Here’s an interesting bit of history that proves that trolls existed long before the internet and social media. A 100-year-old ad featuring a woman who was selling her homemade remedies shows that even back then people were rude as hell. You would think it would have been a kinder, gentler time, but based on the comments about the ad back then, you would be totally wrong.
Lydia Pinkham was an abolitionist, a mother, and a Quaker from Massachusetts who burst onto the scene in the 19th century when she sold her homemade remedies for “female complaints.” The advertising campaigns and packaging for her Vegetable Compound, promising to cure an assortment of ailments, featured her face, with her hair worn up in a bun, and wearing a frilly collar.
The haters were in force even back then, but they didn’t have the modern day keyboard courage that we see so many trolls utilize today. No, they did it the old fashioned way, writing letters. In an 1880 letter from T.G. Scott to Pinkham, he wrote: “Madam, If it is necessary that you should parade your portrait in every country paper in the United States, can’t you, in mercy to the nation, have a new one taken once in a while? Do your hair a little differently, say? Have a turn to your head and look solemn? Anything to get rid of that cast iron smile!”
No worries, it got worse from there, as the letter continued: “You ought to feel solemn in any way that your face pervades the mind of the nation like a nightmare and that you have become a bug bear to innocent children. Also, that portrait is destroying the circulation of the newspapers. I have stopped my county paper to get rid of it and I know of several flourishing papers that have been absolutely killed by it.”
He concluded: “I think my words express the heartfelt desire of a long suffering people and that I am sustained in this request by the strongest public sentiment ever brought to bear on any subject!”
Pinkham didn’t just get the hate in letter form, either, as college choir and drinking songs included mention of the entrepreneur. One lyric noted: “There’s a face that haunts me ever, there are eyes mine always meet/as I read the morning paper, as I walk the crowded street.”
Pinkham still managed to make a hefty income from her products and lived comfortably, which was well timed after her husband suffered financial misfortune.
She created herbal remedies, including one that female friends and relatives relied on for menstrual issues, with ingredients including black cohosh, life root, unicorn root, pleurisy root, fenugreek seed and alcohol. In 1873, she founded the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company and began marketing Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.
Using her image, despite the trolling she endured, was a stroke of genius. Since women were rarely featured in advertising in the 19th century, her ads drew attention and she became the most recognized female face in the country.