Born in Berlin, Ontario in 1842, William Henry Bowman played an integral role in the city of Berlin. His father, Henry Baer Bowman (1805-1874) was a produce merchant and ran his own store in Berlin. His brother, Israel David Bowman, also played an important role in the community and in the House of Refuge. For a look at his story and the work he did in the Poorhouse, please visit his page. William began working as a druggist in the early 1870s in a store on King Street in Kitchener. He married Alice Jane Date in 1866 and they had nine children together. For a more complete look at his story, please visit Waterloo Region Generations.
William Henry began supplying the House with drugs and medicines in the same year as the House opened in 1869. He helped provide some of the furniture and decor, such as lamps, for the House when it was just being established.
At the same time, he was being paid by the local government to provide drugs and medicine to the County Gaol.
The range of payment throughout the years depended on the need for medicine within the Poorhouse. For example, for an amputation that took place in 1889, William was paid $33.34 for medicine and an extra doctor was brought in for the leg amputation of an inmate, Conrad Hebeling. This patient also received an artificial leg.
William worked as a druggist for the House until May 1891 when he was replaced by C.E. Hoffman. William continued to supply the County Gaol with medicine and also worked as a telegrapher in postage and stationery with the County until 1893.
William died a few years later on May 22, 1896 of a sudden heart attack, just a few months before his brother, Israel D. Bowman, died. He left behind his wife and several of his children.
So what was it like being a druggist in the 19th century?
A druggist was also commonly referred to as a chemist, which is what came up interchangeably on records for William, such as the birth certificate for his daughter Grace Winneford.
The occupation of ‘druggist’ began in the 19th century which fused together three similar factions: “apothecaries who wished to continue as dispensers and suppliers of drugs; dispensary assistants who set themselves up as dispensing chemists; and druggists who were formerly members of the pepperers’ section of the Grocers’ Company”.  They mainly worked in small shops with tinctures and jars lining the walls of the store. Their medicines were concocted on site according to the patients symptoms, which is how most ailments were treated at the time. The main patent for drugs and medicines started with a base of either water or alcohol mixed with either freshly ground or dried herbs, animal by-products (such as fat or bones) or minerals (like mercury).  Dosage and frequency was dependent on the druggist’s recommendations for the most part and not the doctors. Often druggists worked in the same regard as they do compared to today where a patient went to a druggist with a prescription from a doctor or they went to a druggist without a prescription and presented their symptoms to the druggist who then would prescribe medicine to them. At the time, there was no regulation of medicine’s or health care that covered the partial or full costs of the prescription, leaving those frequenting a druggist to be of middle and upper class status. For anyone in need of medicine who couldn’t afford the rising costs of medicines, they could either get the concentrated medicine from the druggist and mix it themselves or be committed to a poorhouse or insane asylum to receive the drugs for free.
As William Henry Bowman’s shop wasn’t the only one in Berlin that sold drugs and medicines, there was quite a bit of competition amongst druggists to appeal to more people. They would often sell ‘miracle’ potions to cure common aliments such as balding, anxiety, drug addiction, heart disease, and viral infections. These advertisements were plastered throughout the druggists stores and in the local newspapers.
For more information on druggists, pharmaceutical drugs, and medicine’s from the 19th century, please visit these sites:
Homan, Peter G.. Making Medicines: A Brief History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals, edited by Stuart Anderson, England: Pharmaceutical Press, 2005. Online source.
Lesney, Mark S. “Patents and Potions: Entering the Pharmaceutical Century”, The Pharmaceutical Century: Ten Decades of Drug Discovery, ACS Publications, 2000, Online source.