Customers were also encouraged to write to them and share their own sufferings with female health and low self-esteem. These letters were then published by the companies as a way of demonstrating real life accounts of where their products had succeeded. This was not an uncommon selling tactic of the era, as many patent medicine firms would publish testimonials to increase sales. However, similar to online reviews of products today, there was scepticism over their credibility. Critics believed that they were written by the companies themselves to increase their sales. To this day historians cannot know the true nature of these testimonials. However to the thousands of women who were reading them, they would have surely provided a comfort. Similar to how in modern day people find relatability within comment sections on social media, these women would have felt less alone with their female health. This interconnectivity of women across the US opened up discussions surrounding the struggles that they faced in society, which was a first in the late nineteenth century.
Whilst there were positive effects of their businesses, they still held on to a traditional role for women and centred a woman’s worth around her ability to be a good mother and wife. Some of Pinkham’s advertising slogans were ‘Tired, Nervous, Mothers…Their Condition Irritates Both Husband and Children.’ Allegedly Pinkham’s vegetable compound would transform the nagging wife and overbearing mother into the domestic goddess that she was supposed to be. These influencers would have also made women feel physically inadequate, as they created this harsh beauty standard that was just as unforgiving as todays. Women were being lectured by Madame Yale on how to ‘reduce flesh’ on the body whilst also ‘gain flesh’ on the hips. Yale’s selling of makeup also contradicted with some of the feminist movements at the time. In one of Madame Yale’s lectures in 1893 she had a run in with Charlotte Smith, a notorious feminist, as the two locked horns over whether make up was progressive. Charlotte’s standpoint on the matter was that make-up hindered feminism as it created this “lady-like” stereotype and she argued that the movement needed “women not ladies.” However, it wasn’t all negative as Madame Yale did also preach on the idea of self-love. She herself was a 45-year-old women at the peak of her business career and she was a firm believer that age was just a number, and she claimed that ‘possession of self-confidence is half the battle won.’
Another downfall of these companies was their lack of inclusivity. The 21st century has seen a huge movement in creating a more inclusive society. However, this is very different to the environment of the late nineteenth century, where classism and racism was prominent in the US. The beauty industry was notorious for displaying levels of racism in its products and advertising. For example, Yale sold products such as ‘complexion bleach’, and ‘hand whitener.’ Pinkham’s company was also seen to be excluding African Americans from their customer demographic. The Vegetable Compound had a large following of black women; however their testimonials and reviews of the products were purposely left out of periodicals out of fear of upsetting the white customers. So whilst these female entrepreneurs created a community of women that were destigmatizing struggles of womanhood, it is important to remember that they were also actively contributing to the racism in early modern America.
So, what happened to these women? Unfortunately as Madame Yale’s business grew so did the fight for the Pure Food and Drug act. Prior to this act, there were no regulations on food and drug companies for disclosing the ingredients in their products. This meant that a lot of patent medicines contained harmful ingredients such as Opium and alcohol. As a result people began to push for an act which would force producers to clearly define what was in their products and also ensure that they were not harmful. Once the act was established in 1906, Madame Yale fell victim. During an inspection in 1908 her products were seized from her and chemically analysed in a lab. Her famous Fruitcura was found to have 16.66% alcohol, with small quantities of plant drugs and charcoal. Her business plummeted and so did her name. She went from being one of the most influential women in America to an unheard-of name in today’s history. On the other hand, Lydia Pinkham’s business survived long after Lydia’s death. Her products passed the inspections, and her company grew well into the twentieth century and the Vegetable Compound is even available to buy today! Ultimately, the influencer lifestyle has outlived both these women and they can take credit for being amongst the first to make it big in the industry.