Blogging from A to Z: D is for Dufilho Pharmacy

dThe first licensed pharmacist in the United States was Louis Joseph Dufilho, Jr.  He received his license in 1816, and opened up the first U.S. pharmacy on Chartres Street in New Orleans in 1823.  As was the case with most businesses, the store was on the street level, and living quarters were on the upper two stories.

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Portrait of Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., above his license

Mr. Dufilho compounded all kinds of medications, for humans and animals alike.  As was typical of the time, he also sold a great many patent remedies … which had varying levels of efficacy.  Some of the items you might find for sale are still used today (did you know that leeches are still used in hand surgery?) and some, thankfully, are not … such as opium-soaked tampons to treat menstrual cramps.  He also sold various beauty treatments, some of them safe and some of them not so safe.

IMG_1404One of the most interesting things I learned about old pharmacy customs was about the bottles of colored water in the windows.  They were referred to as show globes, and each color meant something specific.  For example, red represented quarantine, which was not an unusual situation in New Orleans due to yellow fever and other illnesses

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Patent Beauty Treatments

Mr. Dufilho’s pharmacy can still be visited today; it’s the home of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.  The first floor looks pretty much as it would have during Mr. Dufilho’s time; the upper stories show what a doctor’s study would have looked like, as well as a childbirthing room and various special exhibitions.  When I visited in May 2016, there was a fascinating exhibit of spectacles.  If you enjoy oddity museums, as I do, this is one of the best.

(All photos of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum were taken by the author.)

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16 thoughts on “Blogging from A to Z: D is for Dufilho Pharmacy

  1. Wow — “opium-soaked tampons to treat menstrual cramps” made me cringe. Sounds like a cool place, though. I was able to visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine some years ago, and really enjoyed it. More odd probably = more enjoyment! 😉

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    1. I really wish my photo of the tampon box had come out well … because I would definitely have included it! My thought was something along the lines of “You’ll still have cramps; you just won’t give a damn!”

      I tend to take the “the stranger, the better” attitude when it comes to oddity museums. I think it’s a toss-up between the Virginia City Museum of Prostitution and the Albuquerque Museum of Reptiles for “most unusual museum I’ve visited to date.”

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  2. This is a fascinating post. I researched 1860s medicine when writing about my Civil War ancestor. Hard to imagine what the pharmacopoeia was like before modern medicine. Tough times all around to be ill or injured back then.

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  3. It was definitely survival of the fittest. The death rate in the 19th Century was horrendous, especially for women who were perpetually pregnant. Oh, I’m glad I didn’t live then.

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  4. I would love to visit this museum and am fascinated by such things. Plus, New Orleans is on the travel bucket list. Interesting that leeches are still in use. Can’t imagine what an opium-soaked tampon must have felt like. Yikes! Heroin, cocaine and opium were all legal substances in those days, yes?

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    1. Yes, they were absolutely legal — and frequently used in medicine. Cocaine is still used in nasal surgery, believe it or not! Needless to say, it’s carefully controlled. Back in the proverbial day, you could just buy it over the counter.

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