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Celebrating Black History – Influential African Americans In The Pharmacy

Historically Important, Black History, African Americans Contributions Pharmacy

Despite facing significant obstacles in the form of systemic racism and discrimination, Black pioneers in the field of pharmacy have made invaluable contributions to the profession. These individuals paved the way for future generations of pharmacists and broke down barriers that had previously limited the opportunities available to Black Americans. By overcoming these challenges and advancing the field of pharmacy, these pioneers left a lasting legacy that deserves recognition and celebration.

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Percy L. Julian (1899-1975)

Percy L. Julian was an American chemist who made significant contributions to the field of pharmacy, particularly in the area of synthetic drugs. Born in Alabama in 1899, Julian attended DePauw University and earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1931. Despite facing discrimination and racism throughout his career, Julian went on to develop the first synthetic cortisone, which is used to treat a variety of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. He also synthesized physostigmine, a drug used to treat glaucoma. Julian’s work laid the foundation for the development of other synthetic drugs, and he is widely regarded as one of the most important chemists of the 20th century.


Mary Munson Runge (1930-present)

Mary Munson Runge is an American pharmacist and researcher who has made significant contributions to the field of pharmacy, particularly in the area of women’s health. Born in Illinois in 1930, Runge earned her pharmacy degree from the University of Illinois in 1952 and her Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry from the University of Kansas in 1963. She went on to become the first woman to serve as dean of a pharmacy school in the United States, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Runge has conducted extensive research on women’s health issues, including the effects of menopause and hormone therapy on bone density and cardiovascular health.


Anna Louise James (1886-1977)

Anna Louise James was the first African American woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1908. She went on to own and operate her own pharmacy in Connecticut, which served as a vital resource for her community. James was also a pioneer in the field of pharmacy education, establishing a training program for pharmacy assistants that was later adopted by the state of Connecticut. In addition to her work as a pharmacist, James was a philanthropist and community leader, advocating for civil rights and social justice.


James McCune Smith (1813-1865)

James McCune Smith was a prominent African American physician, pharmacist, and abolitionist in the 19th century. Born into slavery in New York City in 1813, Smith was freed as a child and went on to attend the African Free School. He later earned his medical degree from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, since no American university would accept him due to his race.

Smith returned to New York and opened his own pharmacy, where he became known for his expertise in compounding medicines. He was also a prominent abolitionist, working closely with figures like Frederick Douglass and writing articles on the topic of race and inequality. Smith’s legacy as a physician, pharmacist, and civil rights advocate has had a lasting impact on American history.


Anna Louise James (1886-1977)

Anna Louise James was an African American pharmacist who owned and operated her own pharmacy in Connecticut, making her the first female African American pharmacist licensed in the state. She was born in 1886 in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up with her seven siblings. After graduating from high school, James attended the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in New York, where she earned her pharmacy degree in 1908.

After completing her studies, James returned to Hartford and opened her own pharmacy in 1909. The James Pharmacy quickly became a staple in the community, serving both black and white customers. James provided services that went beyond dispensing medications, including blood pressure checks, health education, and nutritional counseling. She also worked with doctors to provide vaccines and tuberculosis tests to the community.

Despite facing discrimination and challenges as a Black female business owner, James persisted and expanded her pharmacy business. In 1911, she opened a second location in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and later opened a third location in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Throughout her career, James was also involved in various community organizations and advocacy groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Council of Negro Women. She was an advocate for women’s rights and fought for access to healthcare for marginalized communities.

James’ legacy continues to inspire future generations of pharmacists and healthcare professionals. In 2017, the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy named a scholarship in her honor to support students from underrepresented backgrounds.


The pioneers we have highlighted here represent just a small fraction of the many individuals who have fought against systemic racism and discrimination in the pharmacy profession. Their accomplishments are a testament to the perseverance, talent, and determination of Black Americans, and their legacies continue to inspire and influence the field of pharmacy today.


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