Anna Louise James (1886-1977)

Anna Louise James
Anna Louise James behind soda fountain, James' pharmacy, 1909-1911
Public domain image

Pioneer Pharmacist Anna Louise James was born Louise Clegget James on January 19, 1886, in Hartford, Connecticut, to Willis Samuel James who was born enslaved and escaped at age 16 through the Underground Railroad, and Anna Houston. Louise Clegget was the eighth of 11 children. Her mother died when she was eight years old, and her father moved the family to Old Saybrook, Connecticut where he raised the children with the assistance of his eldest sister, Bertha James Lane, and her husband, Peter Clark Lane.

Anna James’s education continued at Hartford’s Arsenal Elementary School in 1902. In elementary school, she began showing an interest in the laws of natural science. That interest continued throughout her studies at Saybrook High School, where she excelled in mathematics and the natural sciences. After graduating from high school in 1905, she enrolled in the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy (now the Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences). She was the only woman in the class and in 1908 becoming the first African American woman to graduate from that institution. By that point she began using the name “Anna Louise James.” In 1909, James became the first licensed pharmacist in Connecticut and one of the first African American women pharmacists in the United States.

James operated a drugstore in Hartford until 1911. She later worked as a pharmacist at the Lane Drug Store, assisting her brother-in-law Peter Lane, one of only two African American pharmacists in Connecticut during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Peter Lane was aware of the knowledge and work ethic of James and when in 1917, he joined the Army after the United States entered World War I, he turned over management of the drug store to Anna James.

After that transition, the Peter Lane Drug store was renamed James Pharmacy and served the Hartford community effectively for more than 60 years. In 1967 Anna James retired and the pharmacy soon afterwards closed.

Anna James was altruistic, always assisting the underserved with filling prescriptions to cure illness especially during financially challenging times like the Great Depression years of the 1930s. And with the passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920, Clegget James became one of the first women to register to vote as a Republican. All of her adult life. James was a member of the Old Saybrook’s Presbyterian/ Reformed First Church of Christ. James often held literary salons in her apartment home above the drugstore building.

Anna Louise James died on December 12, 1977 in her Hartford, Connecticut apartment home at the age of 91.