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Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures & Medical Prescriptions

Image: Saturday Night, Craigville, Minnesota. Courtesy Library of Congress



Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, First Floor Special Collections and Archives Reading Room
509 N. 12th St., Richmond, Va. 23298


Mind-altering drugs have been used throughout the history of the United States. While some remain socially acceptable, others are outlawed because of their toxic, and intoxicating, characteristics. These classifications have shifted at different times in history and will continue to change. The transformation of a particular drug, from an acceptable indulgence to a bad habit, or vice versa, is closely tied to the intentions of those endorsing its use and their status in society. This exhibition explores some of the factors that have shaped the changing definition of some of our most potent drugs from medical miracle to social menace.

The exhibit is free and open to all during normal library hours. Parking is available for a fee in the 8th Street parking deck. If special accommodations are needed, please contact Thelma Mack, research and education coordinator, at (804) 828-0017.

In addition to the exhibit, VCU Libraries Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences will host ‘Doc’ Al Schalow (VCU School of Pharmacy ‘61) and his traveling Medicine Wagon Show. Travel back in time with the medicine showman as he uses humor, magic, and storytelling to recount the cure-alls and patent medicines that were prevelantly sold across the United States in the 19th Century. During this event the audience is guided through the historical evolution of government controls on medicine and brought up to date with current fads and trends. This event will feature information on the history of patient cures that included alcohol, opium, cocaine and other indoxicing medicinals. ‘Doc’ Schalow will also present a number of authentic bottles used to peddle these cures. Register for the March 28 event. 


Official Website

Image: Saturday Night, Craigville, Minnesota. Courtesy Library of Congress


VCU Libraries

James Branch Cabell Library Monroe Park Campus
901 Park Ave., Box 842033
Richmond, VA 23284-2033
Toll-free: (844) 352-7399
(804) 828-1111
All Libraries
Tompkins-McCaw Library MCV Campus
509 N. 12th St., Box 980582
Richmond, VA 23298-0582
Toll-free: (844) 352-7399
(804) 828-0636

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