View Full Version : women apothecaries during the civil war

05-28-2007, 07:58 PM
hello ,

i am hoping someone can help me with this . I am looking for information about women apothecaries during the civil war . If anyone can point me in the direction of someone or a site that could help me with this would be great .

thank you

05-29-2007, 03:50 AM
Hi! No success over on the SoCWS posting? This is probably the better place to ask.

05-29-2007, 07:31 AM
Virginia Penny's Employments of Women, 1863, is always a good place to start for this kind of thing. You can start here http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=moa;cc=moa;q1=apothecar%2A;q2=drug%2A;op2=or ;op3=and;rgn=works;cite1=penny;cite1restrict=autho r;idno=AEB1163.0001.001;didno=AEB1163.0001.001;vie w=image;seq=0139
and read forward, or also use the "Search this text" function.

Note carefully though, the difference between things she proposes could be done but apparently weren't, and things that were done. It appears that walking into a drugstore and finding a woman filling a prescription would be almost unknown.

"I was told that no drug broker and no retail druggist employs women." One druggist explained, "drug stores kept by ladies, or where they are employed to dispense, would not be patronized by physicians. He said, if any trouble should occur, from want of knowledge or skill in putting up medicines, and the case was brought into court, the man that employed female dispensers would be punished. Many persons, he says, come to druggists for medical and surgical advice, that could not, and would not think of consulting a lady, even if she were competent to give advice."

Echoing the same sentiments, "A druggist of New York writes: 'There is but one college of pharmacy in the city of New York, where instruction would be given equally to ladies, if they desired it; athough, as yet, none have ever presented themselves. Ladies have never been employed, to my knowledge, as druggists' clerks in this city, or elsewhere in the United States... In one instance, it was attempted in Philadephia a few years since, by a leading druggist, with a view of economy, I believe; and although he professed to have engaged the ladies merely as saleswomen in the fancy goods department, they nevertheless were allowed to dispense medicines. It so happened that one of these made a mistake, in giving the wrong medicine, which resulted in the death of the patient, a lady of wealth and wide acquaintance, and the consequence was the ruin and destruction fo the whole business of the druggist.' "

Ironically, "A lady physician writes: 'I do not know whether women are anywhere employed as druggists' clerks... I am not aware of any druggist here who would take a pupil, but I have no doubt one could be found.' "

But stepping into a manufactory and finding women helping make and package patent or wholesale medicines would not be uncommon. Penny gives several examples on p. 117, with descriptions of their work and typical wages.

Of course, that's all in reference to commercial civilian life. I don't know how far women strayed into the apothecary end of the work at military hospitals, though based on the above, I'm guessing there was strong prejudice against it.

And there's also the backwoods informal midwife/"doctor" who operated outside of the medical establishment and served as an "apothecary" in the sense that she knew what local plants to dose folks with through a combination of folklore and medical tradition, and found and mixed them herself.

Hank Trent

05-29-2007, 03:18 PM
thanks hank ,

I know that there are some in the re-enacting community that portray women doctors , but i am really looking for a real position . I have the remedies with herbs and i have looked into the midwife thing but I'm not sure what to do . I would love to be a field doctor , but that was not something a women would do . any other suggestions ?

05-29-2007, 05:15 PM
I know that there are some in the re-enacting community that portray women doctors , but i am really looking for a real position . I have the remedies with herbs and i have looked into the midwife thing but I'm not sure what to do . I would love to be a field doctor , but that was not something a women would do . any other suggestions ?

That's a tough question, and depends also on the kind of reenactments you attend. There were lots of official women's roles--nurses, Sanitary and Christian Commission workers, the name escapes me now but men or women who represented their state and saw to the needs of their state's soldiers, state agents, maybe? And of course, cooks and laundresses hired by hospitals or forts, and less officially, local women who peddled goods to soldiers or whose homes became hospitals or headquarters or whose fields became battlefields. In Lynchburg VA there was a Ladies' Relief Hospital, run by women for sick and wounded soldiers.

The problem is that very few of those positions put women at the time and place being portrayed at a typical battle reenactment. A few days later, a few miles away, yes. And even at a battle reenactment, if your raison d'etre revolves around caring for the overwhelming numbers of wounded, there's still the problem of what to do outside of the half-hour or so that the wounded will volunteer to remain wounded and be treated.

So generally, for women to be present at a battle in large numbers, something has to give, unless the battle was fought in a town. Either time and space are compressed, an unusual impression is expanded to be more common than it was, or whatever. And it's up to the event to decide where and how to give the slack, which might range from "Sorry, no women were present, so none are coming," to "any impression that existed between 1861 and 1865, anywhere, in any situation, is fine."

As a civilian, I like being part of a larger consistent whole if possible, rather than being isolated out of space and time, but the only solution I've found is not to have a specific impression, but just try to fit with what the event needs or what was there historically. That unfortunately means trying to put together something different each time, which means the impression is never as good as if it was one's full-time impression, but it does usually fit the specific time and place better than bringing the same generic impression to each event.

Recently I've been a contract worker at a fort (carpenter, but women could be cooks and laundresses), a nitre bureau employee in a city where there was a nitre works at the time of the battle, a criminal where a criminal was necessary for the event, and an out-of-work canal worker in a canal town. Research meant starting over pretty much from scratch each time. :(

The other way to go would be to put together a really good stand-alone impression, that would do well as a slightly out-of-time-and-place impression, like being a Sanitary Commission worker with a Sanitary Commission group, and find events that are arranged where it doesn't matter if the Sanitary Commission was five miles away or arrived a couple days later, and interpret the Sanitary Commission (or whatever you choose) to the public as a stand-alone thing.

Not any real answers, just some thoughts.

Hank Trent