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Black History Month: Pharmacy Trailblazers

February marks Black History Month in the United States. We want to take this opportunity to recognize some Black pharmacists who have made significant contributions to the pharmacy field.

James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith was born into slavery in 1813. He earned his medical degree from Glasgow University. He is recognized as the first African American to earn a medical degree, the first to be published in American medical journals, as well as the first African American to own and operate a pharmacy. His pharmacy in Manhattan served patients regardless of race. Smith was a prominent abolitionist and activist, delivering powerful speeches and using his pharmacy as a meeting place for fellow abolitionists.


Anna Louise James

Anna Louise James was the daughter of a slave who broke many barriers. She was the first Black woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy and the first Black woman to become a licensed pharmacist in the United States. Her brother-in-law made her the owner of his pharmacy, where she lived and served her community tirelessly for over five decades.


Mary Munson Runge

Mary Munson Runge was the first woman and Black person to serve as the president of the American Pharmacists Association in 1979. She followed in her father’s footsteps, as he had served as his town’s first Black pharmacist. Runge’s career started in hospital pharmacy before transitioning to community pharmacy, where she helped patients obtain medications they otherwise might not have been able to afford. After Mary’s tenure at the American Pharmacists Association, she served on several federal committees.


Leo Vinton Butts

Leo Vinton Butts was the first Black graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy. A WWI veteran, he also is the first Black man to play in a major college varsity football game for the University of Wisconsin. Butts’ thesis, “The Negro in Pharmacy,” was groundbreaking in its research on Black persons in the pharmacy field.

“It was with the idea of bringing together what scattered data I could find in order to learn something more of the people of my own race in my chosed [sic] profession that this thesis was attempted.”

Arcelia Johnson-Fannin 

Arcelia Johnson-Fannin is the founding Dean of the Feik School of Pharmacy at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Johnson-Fannin is the first woman and only African American female to be the founding dean at two new pharmacy schools. She began her career at Florida A&A, creating the Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum and working with students to research what would later be referred to as “health disparities” research. In 1999, Dr. Johnson-Fannin was designated one of America’s 50 most influential pharmacists.



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