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MC 181; M-79; T-174

Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company. Records of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company, 1776-ca.1985 (inclusive), 1859-1968 (bulk): A Finding Aid

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

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Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.
June 1974

© 1974 Radcliffe College

Updated 2015

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 181; M-79; T-174
Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Creator: Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company
Title: Records of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company, 1776-ca.1985 (inclusive), 1859-1968 (bulk)
Quantity: 179.41 linear ft. (193 file boxes, 1 half file box, 26 cartons, 7 folio boxes, 44 folio+ boxes, 2 oversize boxes, 2 supersize boxes) plus 3 poster rolls, 10 supersize folders, 185 oversize volumes
Location: Collection may be stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, financial records, pharmacological studies, etc., of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company.

Processing Information:

Processed: June 1973, June 1974
Updated and additional materials added: May 2015

Acquisition Information:

Accession numbers: 1503, 71-153, 73-158, 2002-M160, 2007-M155, 2011-M4
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. Several examples of original Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company product packaging were added to the collection between 2002 and 2011.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most of the collection is unrestricted. Series V is closed. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Use Restrictions:

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred citation for publication:

Records of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company, 1776-ca.1985; item description, dates. MC 181, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

HISTORY

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 was 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.

ARRANGEMENT

The collection is arranged in six series:

SCOPE AND CONTENT

The records of the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company document the daily operations of a manufacturing company from the late 1800s into the 1960s. Material includes financial records, advertising records and advertisements, research studies on the effectiveness of specific herbs and the Company's products in general, photographs, correspondence, legal records, pamphlets and a textbook published by the Company, actual products and their packaging, clippings and articles about Lydia Estes Pinkham and the Company, and a small amount of personal family papers. 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. 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 collection is arranged in six series.
Series I, FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1859-1967 (Folders #1-635, Volumes 1o-327ao), includes journals, ledgers, cash books and payroll records, as well as tax statements, invoices, inventories, and freight bills, for the American, Mexican, and Canadian operations of the Company. 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. 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. The series is arranged by type of record.
Series II, ADVERTISING RECORDS, 1873-1968 (Folders #636-2538, Volumes 328o-409o), includes articles about the Pinkham company, reports of ad sales, extensive documentation of the company's newspaper and magazine advertisements, correspondence about advertisements and their costs, and art work used in ads. See also Series IV for oversize art work and advertisements.
Series III, GENERAL RECORDS, 1776-1967 (#2539-3372, Volumes 410o-600o), includes research studies on herbs and products; labeling, packaging, manufacturing, and shipping records; extensive documentation of the legal battle over control of the company between Aroline Pinkham Gove and the other Pinkham heirs; photographic documentation of the manufacturing process and other photographs; newsclippings, correspondence, miscellaneous business records, books and articles written about Lydia Pinkham, pamphlets and a textbook published by the Company, and family records. 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 also in this series. Family Records include some additional insight via newsclippings, scrapbooks, photographs, genealogies, and correspondence between family members.
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 have been closed to researchers for varying periods of time, because names of patients are given (see Series V 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 own Research Department later on.
Series IV, OVERSIZE AND SUPERSIZE ITEMS, 1896-1951, n.d. (#1+ - 93+, 3372a-3372c), contains Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company products and packaging, advertising posters, counter displays, railroad car advertisements, photographs, architectural drawings, audiotapes, and other oversize material. Counter displays (#51+ - 84f+) are colorful advertisements for Pinkham Company products meant to stand on a store counter or in a window, sometimes holding the actual product. These color lithographs are mounted on cardboard, and most have a pop-out cardboard piece on their backs that enables them to stand. Some are quite large, and a few of these are made with attached side panels that were meant to create a standing display. Railroad car cards (#86o - 86f+) are thin cardboard rectangular signs that were manufactured in the 1920s and 1930s to fit in the advertisement windows on railway and subway cars. A number of actual Pinkham Company products are included in this series, sometimes along with their original packaging (#29m - 50m). Some of the small novelties and gifts in this series were offered by the Pinkham Company as an enticement to answer a questionnaire on the back of the Pinkham pamphlets. Other small novelties can be found in Series II (#2505-2528).
When the collection was originally processed in June 1973, all loose material that was too large for a standard-size archival box was listed in this series. Items were numbered sequentially, starting at #1; some numbers refer to one item, some to a folder of material. Most were originally listed with a suffix of "o," a generic "oversize" designation. Over time [?], when some items were more fully described, or broken into multiple descriptive units, "a," "b," and so on were added after the number when multiple items needed to be described. "31ao" is an example of what resulted. In 2015, much of the material in this series was rehoused, and item and folder descriptions were enhanced. During this process, some items were moved to a more appropriate folder size, or were split into multiple folders. Items have now been identified with an alphabetic suffix that corresponds to the four sizes of oversize folders in use at the Schlesinger Library. For example, what had previously been identified as item "25o" became three folders: "25o," "25af+" and "25bf+." Actual products and product packaging, most of which are not actually oversize material, have been given a suffix designation of "m" to identify them as memorabilia. Thus "34o" is now "34m." See also Series VI for two oversize folders of material (#92o-92af+). The series is roughly arranged by type of item; many descriptions begin with a format designation.
Series V, CLOSED ITEMS, 1930-1958 (#c1-c37b, #501a-501c, Vol. 602), includes some research studies from Series III that reveal patient names and have thus been closed. These items are indicated as closed in parentheses in the General Records and Research studies section of the regular inventory. These items are boxed separately at the end of the collection. See also the Financial Records, Miscellaneous section for folders 501a, 501b, 501c, which are also closed items housed in these final boxes.
Series VI, ADDENDA, 1877-1960 (Folders #3373-3459, Volume 603, Oversize folders #92ao-92bf+), includes material donated to the Schlesinger Library after the original collection was organized. Addenda includes 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 of Pinkham; and miscellaneous. This material has been arranged to follow the arrangement of Series I through IV.
Photographs have been digitized and are available online.

CONTAINER LIST

INVENTORY