Black History Month

Black Pharmacists to Celebrate

Health, science, and medicine are frequently at the forefront of celebrating history. While physicians, nurses, and scientists are often recognized, pharmacists are not recognized with the same commitment and importance. In an effort of remembering important people and events, we celebrate the legacy and milestones in the history of African American pharmacists. Included here is an incomplete list of those pharmacists who left "footprints in the sand" at a time and place for others to follow.

Aaron E. Henry

Aaron E. Henry is a 1950 graduate of the Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy. He was a practicing pharmacist, lobbyist, and politician who spent most of his career working for civil rights. Henry was one of the architects in the formation of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). He helped organize the Freedom Vote of 1963 which led to the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) a year later. His acquaintances included Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, Stockley Carmichael, and Fannie Lou Hamer. He was involved with the Congress of Racial Equality, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  His efforts in demanding desegregation and voting rights provided support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965. As the number of African American voters increased in Mississippi, Henry was elected to the Mississippi State House of Representatives (D) in 1982, a position he held until 1996. Click here for more information about Aaron Henry.


Etnah Rochon Boutte

Etnah Ruth Rochon Boutte, a 1923 graduate of the College of Pharmacy of the City of New York (Columbia University), was  most known for her civic and community service. In September 1918, Etnah Rochon Boutte became the Executive Director of the Circle for Negro War Relief, whose purpose was to promote the welfare of Negro soldiers and their families affected by war. She provided services for the soldiers during World War I, which they could not receive from the American Red Cross. Her work got the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. She had strong family and political connections. She was the daughter of Victor Rochon, a politician who served two terms in the Louisiana Senate during Reconstruction and fought for the passage of bills for the education of children of color in the St. Martin Parish. She was married to pharmacist, Matthew Virgil Boutte, and is the great-grand aunt of Valerie Jarrett, who was the Senior Advisor in the Obama Administration. 


Alvin J. Boutte

Alvin J. Boutte is a 1951 graduate of Xavier University College of Pharmacy. He moved to Chicago after graduation and acquired Lakeside Drug Store. His business became so successful, he created a chain of drug stores in the Chicago area. He later formed a partnership with George Johnson, founder of Johnson Products (black hair care manufacturer). In 1964, they created Independence Bank, which became the largest black bank in the nation. The bank was later acquired by Indecorp, a bank holding company. He became very active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, financially supporting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Over years, he provide much financial support to a number of African American businesses, community programs, and was a significant donor for the new  Xavier University College of Pharmacy building.


Wendell Talbot Hill, Jr.

Wendell T. Hill was an outstanding educator, pharmacy practitioner, and leader. He received his BS degree from Drake University School of Pharmacy in 1950. He is believed to be the first African American to completed a Hospital Pharmacy Residency in 1954 and later served as Chief Pharmacist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was appointed Chief Pharmacist of Orange County Medical Center in Orange, California in 1957 where he was credited with establishing the first Poison Control Center in Orange County. In 1970, he was granted the Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He also served as Director of Pharmaceutical Services at Detroit General Hospital and associate professor of pharmacy at Wayne State University from 1970 – 1977. He  served as Dean of the College of Pharmacy at Howard University for 17 years, the first African American President of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) from 1972-1973, and president of the California Council of Hospital Pharmacists. In 1989, he was the first African American pharmacists to receive the ASHP Harvey A. K. Whitney Lecture Award, “health-system pharmacy’s highest honor.”


George T. Leland

George Thomas “Mickey” Leland graduated from Texas Southern University (TSU) School of Pharmacy in 1970. While attending TSU, Leland became a vocal leader of the civil rights movement and continued to be a champion for the poor and the dis-empowered through out his brilliant political career. He strongly believed that the poor, the hungry, and the less fortunate should have equal access to health care and fought strongly for legislative change long before it was called health care reform. He worked as a pharmacist and on the faculty at Texas Southern University College of Pharmacy from 1971-1972. He became the first African American pharmacists to be elected to Congress in 1972 and to be re-elected five times.  From 1985 to 1987, he chaired the Congressional Black Caucus. Leland was a congressman for the 18th District of Texas which was heavily African American and Mexican-American. He deliberately learn Spanish to better serve his large Mexican-American constituents. He is known to have shocked his congressional colleagues by arguing in Spanish on the House Floor in favor of maintaining the bilingual clauses in the Voting Rights Act.  Click here for more information on Mickey Leland.


Lillian Russell Smith

In 1927, Lillian Russell Smith, PhG became the first female selected by the faculty of the College of Pharmacy of the City of New York (later Columbia University) to serve on the editorial board of her 1927 class new Yearbook, the Apothekan. She was selected out of 12 women in a class of 192 students. Lillian was an Associate Editor of the Apothekan and Staff writer of the "Student Section" for the College of Pharmacy’s Newsletter, the "Messenger." One of the interesting articles she wrote was a detailed History of the College of Pharmacy


Ella Phillips Stewart

Ella Phillips Stewart, one of the pioneering female pharmacists in the African American Women’s movement. She was a 1916 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh College of Pharmacy and first African American female to do so. After graduation, she also became a part of the small number of African American pharmacists hired to work in hospital pharmacy. She worked in the General Hospital in Braddock, Pennsylvania around 1916 and later at the Youngstown City Hospital in Youngstown, Pennsylvania. She served as the 14th President of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1948-1952.  Prior to becoming president of NACWC, she had served for twelve years as its Treasurer and editor-in-chief of the organization’s newsletter, the National Notes. She also served as the president of the Ohio Association of Colored Women’s Clubs for six years and was vice-chairperson of the American Committee of the Pacific and Southeast Asian Women's Association where she worked with the U.S. Department of State to raise the literacy standards in Asian countries.  Ella Phillips Stewart commanded the leadership of over 100,000 African-American women in the NACWC. She spoke out against racism, segregation, discrimination, and on matters of civil rights involving African Americans. Her efforts became globally recognized, but did not garner the support of all women in pharmacy until decades later. Mrs. Stewart, not only became one of the most well-known women in the African America Women’s Movement, but also throughout the world.


Jesse Merchant, Sr.

Jesse Merchant, Sr. was a 1904 graduate of the Louisville National Medical College Department of Pharmacy. Jessie Merchant had been extremely active in community and civic activities throughout his life. He served as civilian post-master for the 10th U.S. Volunteer Infantry at Lexington, KY and Macon, GA during the Spanish-American War. He was a poet and orator and was credited with composing the lyrics to the song, Back to My Old Kentucky Home in 1906. In 1909, Jessie Merchant moved to Chicago after graduation. He used his Pharmaceutical Chemist (Ph.C.) degree to obtain work as a chemist in the alcohol tax unit laboratory of the Internal Revenue Service in Chicago. He was with the government laboratory for 41 years, spending 10 years with the Department of Agriculture in the U.S. Food Laboratory section before joining the alcohol testing laboratory during prohibition in the early 1920s. Jesse Merchant’s laboratory job during prohibition was to test samples of whisky, beer, and other forms of liquor to determine whether they contained a sufficient concentration of alcohol to support the government’s cases against “bootleggers.” Because of the sensitivity of his work and the potential for corruption and retaliation, his name and contact information were kept confidential by the Treasury Department for a long time, along with undercover agents, inspectors, and investigators. In March 1929, Senator R. F. Wagner (D, N.Y.) sponsored a resolution calling upon the Treasury Department and the Civil Service Commission to release the names to the public of all personnel involved with prohibition, and to explain the secrecy surrounding the persons on the list. Jesse Merchant retired from government service in October 1950. He died at the age of 80 in Chicago on May 6, 1959.