Miss Macpherson, Proprietor of

Haberdashery and local Apothecary

Eugenia MacPherson is quite proud to be the first female proprietor of a general store in the entire state of Illinois.

Miss Eugenia, Proprietor of Haberdashery

     (Miss Eugenia.  Acrylics in Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal. Vintage series.)

Known for her business acumen and no-nonsense approach, Eugenia has taken over the store from her father who is too frail to work.

When Mr. MacPherson realized it was time to retire, there was no one who knew the business like his own Eugenia. She had worked by his side from the tender age of 6. Of course, she had attended the local school where she excelled in numbers, but her mind was always on store-related matters.

So it is that by spring 1888, the store changes hands, and Eugenia is the proud owner of the haberdashery.

Renovations begin 

Under her management, the store is renovated.

The dark interior walls are painted a lovely cream colour and the storefront is removed and replaced with large windows. The effect is to make the store much brighter and more inviting especially to her many female customers.

The new haberdashery

Local women may now buy spools of thread, ribbon, lace, skeins of yarn as well as the newest paper patterns.

In fact, Eugenia is ordering a first sewing machine for Mrs. Miranda Findlay, the local seamstress.

Dispensing Department

This is Eugenia's favourite place for sorting new orders, taking stock of her sales, and making recommendations to women who come into the shop looking for colourful ribbons.

Eugenia has even stocked up on magazines for her female customers such as The Women’s Journal out of Boston.  Of course the Farmers' Almanac continues to be her bestseller.

Apothecary is added in 1890.

Eugenia is ready to expand the haberdashery to include an apothecary.

She sees an opportunity to serve her community and to rid the area of the fly-by-night charlatans who are selling their wares to her neighbours and to area farmers.

Medicines available at the apothecary counter:

Some of the items Eugenia has just received in her first shipment:

Cocaine Toothache Drops – 15 cents


Carter’s Liver Bitters

Old Sachum Bitters (containing alcohol and opium)

Dr. King’s New Discovery for Consumption with morphine and chloroform

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

Eugenia has once more thought of her female customers.

The new store owner reads the label and discovers that Feminine Tonic is purported to be “mildly laxative, diuretic-stomachic, carminative, anti-spasmodic, helpful in the relief of colic and cramps, due to gas or colds”. It contains 20% alcohol.

Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound is described as the “only positive cure and legitimate remedy for the peculiar weaknesses and ailments of women.” It is to be sold for $1.00 a bottle. The main ingredient is opium. Eugenia wonders what specific weaknesses and ailments are cured by this medicine.

items for sale in haberdashery

Eugenia is an astute businesswoman.

She has not fallen prey to the belief of the times that the bitter, awful tasting “natural” medicine will cure her female customers. Miss Eugenia will also carry hundreds of dried herbs known to heal an assortment of ailments. She hopes to advise her customers to try these herbs rather than the dubious potions and syrups she is unpacking for the apothecary.

Certainly, she is wise to do so. Unbeknownst to her, many of the ointments and syrups she has ordered contain arsenic, creosote, kerosene and turpentine, as well as cocaine and morphine.

However, so many townsfolk have been buying from door-to- door salesmen that Eugenia feels she must offer her community what it wants. Eugenia has even stocked the popular snake oil, which is advertised as good for both man and horse!

What else should she order for her customers? 

Would you suggest some items that might be popular with the no-nonsense folks in her community?  Please leave your suggestions in the comment box for this blog post.

(Thanks to Annie Spratt at Unsplash for all photos except for the store photo which is by Jazmin Quaynor, also at Unsplash)

8 Responses

  • Another wonderful story Louise and I loved the photos. I remember my mother buying pure alcohol from our local chemist so she could make Creme de Menthe and Advocat, those were the days of mixed drinks rather than as we do open a bottle of red ?

    • Here too we prefer wine to mixed drinks. But like you, when I was young, mixed drinks were definitely more popular at parties and I can’t remember anyone asking for wine. Wine was served occasionally with a meal. Thanks for stopping by Sally.

  • Oh, what a fun idea! Perhaps Miss MacPherson’s customers will benefit from some lovely lotions/creams for complexions that have been exposed to the harsh sun and for work-roughened hands. Maybe even some delicate scents for those special occasions, or Sunday church attendance. I look forward to hearing all about Miss MacPherson’s endeavors!

    • Yes, definitely! Miss MacPherson might even make her own cream with some of the herbs she has in the store. Or perhaps she will compile a little recipe book for different uses of herbs in making soothing creams. Thank you so much for this idea!

    • Very intriguing! Hopefully Miss MacPherson will be able to advise on the uses of squalane and willow tree tincture. At least there will be no morphine or cocaine in those products! Thank you Ana for your suggestions!

  • How amazing your story is … I’ll bet she kept ciggies in a hiding spot and drank straight scotch when the doors were closed and curtains drawn as she sat to do her books.

    • LOL! Anne, you are too funny! She looks rather straight laced in the portrait but you know, still waters run deep! I agree with you…she surely must have some hidden goodies in her store. Thanks for stopping by and reading my post Anne.

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