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The Earliest Known Black Graduates of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy

By Dan Flanagan

Published on March 21, 2018

Who was the first African American graduate of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy?

William F. Taylor, Chicago’s popular druggist, a leader in the business world
William F. Taylor, Chicago’s popular druggist, a leader in the business world 

As far as we know, that would be Pinckney Napoleon Pinchback PhG’1887. Pinchback’s identity surfaced earlier this year (2017) when Gregory Bond, PhD, assistant director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, paid a research visit to the USciences archives. Dr. Bond also revealed to us the identity of another black graduate, William Taylor PhG’1894.

Prior to Dr. Bond’s visit, Henry M. Minton PhG’1895 was our earliest known black graduate, but the possibility always existed that someone else might have preceded him.

The answer remains uncertain because the college never prohibited black enrollment and never recorded the racial status of matriculating students in the registration ledgers. As a result, the research field is extremely limited. Beginning in 1899, the publication of The Graduate yearbook added a new dimension to the search but only allows us to say that, although their numbers were small, African Americans graduated from PCP with some regularity going forward from that year.

McFall class photo 1899

John Allen McFall PD’1899 class photo of 1899 

In the case of John Allen McFall PD’1899 (doctor in pharmacy), family historians have shared information with us. According to Dr. McFall’s grandniece Lahnice McFall Hollister of North Carolina, Thomas Alston McFall, Dr. McFall’s father and a former slave, worked as a porter for a wholesale drug company in Charleston established by Herman Baer. He also had an uncle in Philadelphia who worked in a dispensary. Presumably, Dr. McFall’s interest in pharmacy came from these earlier associations.

Our own records indicate that Dr. McFall attended PCP for three years during the sessions of 1896–97, 1897–98, and 1898–99. He received his degree on April 19, 1899, as well as an honorable mention for the Maisch Prize for the historical knowledge of drugs.

Dr. McFall returned to Charleston after he graduated and established his own pharmacy, which he operated until his death in 1954. Dr. McFall also assisted his former preceptor Dr. Alonzo Clifton McClennan in the establishment of the Charleston Hospital and Training School for Nurses, which opened in 1897. Dr. McClennan graduated in 1880 with honors from Howard University College of Medicine with degrees in medicine and pharmacy.

Although Dr. McFall listed Dr. McClennan as his preceptor during his first year at PCP, during his second and third years he identified Dr. Minton as his preceptor.

We already knew about Dr. Minton’s status as an early black graduate, mainly because of his fame as a physician. After earning his pharmacy degree at PCP, Dr. Minton opened the first black-owned pharmacy in Philadelphia. He enrolled as a student at Jefferson Medical College in 1902, and in 1904 he cofounded the Sigma Pi Phi medical fraternity, the first Greek-letter fraternity established by African Americans.

Following Dr. Minton’s graduation from Jefferson in 1906, he joined the staff of Frederick Douglass Hospital (est. 1895) as a pharmacist. He cofounded Mercy Hospital in 1907 (Philadelphia’s second black hospital) where he served as superintendent and director for 24 years. The merger talks between Mercy Hospital and Douglass Hospital, which would become Mercy-Douglass Hospital, began under Dr. Minton’s supervision in 1938 and finally came to fruition in 1948, two years after his death. Dr. Minton also served on the staff of the University of Pennsylvania’s Henry Phipps Institute (1915–1946) was recognized nationally as an expert in tuberculosis treatment.

Because of the numerous tributes paid Dr. Minton after his death, his status as a PCP graduate became well known and therefore, greatly facilitated his identification as an African American. However, the possibility always existed that someone less famous might have preceded him in that role.

Which brings us back to Dr. Bond’s discovery…

What little we know about Pinchback comes from his obituary in the PCP Alumni Report (a precursor to today’s Bulletin). He died of consumption in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 24, 1900, at the age of 37. Pinchback resided in Philadelphia at 34th Street and Woodland Avenue, and his burial place is in Mt. Vernon Cemetery, at the intersection of Ridge and Lehigh Avenues.

Although Pinchback’s obituary said nothing about his race, we can make that distinction because Dr. Bond recognized the family’s name. Pinchback’s father was none other than the famous Louisiana politician Pinckney Benton Stewart (P.B.S.) Pinchback, the son of a slave (Eliza Stewart) and a white Mississippi planter (William Pinchback). William emancipated Eliza a year before the birth of P.B.S. Pinchback, making him a freeman by birth. P.B.S. Pinchback then married a free woman of color, Emily Hawthorne, in 1860, who gave birth to our graduate Pinckney Napoleon Pinchback in 1862.

Taylor graduated one year ahead of Dr. Minton. A 1902 article in the Chicago Broad Ax, provided again by Dr. Bond, identified Taylor as “the first colored man to engage in the drug business in Chicago.” Taylor opened his store in 1896, at the corner of 28th Street and Armour Avenue, “in one of the most thickly settled colored settlements in the city.” His establishment also functioned as a post office and money repository for the community: “Many of the people in his locality leave their hard-earned savings to his keeping, rather than trust the city banks.”

The article also describes Taylor as the president of the local “Colored Men’s Business League,” as well as the “first colored graduate of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy,” an indication perhaps of Mr. Taylor’s impression. Because of confusion in the historical record, several of Taylor’s followers would repeat the same mistake.

One reason for anticipating an earlier date for black enrollment involves the presence of so many Quakers in leadership positions at the college. Although the Society of Friends had nothing to do with our establishment, PCP became, by sheer circumstance, a Quaker-run institution from the very beginning. Throughout the 19th century, Quakers held virtually all of the most important administrative positions. Each of the college presidents, for example, between 1821 and 1900, were Quakers. The Society of Friends has a long history of support for educational programs benefiting African Americans in Philadelphia. Their commitment went hand in hand with their opposition to slavery.

This commitment to African American education going back to the 1750s and the presence of so many Quaker druggists among the college founders, administrators, and faculty strengthen the possibility that black enrollment might have happened fairly early in our history. Significantly, perhaps, there were at least two Quaker administrators with strong personal ties to the antislavery movement. Dilwyn Parrish (college president, 1869–1885) was part of the Underground Railroad, and Henry Troth (founder and vice president, 1829–1842) was treasurer for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.

Efie Nevers PhG’1923

Efie Nevers PhG’1923


Of course, the same kind of uncertainty also surrounds the identification of the first African American woman to graduate. The earliest claim on record belongs to Efie Nevers PhG’1923. According to an article in the New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Virginia) sent to us by a family member and dated February 24, 1924, “Miss Nevers” was the “First Race Woman” to finish Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. The same article goes on to say, “Miss Nevers took the state examination after graduation, passing with high average, and at present is employed as a chemist here. She plans, however, to practice in Baltimore.”

Although it’s frustrating to deal with so much uncertainty, the possibility that there might always be an earlier African American graduate to discover is worth celebrating (and investigating).

Categories: The Bulletin, Alumni, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacy Practice, Pharmacy Pharmacy Administration