Early 1900s Contributions of Black Pharmacy Practitioners

Anna Louise James

Anna Louise James, born on January 19, 1886, in Hartford, was the daughter of a Virginia plantation slave who escaped to Connecticut. Raised in Old Saybrook, she dedicated her early life to education and achieved a historic milestone in 1908 by becoming the first African American woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in New York. Anna operated a drugstore in Hartford until 1911 when she joined her brother-in-law’s pharmacy, becoming the first female African American pharmacist in the state.

Anna Louise James
Anna Louise James

Assuming control of the pharmacy during World War I when her brother-in-law, Peter Lane, was deployed, Anna renamed the establishment James Pharmacy in 1917. Fondly known as “Miss James” by locals, she operated the business until her retirement in 1967. Anna continued to reside in an apartment at the back of the pharmacy until her passing in 1977.

The historic James Pharmacy building, located at the corner of Pennywise Lane, underwent renovation in 1980 and reopened as an ice cream shop in 1984, maintaining much of the original character instilled by Anna. Recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, the building featured in AT&T commercials and a documentary on local resident Katharine Hepburn during the 1990s.

Anna Louise James’s family legacy extended to her niece, Ann Lane Petry, daughter of Peter Lane. Petry, a registered pharmacist who worked at James Pharmacy before moving to New York, achieved literary acclaim during the Harlem Renaissance. Notable for her best-selling 1946 book, “The Street,” Petry became the first African American female author to sell over a million copies. Her works, including “Country Place” (1947) and “The Drug Store Cat” (1949), drew inspiration from her experiences growing up in Old Saybrook and working at James Pharmacy. Ann Lane Petry’s literary contributions further enriched the memory of African American life in Old Saybrook during the early 1900s.

Reference: https://connecticuthistory.org/anna-louise-james-makes-history-with-medicine/

Leo Vinton Butts

Leo Vinton Butts, born on January 14, 1898, in Madison, Wisconsin, holds historical significance as the first known African-American graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy. His contributions extend beyond academia, encompassing various roles such as civil rights activist, soldier, and pharmacist. Butts served during World War I, played for the UW varsity football team, and completed his degree in Pharmacy in 1920. His groundbreaking thesis, “The Negro in Pharmacy,” highlighted the dearth of information on African-American pharmacists and called for improved conditions and cooperation within the community.

After graduating, Butts and his wife, Alice Emma Phillips, settled in Gary, Indiana, where he became a pharmacist and active community leader. He owned and operated the Owl Drug Store, a local gathering spot, and contributed to the community by organizing events such as free health clinics during Negro Health Week. During the Great Depression, he worked as a mail carrier but later returned to pharmacy post-World War II. Butts continued his community involvement and was remembered as a friendly and influential figure, particularly for his role in fostering unity among African-American pharmacists and advocating for better relations between black physicians and pharmacists.

Despite facing personal tragedies, including the loss of their daughter in 1936, Butts remained dedicated to community service. His contributions to pharmacy, civil rights, and community building highlight his enduring legacy as a pioneer in the field of pharmacy and a respected figure in Gary, Indiana.

Reference: https://pharmacy.wisc.edu/alumni-friends/events-awards-programs/historical-information/leo-butts-uw-pharmacy-pioneer/