Women in early pharmacy

By Matthew Johnston, RPS Museum

“There is an impression that women are something new in pharmacy, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

These were Jean Kennedy Irvine’s words on her election as the first woman President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 1947.

Medieval monasteries

In her speech, Jean also mentioned the early beginnings of community pharmacy in the medieval monasteries, where residents would grow medicinal plants to treat themselves and local people.

One of the oldest items on display in the RPS Museum is a stone mortar from a Spanish nunnery (AD 410-1500), used for preparing medicines. The Hanbury Collection of the RPS Library also contains a later copy of the ‘Physica’, a work by St Hildegard, Abbess of Bingen. Originally written in the 1100s, it outlines the medicinal properties of various drugs obtained from the natural world. Read more Women in early pharmacy

World AIDS Day 2018: When a friend has AIDS

by John Betts, RPS Museum, Keeper of the Museum Collections

The history of pharmacy is usually thought of in terms of drug development and its ability to transform patient’s lives. Rarely do museums have an object in their collection that communicates what it was like to live with a life-threatening illness before there were any effective treatments.

The RPS Museum has a leaflet published by GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) in 1984, at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which does just that.

When A Friend Has AIDS provides advice to the friends of people living with AIDS on how they can offer them support.

Written with a great deal of compassion, it gives a moving insight into what living with HIV/AIDS was like at this time, from both the patient’s and friend’s point of view. Reading it never fails to move me to tears. Read more World AIDS Day 2018: When a friend has AIDS

Edward Frank Harrison – a pharmacy war hero

by Matthew Johnston, RPS Museum

If asked to list influential figures in the history of the First World War, few would probably know the name of Edward Frank Harrison. But it was Harrison who was responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers thanks to his work to combat the threat of chemical warfare.

Born in 1869, Harrison began his career as an apprentice pharmacist in North London aged 14. He was awarded the Pharmaceutical Society’s Jacob Bell Scholarship and won prizes in the subjects of chemistry, botany, and materia medica. He passed both the Minor and Major examinations at the Society’s School of Pharmacy and registered as a pharmacist in 1891. Read more Edward Frank Harrison – a pharmacy war hero

The history of cosmetics – unwrapped

By Matthew Johnston, RPS Museum

‘Removes blotches,’ ‘clears the complexion,’ ‘removes freckles, pimples, and all spots.’

Turn on your TV or open a magazine and you might see these words advertising the latest beauty product, but in fact they come from the Roman writer Pliny the Elder’s description of a substance called crocodilea – the dung or intestinal contents of a crocodile.

As well as its uses in skincare it was recommended as an eye salve, taken internally for epilepsy, and as a pessary for stimulating menstrual flow.

Partnerships
In 2016 the RPS Museum became a partner in a research project on ancient skincare, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Science in Culture strand. Now, as the study reaches its conclusion, the team – including researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Glasgow and Keele – are going to showcase some of the findings in a series of events at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society on 15th and 16th  February. Read more The history of cosmetics – unwrapped

Behind the scenes: BBC filming ‘Addicted to pleasure’ at the RPS Museum

By John Betts, RPS Museum Officer

Earlier this year a BBC production team spent 2 days filming our current controlled drugs display at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, for the ‘Addicted to Pleasure’ series. Read more Behind the scenes: BBC filming ‘Addicted to pleasure’ at the RPS Museum

The fascinating relationship between pharmacy and smoking

By John Betts, Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum Officer

Given the scientific knowledge we now have about the harmful effects of smoking on health it seems unbelievable that in the past medical professionals viewed smoking as an effective and legitimate medicinal treatment. One of my father’s aunts, who regularly suffered from coughs and sore throats, was told by her doctor in the 1930s to take up smoking to toughen up her throat!

The fascinating, and at times contradictory, relationship between pharmacy and smoking inspired me to curate new Developing Treatments exhibition ‘Going Up in Smoke’ – Smoking and Pharmacy. Read more The fascinating relationship between pharmacy and smoking