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