Rose Shapira – Pioneer Druggist

By Judy Coy

Before the arrival of the chain drugstores, CVS and Walgreens, San Anselmo was served by a number of independently owned pharmacies. Some of the pharmacies that once operated in San Anselmo include: Shapira’s Pharmacy, T.S. Malone Drugs, George B. Hund’s Poppy Pharmacy, Phelan’s Pharmacy, DeLong’s Pharmacy, Pape Pharmacy, Meagor’s Pharmacy, Jack’s Drug Store, Rossi Bros. Drug Co., and DeMartini’s Rexall Drugs.

logoShapira’s was one of the first drugstores to open. It was owned and managed by a woman, Rose E. Shapira, in a time when women didn’t commonly enter business or the professions.

Rose Shapira was born August 12, 1870 in Russia. At the age of 14 she came to the United States and resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where several of her siblings also lived. She attended business school in Boston where she studied and worked for a time with her brother, a physician, before taking up the study of pharmacy. After attending college in St. Louis, she came to San Francisco in 1903 and graduated in 1905 from the University of California’s College of Pharmacy. She was the only woman in her class and became one of the very few women pharmacists in California.

Rose Shapira authored an article for the San Rafael Independent in 1907 in which she described the difficulties faced by women in her profession. Rose wrote:

Although we were accorded the same privileges as the men, we are not in the same professional standing. Why is this? Are we spared any hard work during the apprenticeship of in the college? When the diplomas are given to us, are we not competent and worthy of them? While attending college we are certainly as industrious as the men and as a general thing we are in better standing. When through with college we are obliged to pass the State examination and at that time we receive no favors nor do we expect any.

When looking for a position we find they are very hard to get and if we are successful the wages are so low that the money received is hardly enough for self support while in some drug stores they would not hire a lady clerk under any circumstances. Why? Because the male customers might not patronize the stores. A male customer as a rule does not think of the profession but rather of the one who is waiting on him. Men will not buy certain kinds of medicine or private supplies from a woman clerk.

Although we were accorded the same privileges as the men, we are not in the same professional standing. Why is this? Are we spared any hard work during the apprenticeship of in the college? When the diplomas are given to us, are we not competent and worthy of them? While attending college we are certainly as industrious as the men and as a general thing we are in better standing. When through with college we are obliged to pass the State examination and at that time we receive no favors nor do we expect any.

She continued on to illustrate her point by describing a job interview:

I made application for a position with Dr. N. I had been recommended to him. He has his office and dispensary together. I found upon entering the waiting room was full of women patients. When I informed the physician what my mission was he said that while my credentials were satisfactory he had many male patients and if they saw a lady was in charge of the dispensary they would never come back.

Sisters, we are living in the twentieth century where women follow every profession. It is our duty to help each other. We can do this by refusing to buy certain medicine and certain articles from the men clerks. Ask persistently for the lady pharmacist and in due time the employers will gradually employ lady clerks to accommodate the lady customers. In drug stores where two or more clerks are employed, one should always be a lady. But so long as the women are indifferent the lady pharmacist will have hard work in getting her recognition.

So we appeal to you sisters for help, the help consists only of asking for the lady pharmacist. When you enter a drug store and seeing a lady in attendance the first question you ask, are you the pharmacist? Sisters you need not be in doubt. A woman cannot be in a drug store without having the right to be there. As stated above our college education and in passing the State Board of Pharmacy are the same as men students. Women Pharmacists are in some instances far superior to men clerks. You all know that women have the ability, brains and capability if she has the opportunity to do it. So far she did a great deal for this world and she is advancing. Thanking you in advance, We are,

A LADY DRUG CLERK

Rose did find employment with the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco and then found the means to open her own business in June 1907 on Ross Avenue in San Anselmo. The Tocsin reported on June 15, 1907 : “Mrs. Rose E. Shapira, a graduate licentiate pharmacist and chemist of Berkeley, is shortly to open a first class drug store at San Anselmo Station.” By 1908, she relocated to the “Junction” into one of three stores at the base of Red Hill.

The stage from San Rafael to Bolinas passed in front of the store and Ross Valley residents waited on Rose’s porch for the stage to arrive. The store was open day and night, and Rose lived there in rooms at the back.. She provided professional advice and friendly counsel, gaining the great respect of her customers. Her business grew steadily and in 1912 she bought the lot across the street at 340 Main Street (today this is 340 Sir Francis Drake and the location of Ming Garden Restaurant). In the spring of 1913 Rose opened for business at the new location. Local architect, Harris Osborn, was the architect for the building.

Shapira Tooth Powder Can

Shapira Tooth Powder Can

In 1917, Rose developed and patented a formula for tooth powder. She formed a partnership with her brother-in-law, Mark Sherwin, a soap manufacturer. They began to manufacture the tooth powder in the back room of the store. Combining the Shapira and Sherwin names, the powder was named Sher-Pira Tooth Powder. Sherpira ToothpowderAdvertisements claimed that Sher-Pira cleaned and whitened teeth, prevented the accumulation of tartar, prevented and treated pyorrhea, and contained nothing that would injure teeth and gums. It was sold in cans and in bulk and was distributed all over the country. San Anselmo resident Dick McLaren recalls helping Miss Shapira can the tooth powder: “As a young boy of 8, I would work for three to fours hours and Miss Shapira would give me a nickel.”

In the early 1920s, Rose, in ill health, retired and the drugstore was operated by Nick Phelan. Around 1923-24, she married Thomas Palmieri who was born in Rome, Italy in 1887. He was 17 years younger than Rose.

In 1925, Rose and Thomas renovated the drugstore and reopened for business. Nick Phelan moved his business to the Cheda Building. Shapira’s was again open day and night with the Palmieri’s residing in rooms at the back of the store. Around 1930 they opened a second drug store in Corte Madera at the corner of Corte Madera Avenue and Redwood Avenue. It, too, was called Shapira’s Pharmacy.

Rose was the first president of the Women Druggists Association and a prominent member of the Women’s Clubs of San Anselmo and Corte Madera. She was also a member of the San Rafael Chapter of the Eastern Star.

On October 25, 1932, at the age of 55, Rose died of a sudden heart attack at her home in San Anselmo. Her obituaries reflected the great esteem in which she was held by her friends in the community. The “beloved” druggist was affectionately known as “The Mother of Marin.” Rose Shapira Palmieri died intestate and her entire estate went to her husband, Thomas Palmieri. She was survived by numerous nieces and nephews in addition to Thomas. In 1934, Thomas sold the San Anselmo pharmacy, excluding the building and the tooth powder business, to Paul H. Pape. Thomas continued to operate the Corte Madera store. Miss Shapira’s building at 340 Sir Francis Drake continued to be a pharmacy for many years. William Meagor bought Pape’s business in 1938 and, in the early 1950s, San Anselmo Pharmacy, a Walgreen agency, occupied the premises.

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