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From the pharmacy to the classroom

First Pharmacy School of the Americas was created 165 years ago in Ouro Preto

There was a time, in the first half of the 19th century, when physicians did not enjoy a good reputation amongst the population in the Brazilian hinterland. The apothecaries, heirs to the herb doctors, connoisseurs of plants and sundry spells, were more to the taste of the inhabitants of the provinces. Nor did the parlous state of teaching and the poor qualification of health professionals help to make more efficient the doctors in the province of Minas Gerais, one of the most important in the country. Hence the decision of the Provincial Assembly to approve, on April 4, 1839, two Pharmacy Schools – one in Ouro Preto and another in São João Del Rei – with one important specification: “… in these schools, pharmacy and medical matters, particularly Brazilian ones, will be taught”.

The school in São João Del Rei did not prosper: But the one in Ouro Preto became the first of its kind in the Americas with its teaching disengaged from the medicine school – before it, pharmacy was a mere appendix to the medical courses. The initial organization of the school faced difficulties in the first few years, such as the lack of funds to pay its two professors, approved in a competitive examination, Calixto José Arieira and Manoel José Cabral, who were also owners of pharmacies in the city. Interested in teaching and in forming good professionals, the two worked for many a year without receiving anything from the government. Once the obstacles were overcome, the Pharmacy School became an important teaching center in the 19th century, attracting students from various parts of the country. And it had a democratic nature, uncommon in those days, welcoming Blacks well before the Abolition. In 1891, the German botanist Wilhelm Schwacke, appointed director of the school, arrived in town “It was he who began the researches in the area of systematic botany and started the tradition of periodical excursions by the pupils to regions of Minas Gerais, to survey the flora of the region”, says Victor Vieira de Godoy, a professor at the school and a scholar of its history.

The work resulted in the creation of a herbarium, in 1892, expanded with the collaboration of other botanists, which has today around 32,000 items, an important record of the flora in a region devastated by predatory mining activities. In 1969, the Pharmacy School was incorporated with the Federal University of Ouro Preto, and today it is fighting to build a Pharmacy Memory Center.