Black History Month: 10 Pioneers to Celebrate | Association for Accessible Medicines
AAM All Access Podcast - Dan Leonard speaks to David Gaugh (AAM), Jessica Daley (Premier Inc) and Steven Schondelmeyer (University of Minnesota).
Percy Julian working in a DePauw University lab, ca. 1930.
Photo Credit: The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest

Black History Month: 10 Pioneers to Celebrate

The generics and biosimilars industry is always pushing ahead into the future, drawing on the latest breakthroughs to advance the cause of health care access. This forward-facing stance, however, requires that we understand and appreciate the pioneers in biology, medical science and pharmacy who make our work possible. Many of those figures overcame racism and other systemic disadvantages to make their contributions.

Here are 10 names you should know.

Read more: Honoring the African American Trailblazers in Pharmacy

  • James McCune Smith (1813-1865) owned a pharmacy on West Broadway in New York City. He was the first African American to earn a medical degree, educated at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, when no American university would admit him.
  • Julia Pearl Hughes (1873-1950) was the first African American woman to own and operate a pharmacy, which opened in Philadelphia in 1899.
  • Ernest Everett Just (1883–1941) earned a Ph.D. in experimental embryology from the University of Chicago, received the inaugural NAACP Spingarn Medal and made a lasting contribution to the field of genetics.
  • Percy Julian (1899–1975) developed the methodology for synthesizing cortisone and hydrocortisone, a widely prescribed steroid.
  • Charles Drew (1904–1950) was a leading authority on blood plasma and is credited with inventing the blood bank.

Read more: Influential Black Biologists

  • Sidney Barthwell (1906–2005) founded Detroit’s Barthwell Drugs, which was once the largest Black-owned drugstore chain in the United States.
  • Marie M. Daly (1921–2003) studied cholesterol, hypertension, cancer and other topics. She taught at New York City’s
  • Jane Cooke Wright (1919–2013), the daughter of one of the first African American graduates of Harvard Medical School, initiated a program at New York Medical College for the study of stroke, heart disease and cancer. In 1971, she became the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society.
  • Aaron Henry (1922–1997) owned the Fourth Street Drug Store in Clarksdale, Miss. and played an important role in the state’s Civil Rights movement.
  • Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924–2017) researched the effects of chemotherapy drugs on melanoma and other skin cancers. She was a founding member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

AAM and our member companies are grateful for the pioneering work of these 10 Americans.


Jewel Smith

By Jewel Smith, Vice President, Membership and Operations
Published on February 16, 2022

Association for Accessible Medicines


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