Memories from the Class of 1930

This document written by Sigmund Oppen­hei­mer, Class of 1930, was published on page 6 in the summer​/​fall 1979 issue of the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion newsletter (History: The Class of ’30). Below, it has been adapted for the web from that printed publication.

Sigmund Oppenheimer (1909–1991) was a native San Franciscan and a widely known, respected leader of the San Francisco County Pharmacists Society, the Pharmacists Society of San Francisco, and the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion, from which he received the 1979 Distinguished Alumnus Award. He is the father of Phillip Oppenheimer ’72, a dean of the University of Pacific College of Pharmacy.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the Class of 1930, let me reminisce.

We entered school in August of 1927, and [students in] our class numbered 102. Three years later, 89 graduated—a remarkable number of graduates, considering that in those days, one could take the Board [exam] after five years of registered apprenticeship without attending college. (A number of our classmates did just that.) Classes were held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the majority of the labs in the afternoon. There were only six women in the class, and one was married to another student. (Were those other five women ever popular!) All the students had drug store jobs. I say drug store because in those days so-called “pharmacies” such as Lovotti’s, Bowermans, Dugan’s, Broemmels, Keck’s, and Young-Casselman’s, were few in number. All the rest had soda fountains and numerous sundries. All pharmacists counter-prescribed1, and their pharmacies had in-house, labeled remedies.

But to get back to school days, the dean was Dr. Biddle. He had a dry method of delivery, so his lectures were most difficult to follow. His office door was always open, and he loved to sit and counsel.

The strictest teacher was a Dr. Carey, and every student in his course could recite botanical origins, English and Latin names, uses, doses, and derivatives of all the vegetable and animal drugs listed in the USP (United State Pharmacopeia) and NF (National Formulary). USP X was our bible and cost $4.00. A few in our class owned a Remington’s Principles of Pharmacy (cost $8.00). Pharmaceutical Calculations by Bradley was so easy that every student got an A, and each knew both metric and apothecary measurements and conversions.

Dr. Carey also taught Hygiene and he was “hipped” on the bright lights of Market Street and its vicissitudes2. Each student knew all about arsphenamine, its dosage and formulae, and could even recite it in their sleep. I know it even today; I find myself repeating -diamino-dihydroxy, arsenobenzene hydrochloride.

All students loved dear, old Professor Nish, a nice, elderly gentleman who taught Pharmacy. No one in any of his classes ever received a mark less than a B. Frank Green (also city toxicologist) taught the History of Pharmacy and also Inorganic and Organic Pharmaceutical Chemistry. The man was a walking encyclopedia. Professor Simmons taught Pharmacy Dispensing (and compounding) and made sure that all knew how to make an emulsion. (He wanted to hear it click3.) We made masses; coated pills4 with salol, silver, and gold; manufactured handmade suppositories, glycerin suppositories; and knew very well the use of lycopodium (vegetable sulphur). We spelled sulphur the Latin way and not S-U-L-F-U-R, as it is known today.

Dear Mrs. Gassaway used to help the students in Pharmacy Lab, and no matter how often one failed to achieve a good, finished product, she would encourage a repeat attempt and even frequently ended up doing it herself. In our third year, we had our first introduction to an inspiring teacher, Troy Daniels, destined to become dean. Many a student owed a passing grade in Botany to Dorothy Hammons. She stayed after class, even came in on a Saturday to coach and work with failing neophyte pharmacists. Recent graduate Julian Wells, not much older than the students, was often included in their activities and was the confidant of all their gripes.

Pharmacy shared a building with the dental students; across the street was the new nurses dorm and a handball court adjoined the school. A large, uncultivated field—great for baseball and football games—lay where Moffitt Hospital and Langley Porter Clinic are now.

In the afternoon, when a desultory lecturer was droning on, a window on the side of the lecture hall would slowly open, and students stealthily stepped through onto the fire escape. Away they went. Roll was always called at the beginning of classes, and often only 50% were left at the end of class, as the “escape hatch” was in constant use.

Interfraternity rivalry was intense. The Ropes (Rho Pi Phi), Phi Delta Chi, and Kappa Psi all had fraternity houses, and athletic games were the only things that brought them together. On the eve of graduation, the entire senior class was called into session and addressed by A. Kams­thaeft, president of the Pharmacy Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion. He informed us that the as­so­ci­a­tion was organized in 1882 and invited us to join.

After graduation, held in Berkeley with the rest of the U.C. Berkeley graduates—we were considered part of Berkeley and enjoyed all the privileges of that campus)—it was Board of Pharmacy [exam] study time. One of our classmates worked at Nature’s Herb Co., and his boss, a Dr. Pod­hurst, allowed students to study all the botanicals, oils, chemicals, and drug preparations in his store. He had in stock everything that was every asked during the identification portion of the test.

The board examination consisted of eight parts, took 2.5 days5, and had a most peculiar grading system. A grade of 75 was passing, and after serving one year as an assistant pharmacist, one automatically became a licentiate pharmacist. A score of 65–75 also allowed one to serve as an assistant pharmacist, but one had to retake the board examination, sometimes again and again, until a passing grade of 75 was reached. Very, very few failed, and those few who did took Dr. Swim’s coaching course and always passed.

1930 was the beginning of the Depression, and a good salary for a pharmacist was $175 a month. This consisted of 54 hours a week. Saturday, Sundays, or nighttime work was routine and did not mean overtime or premium pay. By 1933, the average salary was down to $100 a month, and at about that time many of our classmates left pharmacy to pursue activities in more remunerative fields. Those were the good old days!

The class of 1930 was like none other. One student was a professional boxer, and many a day he showed up in class with a black eye or a cut lip. A couple of the students earned their way through school by driving a cab at night and sleeping through class by day. All pharmacy students had access to alcohol.6 The popular drink of that day was 190-proof alcohol mixed with orange water ice. One student was a professional bootlegger. Using alcohol, oak chips, and an electric aging needle, he could make “four-year-old bourbon” overnight. After the repeal of prohibition, he left pharmacy and bought a bar. Until his death, just a few years ago, his bar customers always called him “doc.”

What a far cry from a 1930 student receiving a PhG degree to a present-day student receiving a PharmD.


  1. The pharmacist would listen to a patient’s complaint and recommend (prescribe) a remedy. It should be noted that due to self-imposed or historical pressure from the profession of medicine, this activity was considered unethical. (In rejection of this silliness, many pharmacists counter-prescribed.)
  2. An allusion to the brothels in downtown San Francisco.
  3. When making an emulsion (which, as a minimum, was a mixture of oil, water, and a surface-active agent) in a mortar and pestle, the click was the sound of the mixing pestle occasionally snapping free of the mixture, indicating that the emulsion had achieved proper stiffness.
  4. Although today pills is synonymous with tablets, it is a distinctly different dosage form made by hand by pharmacists who first prepared a mass (a very stiff mixture of drug, filler, and a liquid—usually simple syrup), then sliced and rolled it into little balls called pills. Pharmacists were sometimes called “pill rollers.”
  5. Three of the eight parts were:
    1. A multiple choice, sometimes true/false examination covering mostly pharmacy school subjects, e.g., pharmacology.
    2. A compounding test in which the applicants prepared pills, capsules, emulsions or mixtures of powders.
    3. An identification test of various drugs of animal, plant, or mineral origin, or elixirs and various over-the-counter products.
  6. Of greater significance then because those were the days of prohibition.