The Women of STLCOP

Published on 29 March 2017

In October 1881, the St. Louis College of Pharmacy Board of Trustees introduced a game-changer and made the landmark decision to admit women into the pharmacy program. Esther Wightman, born in England in 1838, became the first woman to attend the College, though it is unknown if she graduated. As the first woman to earn a pharmacy license in the state of Missouri and west of the Mississippi River, Wightman opened two drugstores in St. Louis, to much success.

A few years later on March 23, 1892, the College would achieve another milestone with the graduation of Augusta Bock, the first woman to graduate from the College. Female enrollment would remain low for several decades, but the College was persistent in keeping its doors open to women.

A December 1909 Quarterly Bulletin, edited by Henry Whelpley, declared, “St. Louis College of Pharmacy is a co-educational institution. Women are admitted on equal terms with men. … There are six ladies in attendance at the College during the present session, and we will be glad to correspond with any ladies who desire to enter on a college course in pharmacy.”

Not long after Whelpley’s declaration in the Quarterly Bulletin, Bertha Grace Huffman, Ph.G., a member of the class of 1910, authored an article featured in the July 1910 issue of Practical Druggist entitled, “Why I am a Pharmacist.” In the article she voices the female perspective of the woman’s place in the profession of pharmacy.

“Pharmacy opens a new avenue to intelligent womanhood, and in this field, as in all others to which she has found her way, woman will take her place as man’s useful helper and as man’s equal in all respects,” she wrote.

As more women became alumnae of the College, there was a growing need for their representation in alumni affairs. On November 27, 1844, 17 female graduates met in the library to officially establish the women’s division of the Alumni Association. All female graduates were eligible for membership by subscribing to the constitution and bylaws and by payment of $2 in annual dues. The women would have to wait several decades, however, before the Alumni Association appointed its first female president.

The year 1957 marks another milestone for the College, with the graduation of the College’s first female African-American pharmacists, Doris Griswold Bryson, Ve Ella Graham and Margaret Brown. These three women would be a beacon to future female African-American pharmacists at the College, letting their peers know that there is a place for all women in pharmacy.

Despite growing enrollment, female representation among the student body would not match male representation until the 1980s. However, the growing opportunities for women in pharmacy was also reflected among the faculty.

Phyllis Neu Sarich ’46 became the College’s first full-time female faculty member in 1947. She would also go on to be the first female president of the Alumni Association in 1970. Following these milestones, Avis Ericson became the first female division director of pharmacy practice in 1985, and in 1997, Evelyn Becker-Meyer ’88/’93 became the first female assistant dean of students and the first woman to attain the rank of full professor in 1999. The College went on to appoint Deans Kimberly Kilgore and Wendy Duncan as the first female academic deans in 2006.

The rich history of the College is one of innovation, dedication and change. The pioneering spirit of the men and women of the College played an integral role in building the foundation of the profession of pharmacy. Today, the female enrollment at the College is over 60 percent, but it all began with Esther Wightman and a Board of Trustees willing to open their minds and expand the horizons of the pharmacy profession.

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