pinkham ad cropped

Wow! Why didn’t I know about Lydia Pinkham’s Remedy when I needed it a few years ago for my “woman’s ills”? Perhaps because it isn’t as effective since they dropped the alcohol content from 20%. Today, you might as well take a swig of whiskey for the same curative powers which Lydia Pinkham offered millions of women in the late 1800s and into the 20th century. For the brave, the modified formulation is still available at Walmart and is even an Amazon Prime product.

The study of medicine is so far a field of anything I would have ever imagined in my own life. I am drawn more to the humanities than the sciences, despite my degree in psychology. I even made sure to avoid the psycho-biology classes. Yet now, in researching for my novel to provide authenticity, I have found fascinating tidbits which influenced generations of women, and men, in the name of medicine.

How would a Doctor of the early 1900s react to their patients who swear by Lydia Pinkham’s? Especially a woman doctor when she opens a newspaper or Ladies Home Journal and sees advertisements proclaiming 500,000 women can’t be wrong. Or, condemnations of the drugs she may prescribe which have been researched for effectiveness: The medicine the druggist offers you is only an experiment. All he knows about it is that he can make a little more profit on it than he can on what you want. Demand the medicine you know is all right. Or, an assertion: It will cure entirely the worst form of Female Complaints, and is particularly adapted to the Change of Life.

While the research of Lydia Pinkham’s provided some chuckles – you had to laugh at the advertisements – and silent thank yous that menopausal women are no longer described as hysterical or worthy of commitment to insane asylums, the other topic I researched this weekend is much darker. The Eugenics movement in the US began in the 1880s and continued with alarming levels of support until WWII when the atrocities of the Holocaust were revealed. During this time, over 30 states passed compulsory sterilization laws which led to the sterilizations of over 60,000 disabled individuals. So disturbing.

My Main Character, as a student of Sympathy and Science, would be troubled by the Eugenics movement and find some solace that the Governor of Pennsylvania vetoed the first presentation of a bill in 1905, “An Act for the Prevention of Idiocy”. Unfortunately, there were always some who disregarded the laws.

More research into medical and social / public health issues to come. At this point, however, I need to take a break from these heavy, depressing topics. I think it’s time for a game of tennis, another subject I know nothing about.

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