Women Pharmacists



Women Pharmacists


Promotional 17th century Delft reproduction ceramic pill tile produced by the Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. for their Pharmacy Scholarship Program. The front of the tile depicts a woman pharmacist preparing medication for her waiting sick patient. The top of the tile depicts unicorns flanking a small Wellcome coat of arms. The following description is glued to the back of the tile on a piece of paper. "Women have been prominent in pharmacy since earliest history. The Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt (c. 1500 B.C.) mentions that the goddess Tefnut compounded medicines for the great god Ra. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, wrote several books on cosmetics and perfumes, and as her interest in pharmacy developed, wrote several more volumes containing prescriptions for women's diseases. Bas reliefs from ancient Rome show women pharmacists grinding various ingredients to make into dermatological salves and ointments. In Astia (Italy) a noblewoman named Fabiola cared for the sick, compounded medicaments, and even founded a hospital-in 398 A.D.! From the 5th to the 11th centuries the pharmaceutical tradition in any form all but disappeared from Europe. Isolated monks wrote a few practical works, usually about botanicals. By and large, however, healthcare practitioners relied on sorcery, incantations, astrology and folklore. Then around 1150 the Abess Hildegard of Bingen (German) produced two treatises on health and medications entitled "Physica" and "Causes and Cures," which were the first tentative beginnings of a new systematic pharmaceutical literature. The famous medical school of Salerno was the first anywhere to hire a woman professor, Trotula. She wrote a classic work on women's health which was the first of its kind in Europe to advise physicians, pharmacists and patients alike on facts, not magic. It became a household text. By the 14th century licenses were becoming required to practice medicine and pharmacy, and were theoretically available to anyone who could pass the examinations and obtain the apprenticeships required. However, it wasn't until wave after wave of the plague decimated the population of Europe, reducing social fabric to chaos, that women were suddenly able to fill many positions previously occupied by men. Pharmacy was one of the outstanding ones. The scene on this tile shows a woman pharmacist of the early eighteenth century dispensing medicaments to a mother and her child. Note the sanitary, tidy appearance of the shop and the rows of apothecary jars displayed proudly on the pharmacist's shelves. Porcelain pill tiles were used to prepare medications in early apothecary shops. They were awarded to pharmacists upon completion of their formal training and in recognition of their service to the community. In keeping with this fine tradition, Burroughs Wellcome has commissioned craftsmen in Delft, Holland, to create a series of handmade tiles. This limited edition is part of our Pharmacy Scholarship Program. (BW-Y02896)."



Tiles copyrighted by Burroughs, Wellcome & Co.







6 in x 6 in

Temporal Coverage

Original Format


Burroughs, Wellcome & Co., “Women Pharmacists,” American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Digital Collection, accessed March 2, 2024, https://aihp.omeka.net/items/show/183.