244 Susan Reeve Lyon and Practices of Seventeenth Century English Apothecaries

Thursday, May 21, 2009: 8:10 AM
Humphrey (Renaissance Cleveland Hotel)
A. L. Wilson , Oolong Informatics, Morgantown, WV
Susan and William Reeve were apothecaries in London.  After Susan Reeve was widowed, she continued to work as an apothecary with her apprentice.  By 1632 she had remarried although her new husband, William Lyon, was described by the College of Physicians of London (CPL) as "no Artist."   

After 1618 apothecaries were supposed to use recipes from the Pharmacopoea Londinensis, written by the CPL.  Susan Lyon would have compounded these remedies to fill prescriptions of English physicians.  Good laboratory skills were required.  Raw materials were pulverized in a mortar and pestle, and extracted with suitable solvents.  Refluxing was used for some medicines.  Mistress Lyon would have distilled natural products to make remedies like "Aqua absinthii", "Aqua Buglossi", essential oil of cinnamon and distilled chicken soup.  Many lab techniques Susan Lyon used in 1632 are still taught in sophomore organic chemistry labs. 

Physicians also prescribed nostrums containing toxic heavy metals.  Unfortunately, organometallic compounds were the only effective treatments for French pox (syphilis).  These included "Oleum antimonii" and "Mercurius Dulcis".  Universities taught Latin and Greek; they did not teach chemistry, toxicology or early modern botany.  Women were not permitted to attend universities or become members of the CPL. 

Women like Susan Lyon learned to be apothecaries by completing a seven-year apprenticeship.  Seventeenth century apothecaries made medicines from raw materials like herbs, spices and animal products.  Sometimes they even used metal ores.  Apothecaries routinely used many lab skills we still teach in undergraduate chemistry courses.

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