Smith was one of Sedalia’s first pharmacists


Rhonda Chalfant - Contributing Columnist



In 1882, the writer of the History of Pettis County identified East Sedalia by saying, “There is no part of the city more deserving of special mention.” The location of the Missouri Pacific shops and the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas shops, saw mill and lumber yard, a second lumber yard, a number of stores and meat markets, two public schools, and two churches. About 3000 people lived in East Sedalia.

By the late 1890s, the M.K. and T. railroad shops had relocated on South Grand Avenue, but the railroad had built a depot on Third Street in East Sedalia and a hospital on South Hancock Avenue. The number and types of businesses had increased greatly. Many of the businesses involved the construction trades, including carpenters, painters, plasterers, a stair builder, and two lumber yards. Stores included seven grocers, three meat markets, one milk dealer, two bakeries, a dry goods store, and a pharmacy.

The pharmacist, Otis W. Smith, was born in Hannibal, Missouri in 1862, the son of James H. and Carroll A. Harris Smith. The family came to Sedalia in 1874, where James Smith worked for the M.K. and T. Railroad. Otis Smith attended elementary school in Hannibal and began studies at the Sedalia Public Schools when his family moved here. He graduated from Sedalia High School in 1882.

After completing high school, Smith began the study of pharmacy at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. He graduated in 1884. At the time, pharmacy was a developing profession. It arose out of the apothecary shop managed by a slightly trained chemist or physician who experimented and attempted to find treatments for various ailments, the general store or medicine show that sold patent medicines, which often included high amounts of opiates and alcohol, and the few pharmacists who had studied chemistry and understood the materia medica, or written body of knowledge about medicines.

By the late 1800s, state laws regulating pharmacies and the education of pharmacists were enacted, improving the quality of compounding medicines and dispening factory produced medicines. Pharmacies also changed. Their owners added other lucrative products such as tobacco, candy, and soft drinks, and the soda fountain became a popular part of the pharmacy.

According to the Portrait and Biographical Record of Johnson and Pettis Counties, Otis Smith opened his pharmacy at 918 East Third Street following his graduation. Smith married Mattie Dowdall of St. Louis in 1885. The couple had two sons, Otis F. Smith and Wilmer O. Smith.

In 1895, Smith moved his store to 501 South Engineer Avenue. His store was “large and well equipped, with a complete assortment of everything to be found in a first class establishment. His pharmacy was especially popular with the railroad men and their families, many of whom lived nearby. In addition to providing medicines, Smith was the only notary public in East Sedalia.

Smith was active in community affairs, “progressive and energetic,” working for the betterment of the community. He was a Republican and interested in political affairs. He served as the Chancellor Commander of the Knights of Pythias.

Smith kept abreast of the new developments in the field as a member of the Missouri Pharmaceutical Association. The Portrait and Biographical Record noted that his success in his business was “remarkable, and proves beyond doubt that he has chosen an occupation for which nature has fitted him.”

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Rhonda Chalfant

Contributing Columnist

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

Sedalia Democrat

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

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