It could cure almost any ‘female ailment’ – even cancer – said the adverts. But Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was, in fact, just a concoction of herbs and alcohol of no proven medicinal merit. That didn’t stop desperate American women from buying bottles of the stuff – and writing to Lydia Pinkham for medical advice.
Why did her customers shun ‘expert’ doctors and opt instead for quack medicines? And why, when Lydia Pinkham finally came in for criticism, did no one question the efficacy of her vegetable compound?
Sarah Stage’s indispensable biography of Lydia Pinkham is Female Complaints.
Other books about the history of medicine (and quackery) include
Eric Jameson The Natural History of Quackery
Stuart Holbrook The Golden Age of Quackery
James Harvey Young The Toadstool Millionaires
Druin Burch Taking the Medicine
Supplemented by Britannica’s biography of Thomas W Dyott and “Was There Really a Dr Robertson?“
Other sources on Lydia Pinkham:
Jean Burton Lydia Pinkham is Her Name
Rebecca Rego Barry “Was Lydia E. Pinkham the Queen of Quackery?“
On how women have been treated by the medical profession see also
Elinor Cleghorn Unwell Women
Caroline Criado Perez Invisible Women
Werner Troesken’s classic article about the economics of snake oil is The Elasticity of Demand With Respect to Product Failures: see also Chris Dillow’s essay about Troesken and politics.