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Edward Parker Read material


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

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The life and career of Edward Parker Read is a blend of fact and fiction, where little is absolutely certain. He marketed himself as a great thinker, planner and all-around businessman in an effort to become a "leading man of his race" (Eureka Perpetual Calendar). It is probable that Read imparted a bit of truth in his claims, which gave him legitimacy. The following biography is sourced from Who's Who of the Colored Race, edited by F.L. Mather, Eureka Perpetual Calendar by Read, and Ancestry, and the names of the institutions, businesses and organizations are taken directly from these articles. A full bibliography is provided at the end of the biography. It will be up to the researcher to determine the accuracy of Read's biography.

Edward Parker Read was born on January 24, 1868 to Alexander F. and Frances C. Read in Keysville, VA. He went to public school and studied under private tutors before obtaining his medical degree from Baltimore University in 1889. He began the practice of medicine in the private hospital and medical school of John Peter Mettauer. He was the first Black man to graduate from the Philadelphia Optical College with a Doctor of Refraction degree in 1899. He also trained at the Virginia Seminary, Hampden-Sydney College. He also claimed to have received an honorary degree from Princeton University of Princeton, Indiana. He married Martha A. Irving (circa 1870 -1907) on July 18, 1888 in Petersburg, Virginia, where Read established the first drugstore operated by a Black man. Read and Martha moved to Philadelphia with her family around 1899 and opened a drugstore in 1901. Martha died of pneumonia in 1907. Read married Alphonsenia "Allie" Smith (1880-1965) of Lawnside, NJ in 1910. Read's business ventures were varied and included but were not limited to several drug-manufacturing companies, printing and publishing houses, charitable foundations, insurance and financial companies. He established the Eclectic Optical Institute and Eureka Sanatorium Association, Inc., developed the towns of Readsville, New Jersey and Readstown, Maryland, and authored several books. He also served as Judge of Small Cause Court in Camden, New Jersey and was named the first Black superintendent of the trolley mail system in Philadelphia. He was convicted in 1920 of being unlawfully engaged in the practice of medicine and surgery and representing himself as a practitioner of medicine and surgery in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Edward Parker Read. On the witness stand, he admitted he was not a graduate of any medical school, nor did he have a license to practice medicine in Pennsylvania. As a result, he could no longer refer to himself as a physician nor could he use it in advertising his products. Read died on April 24, 1944 of pneumonia.


Ancestry Library, 2023.

Mather, Frank Lincoln, editor. Who's Who of the Colored Race: a General Biographical Dictionary of Men and Women of African Descent, vol. 1, Chicago, 1915.

Read, Edward Parker. Eureka Perpetual Calendar: Chronological, Astrological, Maternity, Horoscope Chart, Ready Reference Church, Society, Business, Hotel and Professional Directory of Colored People. Research Publishing Company, circa 1915.

This collection of correspondence, advertisements and financial documents offers a glimpse of the life and career of Edward Read Parker. His career, a creation of his own, blurred the line between fact and fiction. His impressive resume made him one of the "leading men of his race" in business, medicine, and charitable work in the Philadelphia area, according to his self-published Eureka Perpetual Calendar. He was an entrepreneur whose main source of income was from selling cure-alls at his drugstore, located on South Street in Philadelphia. Known at times as the East Indian Remedy Company, Health Products Mart, Read's Eurkea Herb and Drug Co., Herbs of Life Indian Medicine Company, and Powhatan Indian Herb Manufacturing Company, he sold a Divinum Herbarium Mineral Remedium, promoted as "nature's ever-ready universal never-fail speedwell panaceas for human ills." Other advertisements in the collection are for Read's Herb Tonic, which promised to "relieve constipation, nervousness, kidney and bladder conditions;" Live Forever Tonic, a "female remedy compound, that restored healthy action to the most weakened, run-down condition in a short time;" and Quadroplex Mineral Blend Tablets, which made synthetic mineral water to help restart a "stalled engine."

Read appears to have operated his own print shop as there is a broadside printed by the Utility Publishing Agency, which advertises the free printing of church and society cards, Dr. Read's tonics, Read's Encyclopedia Directory for Black businesses and organizations, a "Life Prosperity Chart," and branded "Reinforced Wall Stickless Publicity Fans." The United Beneficial Order Ethiopian, a fraternal society that offered discounts on food and other necessities to its members, is also promoted on this broadside. Read wrote an anthem for this society entitled, "Peace and Goodwill toward Mankind: Ethiopian Anthem," which is contained in the collection.

Also contained within the collection are financial documents, which include cancelled checks, invoices and a receipt. Of particular interest is a life insurance application for Read in which he states his occupation as a "stock salesman." There is a small amount of personal material relating to his wife Allie.

Sold by McBride Rare Books, 2022.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Kristine McGee
Finding Aid Date
2023 March 20
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

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Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

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Drug companies: advertisements and correspondence, 1929-1942.
Box 1 Folder 1
Drug companies: oversized broadsides, 1940, undated.
Drawer 106 Folder 1
Financial documents, 1912-1931.
Box 1 Folder 2
Read, Allie: letters to, 1912-1913.
Box 1 Folder 3
Smith, Josephine: report card, 1911-1912.
Box 1 Folder 4
Turner, Rosie: letter from, 1929.
Box 1 Folder 5
United Beneficial Order Ethiopian anthem, undated.
Box 1 Folder 6
Utility Publicity Agency: broadside, circa 1915.
Box 1 Folder 7

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