company. Records, 1776-1968 (inclusive), 1859-1968 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America


Radcliffe College
June 1974

© 1974 Radcliffe College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 181; M-79
Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Creator: Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company
Title: Records, 1776-1968 (inclusive), 1859-1968 (bulk)
Quantity: 194 boxes, 3 poster rolls, 92 oversize items 425 oversize volumes
Abstract: Correspondence, financial records, pharmacological studies, etc., of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company.

Processing Information:

Processed: June 1973, June 1974

Acquisition Information:

Accession numbers: 1503, 71-153, 73-158
The papers of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company were deposited with the Schlesinger Library by her grandson, Daniel E. Pinkham in 1968 and 1971. Additional papers of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company were deposited with the Schlesinger Library by Hermon Smith in November 1973.

Preferred citation for publication:

Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company. Records, 1776-1968; item description, dates. Collection #, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


The Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company was begun formally in 1873, its major product being Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound. Lydia Estes Pinkham had developed this herbal remedy as a cure for female maladies such as menstrual cramps, headache, "female weakness" and nervousness associated with the menstrual cycle. It was also supposed to be helpful for hot flashes, depression, and other symptoms common during menopause.
Mrs. Pinkham apparently first developed the Vegetable Compound and other products for her own family and neighbors, but always had a genuine concern for women and their special maladies. So, when the economic depression of 1873 dictated the change to commercial production, she entered into it with the hope of helping all women. First out of her kitchen at Lynn, then from a small factory, and eventually from manufacturing centers in Canada and Mexico came the famous Vegetable Compound. By the time Lydia Pinkham died in 1883, her daughter, sons and grandchildren had a rather large operation to manage. Family members kept the company running until 1968 when it was sold to Cooper Laboratories of Connecticut.
Patent medicine figured in both the business history and social history of this country. With medical science, especially in relation to female maladies, not very far advanced, these herbal medicines of Lydia's Pinkham's were often the only remedies available. Mrs. Pinkham's concern for other women left her always ready to try new remedies, and to this end she kept a notebook with her in which she wrote down new ideas for cures. Such a notebook, one of the few items in her hand, is to be found in this collection (General Records: Reference material).
Advertising was of course a necessity in this type of business. It was through advertising that Mrs. Pinkham could let women know there was relief to be found for their complaints. So convincing was this approach to women, by a woman, that testimonial letters poured in daily to the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company. Only a few of the letters themselves are in the collection, but many were used in the advertising literature: quotations from women around the world endorsing the medicine for relief from everything from "falling of the womb" to barrenness. Women continued to write to Mrs. Pinkham even after her death, providing testimonial advertising as the most important advertising technique used by the company. The "Pinkham Pamphlets" incorporated many of these letters and the advice given by Lydia Pinkham (or, later, by advertising men) in response. A complete series of these pamphlets is available in this collection, in various languages.
Lydia's sons and grandsons, along with local advertising men, worked on strenuous advertising campaigns throughout the history of the company and in all parts of the world. The Pinkham trademark is registered as far away as China. Studies of markets, consumers, and media, as well as correspondence, sales reports, and contracts give an idea of their work; and twenty-three boxes of test copy for their ads give a rather comprehensive picture of exactly how and through what media they spread the message.


The financial records date from 1859 (when the Pinkham Compound was sold only privately), but from the company's incorporation in 1873 on are much more complete. They include journals, ledgers, cash books and payroll records, as well as tax statements, invoices, inventories, and freight bills, for the American, Mexican, and Canadian operation. Employee records, and records of the Lougee and Galen Pharmacal Companies (both Pinkham subsidiaries), orders, price lists, and stock records are also included. Anyone interested in the daily operations of a manufacturing company from the late 1800s through the early 1960s will find the financial records immeasurably helpful.
For the researcher interested in more technical or pharmacological information, detailed records of studies on herbs and on female maladies dating from the 1850s on, are available. Some portions of these studies will be closed to researchers for varying periods of time, because names of patients are given (see the final section of this inventory for a specific listing). Some of the studies were done by doctors and medical researchers before the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company was established, but many were done by the company's Research Department later on. Complete records, including photographs, of the manufacturing process and formulae used in Pinkham products are also in the collection, as well as labeling, packaging and shipping records, and there is a large photograph section.
The General Records include newsclippings, correspondence, miscellaneous business records, books and articles written about Lydia Pinkham, and the Litigation section, with documents regarding the monumental court battle over control of the company between Aroline Pinkham Gove and the other Pinkham heirs. Also included in General Records is correspondence regarding the obscenity charges against Pinkham advertising in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1900, the counterfeiting case of the same year, and government standards, inspection, and regulations regarding manufacture and advertising of patent medicine. The Text-Book on Ailments Peculiar to Women, in three languages, is in General Records also. Family Records include some additional insight via newsclippings, scrapbooks, photographs, genealogies, and correspondence between family members.
Finally, one will find oversize material of various sorts: pictures, architects' drawings, phonograph records of radio ads, posters, novelties, and actual samples of Pinkham products. Although there are very few personal papers of Lydia Pinkham's, her devotion to her family, her sympathy with women, her strength, her scientific knowledge, and response to suffering permeate especially the advertising and family records. Certainly, without her such a medicine company may never have started, and may never have drawn increased medical attention to women's illnesses.
Addenda to the Pinkham collection include complete records of the Board of Directors, 1883-1954, and additional Stockholder and Secretarial records; further documents concerning the Gove-Pinkham struggles for control of the Company; papers relating to formula changes, advertising, financial matters, and the Jean Burton biography; and miscellaneous.
Volume 603 and folders 3373-3383 contain records of the Board of Directors (minutes, correspondence, and memoranda). Folders 3373-3375 were removed from two oversize volumes labeled "Board of Directors" and remaining folders were unbound. Folders 3384-3387 contain records of stockholders (minutes, correspondence memoranda). Folder 3388 contains miscellaneous material concerning stockholders and directors, and folder 3389 contains secretarial records.
Summary of Addenda Inventory



Business enterprises
Gove, Aroline Pinkham, 1851-1920
Medical research
Medicines, Patent, Proprietary, etc.
Pinkham family
Pinkham, Lydia Estes, 1819-1883
Pinkham Pamphlets
Text-Book on Ailments Peculiar to Women
Woman - Health and hygiene
Women in business