Women Pharmacists Become Members of the Society

Costume for Lady pharmacists - C&D 5 June 1897

The status of women pharmacists became a firm political issue in the 1870s. Having passed the Society’s Preliminary exam, three women, Rose Minshull, Louisa Stammwitz, and Alice Hart were put forward at the Council meeting in February 1873 as "registered students" of the Society. The motion was rejected. The three continued to petition the Council to allow ladies access to the Society’s chemistry laboratories, and permission was finally granted in 1877.

The debate over women and Society membership began to reach the pages of The Pharmaceutical Journal and the Chemist & Druggist, where attitudes towards women varied greatly. In 1879, members finally agreed that women should become members. Ironically, some Council members seem to have given in simply to end the debate, or "to avoid further agitation" as one put it, rather than through any ethical belief that women ought to be allowed equal rights.

The number of women in the pharmaceutical workforce increased, with many working as dispensers in hospitals and other institutions, or as assistants in shops. However, the number of women on the statutory register fell in the late 1800s.

Rose Minshull 

Top of her class

Chemical Laboratory at the School of Pharmacy in 1883 Rose Minshull fought to have access to this laboratory as part of her rejected application to be a registered student ten years earlier

Rose Coombs Minshull came top of her class of 166 candidates when she passed the Society’s Preliminary Exam in 1873. Despite her obvious abilities, the Council rejected her application to study at the Society as a “registered student” in February 1873.

Despite this setback, Rose passed the Minor examination with top marks and registered as a Chemist & Druggist on 18 October 1877.  Two years later, in 1879, she passed the Major examination and, alongside Isabella Clarke-Keer, was one of the first women elected members of the Society.

In 1884 Rose began work as a dispenser at the North Eastern Hospital for Children and wrote in an article for The Chemist and Druggist: “As the result of many years’ hospital work, I am decidedly of the opinion that certainly in women’s and children’s hospitals a lady dispenser is the right woman in the right place.”

Rose remained a registered Pharmaceutical Chemist until her death on 9 May 1905 at 11 Marine Parade, Hastings.  She was only 58.

Isabella Clarke

The first President of the Association of Women Pharmacists

Isabella Clarke-Keer As featured in Pharmaceutical Journal published in January 1906

Isabella Skinner Clarke registered with the Pharmaceutical Society as a Chemist and Druggist on 22 April 1875 and became a pharmaceutical chemist by passing the Major exam on 15 December 1875. Shortly after, she established her own business at Spring Street, Paddington, London, and took female medical students for their dispensing course.  

This led to her being appointed as Tutor in Pharmacy at the Royal Free School of Medicine for Women, but she wasn’t elected as one of the first women members of the Pharmaceutical Society until 1879.

Alice met Thomas Keer, a fellow student at Muter’s School of Pharmacy in Clapham, and in 1883 they were married. She gave up her Spring Street business and became her husband’s partner in a pharmacy in Bruton Street, Berkley Square.

Isabella later started a Home for Students at their home in Endsleigh Street, which was where the first meeting of the Association of Women Pharmacists took place. Many of the Association’s early meetings were held in Isabella’s dining room.

During the First World War, despite being over 70 years old, Isabella worked daily at the Admiralty. She died in Croydon on 30 July 1926, aged 84. 

Louisa Stammwitz

Louisa Stammwitz As featured in the Chemist and Druggist published in July 1892

Louisa Stammwitz sat the Society’s Preliminary exam with Rose Minshull in 1873, and both trained at the South London School of Pharmacy under Dr Muter, the same school as Isabella Clarke.  

Louisa campaigned alongside Rose Minshull and Alice Hart to allow female students access to the Society’s chemical laboratories. 

After the Council refused to make her a Registered Student of the Society, Louisa passed the Minor examination and registered as a Chemist & Druggist on 18 October 1877. She passed the Major examination and registered as a Pharmaceutical Chemist on 12 December 1878. 

 Her first post was as Dispenser at the New Hospital for Women in London, where she stayed for nine years.  She then set up in partnership with Annie Neve, another female pharmacist, and opened a pharmacy in Paignton, Devon. Louisa later retired to live with Annie in Sanderstead, Croydon, where she died in 1916.