ODN Item of the Week: Portrait of the staff of the Ella P. and William Stewart pharmacy

Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s collection in DPLA spans a wide range of topics and material formats. Alongside hundreds of video and oral histories from local residents, they’ve shared yearbooks, stereoscopic photographs, and histories of the library itself.

Recently I came across this photograph, Portrait of the staff of the Ella P. and William Stewart pharmacy:

Portrait of the staff of the Ella P. and William Stewart pharmacy, courtesy Toledo Lucas County Public Library

Ella Stewart was an amazing trailblazer in the field of pharmacy for African American women. Born in West Virginia in 1893, she originally worked as a teacher but a bookkeeping job at a pharmacy sent her in a different direction. She surpassed many of her peers and completed a degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy to become the first black woman to graduate from their pharmacy program, and the one of the first female African American pharmacists in the whole country! Over the next few decades, she owned and operated pharmacies in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and finally Toledo.

Stewart’s Pharmacy was opened in 1922, at the corner of Indiana and City Park Avenues. Ella and her husband William had opened the first African American-owned pharmacy in the city and it, and their apartment above it, became an important gathering place for the local community for over 20 years.

In addition to her pharmacy work, Ella was a community activist and her work gained international recognition. She served, at various times, as the president for the National Association of Colored Women, president of the Ohio Association of Colored Women, and a member of the Toledo Board of Community Relations. Her influence was felt internationally as well – she was appointed to the United States commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and an American delegate to the International Conference of Women of the World (held in Athens, Greece), and she toured other parts of the world as a goodwill ambassador.

There’s a school in Toledo named after her, and an award named in her honor at the University of Pittsburgh. Stewart received an honorary doctorate from the University of Toledo, and was inducted into both the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame. What an amazing legacy!

Thanks to the Toledo Lucas County Public Library for sharing the work and impact of Ella Stewart with us. If you’d like to learn more you can also contact the libraries at Bowling Green State University, and the University of Toledo, who both hold her personal papers in their collections.