A Danish woman was partly behind one of the first modern pharmacies in Thailand

On a mission to highlight the strong Danish-Thai relations in the past 400 years, the Embassy of Denmark in Bangkok shares yet another interesting connection between the two nations.

The Embassy writes: 

Did you know that a Danish woman was partly behind one of the first modern pharmacies in Thailand?

Jennie Nielsen, was a trained nurse, who came to Bangkok in 1884 and initially started a boys’ school in Phetchaburi province. After falling severely ill, she received treatment in Bangkok by the American doctor, Heyward Hays, who was in charge of the Siamese Navy Hospital. Dr. Hays successfully cured Nielsen and the two got married in 1887.

In 1892, Nielsen and her husband, along with Scottish doctor Peter Gowan, founded one of Thailand’s first modern pharmacies, British Dispensary.

Jennie was involved in the daily operations of the new pharmacy, but she also worked tirelessly as a beloved nurse, at her husband’s hospital in Bangkok. For more than 15 years, she helped the sick and wounded with care and devotion. At the time, it was next to impossible to recruit nurses to take care of the many patients. The hospital frequently averaged 18-20 patients whom Jennie single-handedly nursed.

The story of Jennie and her husband, and their work in Siam more than 100 years ago, has helped shape the strong Thai-Danish collaboration within healthcare which continues to this day.

Jennie was also active within culture and arts and she was one of the pioneers of the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association where she served as president three times.

Jennie unexpectedly passed away in 1920. To honour his late wife, Dr. Hays built The Neilson-Hays Library in her memory. The library, located on Surawongse Road, is still in operation today and has one of the largest collections of English language titles in Bangkok open to the general public.

Jennie Nielsen and her husband doctor Thomas Heyward Hays. Photo curtesy: Embassy of Denmark in Bangkok
One of the first modern pharmacies in Thailand – the British Dispensary – started partly by Jennie Nielsen. Photo curtesy: Embassy of Denmark in Bangkok
The Neilson Hays Library in Bangkok. Photo curtesy: Embassy of Denmark in Bangkok

About Mette Larsen

ScandAsia Journalist • Scandinavian Publishing Co., Ltd. • Thailand

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