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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)