Marla Ahlgrimm | Say Hello To America’s First Pharmacist

Marla AhlgrimmWhen you think of a pharmacist, you likely don’t think of voodoo potions and under-the-counter sales. However, according to Marla Ahlgrimm those two things are part of the history of America’s first pharmacist.

Louis Joseph Dufilho, Jr. was the first person in the United States to receive a pharmacy license. This was in the 1800s in New Orleans, where voodoo was simply an accepted facet of life. According to Marla Ahlgrimm, Dufilho opened up a pharmacy in the famous French Quarter in 1823.

In addition to medically accepted compounds, Dufilho also sold voodoo potions, which he learned how to make from the locals. These were sold to believers as well as the general population off the books and without regulation.

Marla Ahlgrimm says that the pharmacy is available to visit today as a museum, which opened up in the 1950s. Among the exhibits, you’ll find everything from old timey medications and apothecary artifacts to a few more alarming pieces, including bone saws and other medical instruments.

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum also showcases treatments available in the early to mid-19th century, including tampons soaked with belladonna and opium. Marla Ahlgrimm explains this was a primitive method of dealing with menstrual cramps.

Also available during the self-guided tour is a visit to the gardens, which Dufilho and subsequent owners, including a practicing physician, used to grow herbs like sage and wormwood for use in natural remedies.

Marla AhlgrimmMarla Ahlgrimm says that anyone planning to visit New Orleans who also has an interest in the history of modern medicine should plan a visit to this unassuming attraction just down from the Mississippi River. She says that Dufilho’s storefront paved the way for every pharmacist and pharmacy in existence today. And despite its dark past, she and all pharmacists since Dufilho’s time owe this innovator a debt of gratitude for taking the first step toward bringing medicine to the masses.

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