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Black History Month: Celebrating Influential African American Pharmacists & Industry Trailblazers

Last updated Feb 13, 2023 | Just For Fun

To celebrate Black History Month, join us in honoring notable and courageous African American pharmacists and industry trailblazers. These influential leaders broke societal barriers through the years and paved the way for future generations of African American pharmacists and pharmacy owners. 


James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith (1813-1865)

James McCune Smith was born into slavery in Manhattan until the Emancipation Act of New York set him free at the age of 14. Smith attended the African Free School and upon graduation was denied admission to numerous American colleges due to the color of his skin. Determined to get an education, Smith raised the money to attend Galgow University in Scotland. There he obtained a doctorate in medicine, becoming the first African American to achieve this accomplishment. After completing his schooling, Smith returned to Manthtan in 1837 and was welcomed back as a hero in the black community. 

Smith then opened a medical office and pharmacy, becoming the first African American to own and operate a pharmacy. His life work also consisted of medical writing and tireless efforts in the abolitionist movement.

Robert H. Carter  (1847-1908)

 Robert H Carter was born in Virginia to freedmen while the slave trade was still active. While in high school, Carter worked as a drug store delivery boy, eventually obtaining a two-year apprenticeship at this pharmacy. During this time he studied textbooks on the compounding of medicines and mastered his trade.

Carter was the first African American pharmacist and received his certification from the Commonwealth in 1886. He later owned two drug stores in Boston between 1895 and 1905.

Amanda Gray Hilyer

Amanda Gray Hilyer (1870 – 1957)

Amanda Gray Hilyer was born in Kansas where she attended public school and married a pharmacist, Arthur S. Gray. The couple moved to Washington D.C., where Hilyer then attended Howard and obtained a pharmaceutical degree. She and her husband opened one of the first African-American-owned pharmacies in Washington D.C.

In addition to her pharmacy career, Hilyer was also politically active in the civil rights movement and an advocate for various other community causes.

julia pearl hughes

Julia Pearl Hughes (1873 – 1950)

Also known by her married name Julia P.H. Coleman, was born in North Carolina where she attended local schools before moving to Washington D.C to study at Howard University where she obtained a pharmaceutical degree, being one of the first African Americans to do so. Hughes began her career at Frederick Douglas Hospital Pharmacy in Philadephia. In 1899, Dr. Hughes opened her first of two of drugstores, becoming the first African-American woman to own and operate her own drugstore. 

Huges has numerous other business ventures and was also heavily involved in politics, being the first African American woman to run for elected office in the state of New York.

Anna Louise James

Anna Louise James (1886 – 1977)

Anna Louise James was born in Hartford Connecticut, her father a former slave that escaped through the underground railroad. She became the first African American to attend and graduate from Brooklyn College of Pharmacy, and later, the first African American woman to become a licensed pharmacist in Connecticut working at her brother-in-law’s pharmacy that she eventually took over when he went to war in World War I.

James lived upstairs at the pharmacy and kept it open every day of the year, including holidays. The former pharmacy is now listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Mary Munson Runge (1928 – 2014)

Mary Munson Runge was the daughter of a physician and pharmacy owner that was regarded as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Runge graduated from the Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy in 1948. She then practiced hospital pharmacy for 21 years in California before moving to a community pharmacy in 1971. 

Runge held many leadership roles throughout her career, the most notable being the first African American woman to be elected as American Pharmacists Association (APhA)  president in 1979. Her election ended 126 years of white male presidents and APhA named a scholarship in her honor following her death in 2014.

Sidney Barthwell

Sidney Barthwell (1906 – 2005)

Sidney Barthwell was born in Cordele, Georgia, and later settled in Detroit, Michigan in 1922. He attended Wayne State University, where he earned his B.S. in Pharmacy and later established a scholarship, the Sidney Barthwell Endowed Scholarship (1996), for pharmacy students. After graduating, Barthwell struggled to find work during the depression in the early 1930s, eventually ending up at an unlicensed pharmacy in financial turmoil.

Barthwell took over the failed pharmacy in 1933 and renamed it Barthwell Drugs. He opened a new store every couple of years until he had thirteen stores, making Bathwell drugs the largest chain of black-owned pharmacies in the United States at that time. Barthwell was a well-respected pillar in the Detroit community for equality and business and was known for providing many African Americans with jobs through harsh economic times.

Thank You to These Influential African American Pharmacists & Industry Leaders!

We are thankful for the tireless efforts made by these industry leaders, as well as other African American trailblazers that have had a positive impact on the pharmacy and healthcare industry. Their bravery and sacrifices contributed to diversity and inclusion, not only in the industry but among their respective communities.

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