In the early 1800s, Louis Joseph Dufilho, Jr. of New Orleans became America’s first licensed pharmacist. During a century in which yellow fever, dysentery, malaria and other tropics-related epidemics were frequent and widespread, Monsieur Dufilho and his staff – as well as other pharmacists who followed in his footsteps – were very busy people, preparing medicines to fight back against these diseases.
Today, Dufilho’s 1823 apothecary shop on Chartres Street in the French Quarter houses the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, or “La Pharmacie Francaise,” as it is known in French, Dufilho’s native tongue. It is widely believed to be the largest and most diverse pharmaceutical collection in a single location in the United States, containing old patent medicines, books, and pharmaceutical equipment dating back as far as the early 1800s.
Among the hundreds of medical artifacts are circa 1860 hand-carved rosewood cabinets stocked with hand-blown apothecary bottles filled with crude drugs. Live leeches, leech jars, bloodletting devices, 19th century trade cards, pharmacopoeias, prescription files, and daily journals are also located in the handsome display cabinets. Civil War enthusiasts will find surgical instruments used during the war. Cosmetics and tools of the apothecary are also on exhibit.
There is also a fascinating exhibit on epidemics that have struck New Orleans over the years, resulting in thousands of casualties, but also resulting in valuable research that helped conquer these dreaded diseases.
The museum also features a re-created 19th century physician’s study and the Rosenthal Spectacle Collection, which illustrates the historical development of spectacles and other antique vision aids from around the world. Additional exhibits include homeopathic remedies, nearly 200-year-old dental instruments, and other medical memorabilia.
Visitors are encouraged to walk through the newly renovated courtyard, which contains a garden of herbs used for medicinal purposes in earlier years, and whose use is being revisited by naturopathic doctors today. The courtyard provides a pastoral, characteristically French Quarter setting for private parties and receptions and is available for rental to large and small groups.