150 years of American Pharmacy: 'Mere men doesn't have a chance'

August 20, 2007

The march to equality has been long and slow for women pharmacists.

'Mere man doesn't have a chance'

The march to equality has been long and slow for women pharmacists. In a 1907 article, Druggists' Circular reported that Jane Loring of 41 Cornhill St. in Boston was one of the earliest-known pharmacists, "conducting business in 1800." The magazine also reported that, in 1907, only 2% of pharmacists were women. By 1950, the number had risen to 4%, and in 1970 women still represented only 12.5% of the pharmacy workforce.

While the presence of women in pharmacy was viewed as somewhat exceptional throughout the early 20th century, the onset of World War II fundamentally changed the role of women in pharmacies. With many men away at war, women began to play a far more prominent role in pharmacy, both as employees and customers. In a July 8, 1946, Drug Topics article entitled, "Mere man doesn't have a chance," M. J. Poizner, manager at the Parkview drugstore in Kansas City, Mo., touted the advantage of women salesclerks. "Women are far and away the most successful in selling men's toiletries to men," he insisted.

Attitudes about women pharmacists were harder to gauge, although they too appeared to be fairly positive. For many years, Drug Topics ran the "Betty Brown" serial comic strip by Cliff Terrel. Betty was a mainstay of the magazine through the war, taking a job at a pharmacy and often showing the lighter side of pharmacy life. In 1946, after the war ended, Betty continued to work and even became a pharmacist. At the end of 1946, she finally left the pharmacy to open her own store where she could try out her innovative ideas. Embodying a new post-war optimism, the future looked bright for Betty, as it did for many American women pharmacists.