Celebrating Black History Month: 5 Trailblazing Pharmacists


There are many pharmacy pioneers, both known and unknown, but here we spotlight standouts who made early contributions to the profession.

February is Black History Month, and what better way to celebrate, then to acknowledge somepharmacy trailblazers. There are, of course, many pioneers, both known and unknown, but here we spotlight 5 notable pharmacists who made early contributions to the profession.

1. James McCune Smith (1813-1865). A well-known activist and intellectual, the son of a former slave attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he completed bachelor’s, master’s, and medical degrees. It is thought that Smith was the first African American to receive a medical degree in 1837. He then completed a medical internship in Paris, France, before returning to New York City, where he opened a medical office and pharmacy that treated patients of different races.1

2. Robert H. Carter (1847-1908). An entrepreneur and pharmacist, he is thought to be the first Black certified pharmacist in Massachusetts. Between 1876 and 1907, Carter owned drugstores in New Bedford and Boston, and he formulated drugs for physicians’ prescriptions. As a teenager, he worked as a delivery boy at Cadwell’s Drugstore in New Bedford. One day while shoveling snow, he found a wallet containing $400, that was returned to its owner. Carter’s employer, William P.S. Cadwell, was impressed by Carter’s honesty and later offered him an apprenticeship once he graduated from high school. By aged 21 years, Carter had mastered the trade. He later worked for another pharmacist, before opening his own drugstore in 1876 in New Bedford. Carter became the first registered pharmacist in the state in 1886. Later, he opened a drugstore in Boston, establishing an apothecary around 1901, before returning to work as a druggist in New Bedford in 1906. Carter kept a notebook of 119 of handwritten entries for compounding medicines, animal and insect poisons, household substances, and potions. He was a founding member of the Massachusetts Pharmaceutical Association, as well as a member of Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League and the Boston Druggist Association.2

3. Julia Pearl Hughes (1873-1950). She was the first Black woman to own and operate a drugstore. She graduated from the Pharmaceutical College, now the Howard University College of Pharmacy, in 1897, and then did post-graduate work at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, now part of the University of the Sciences’. Hughes then began working at Frederick Douglass Hospital, now Mercy-Douglass Hospital, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She then opened a pharmacy in Philadelphia and later opened another in Newport News, Virginia, after getting married. Hughes and her husband, who later divorced, also started a company to market hair care products, which she turned into a successful business. She later became a political activist.3

4. Anna Louise James (1886-1977). Born the daughter of a former slave, she was the onlywoman in her class at the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy, now the Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Long Island University and became the Black woman to graduate from the school in 1908. The following year, James became the first licensed pharmacist in Connecticut and 1 of the first Black female pharmacists in the United States. She worked in Hartford, Connecticut, until 1911, returning to her hometown of Saybrook, Connecticut, to help her brother-in-law, Peter Lane, at his drugstore, Lane Drug Store. When he left for another job in 1917, he turned over Lane Drug Store to James, who renamed it James Pharmacy. She retired and closed the pharmacy in 1967. During her many years as a pharmacist, James was known for assisting disadvantaged patients with their prescriptions.4

5. Eugene Hickman (1928-2018). He completed a 4-year program at Texas Southern University (TSU), becoming a member of the first graduating class of the university’s new school of pharmacy in 1952. Hickman was then 1 of 2 Black individuals admitted to the University of Texas’ graduate program, breaking its tradition of racial segregation. He then became the first Black individual to receive a doctorate degree in pharmacy from the University of Iowa, joining the faculty at TSU in 1959, where he taught until 1998. There, Hickman pushed for the school to educate more Black pharmacists, winning many awards for his efforts. He also helped fundraise to support the pharmacy program at the school.5


  1. Winter KJ. James McCune Smith (1813-1865). BlackPast.org. March 8, 2007. Accessed February 3, 2023. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/smith-james-mccune-1813-1865/
  2. Neal AW. Robert H. Carter: pioneering Black pharmacist, entrepreneur- Black history. The Bay State Banner. January 31, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2023. https://www.baystatebanner.com/2014/01/31/robert-h-carter-pioneering-black-pharmacist-entrepreneur-black-history/
  3. Nielsen EA. Julia Pearl Hughes (1873-1950). BlackPast.org. October 25, 2018. Accessed February 3, 2023. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/hughes-julia-pearl-1873-1950/
  4. Alexander O. Anna Louise James (1886-1977). BlackPast.org. April 11, 2021. Accessed February 3, 2023. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/people-african-american-history/anna-louise-james-1886-1977/
  5. Eugene Hickman Sr., pharmacist and educator born. African American Registry. Accessed February 2, 2023. https://aaregistry.org/story/eugene-hickman-sr-pharmacist-and-educator-born/
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