Delilah W. Pierce

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Delilah W. Pierce Helps A Great Depression Business Make History

On September 12, 1950 Delilah W. Pierce was featured in an article highlighting the achievements of a Washington, DC business called The Ethical Prescription Pharmacy. The article was entitled One Million Prescriptions Under Same Ownership Is Proud Record. According to the article she was the first and one-millionth customer of the business, which began in 1929 during the start of the Great Depression (1929-1939). This is significant because of the following:

• African Americans and women in America were fighting for equal rights and a fair shot at the American dream;

• Drug pharmacies were in the process of trying to do a better job of policing themselves and holding themselves accountable for unethical and (or) careless drug dispensary practices.

It goes without saying that the feature of an educated African American woman in Washington, DC during the early to mid 1900’s was an accomplishment by itself. However, Delilah W. Pierce – educator, artist, curator, and advocate, published in a newspaper with African American businessman, Dr. Lewis Terry, that praised him for serving 1 million customers was an even greater accomplishment – Especially when you think about the interesting history of druggist at the time.

For example, pharmacy in America from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s was thought of as a skilled trade. Pharmacy practitioners were trained as apprentices. According to historical records published on Wiki, prior to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 America didn’t have higher education requirements or legislation protecting its citizens from the usage of “high-alcoholic content patent medicines, [and] soothing syrups for infants with opium derivatives…” Many pharmacies were both the wholesale manufacturer and distributors of often toxic products, while providing consultation to patients without having a medical degree. In a white paper published by Jones and Bartlett Publishers, entitled Evolution of the Profession and Medication Use Systems:

“Many of the patent medicines sold at the time were inefficacious [and] mislabeled.”

As a result, Elixir Sulfanilamide caused more than 100 people to die because of drug poisoning.

When Dr. Lewis Terry and Dr. Leo L. Williams opened The Ethical Prescription Pharmacy in 1929 during the depression they were solely focused on filling prescriptions. According to the Baltimore Afro-American, it was a “new type of business.” Additionally, they were licensed practitioners who graduated from medical school.

According to the article Dr. Terry Lewis gave Delilah W. Pierce an “especially fixed keepsake…in [a] gold leaf bottle.”

Read the article: One Million Prescriptions Under Same Ownership Is Proud Record, published in the Baltimore Afro American on September 12, 1950.

Delilah W. Pierce Inside Ethical Drug Store

Delilah W. Pierce Inside Ethical Drug Store


The Ethical Prescription Pharmacy

The Ethical Prescription Pharmacy
Courtesy: Smithsonian Archives

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