Women Pharmacists in the 20th Century

IRA1996-125 Dispensing. The Right Career for Women, Circa 1911

Although the issue of female membership of the Society had been resolved by the 20th Century, women still had to work hard to achieve within the pharmacy profession, and their pay and job opportunities were still limited by their gender. Very few ran their own businesses.

However, the proportion of female pharmacists in the profession grew steadily throughout the century.  By 1945 about 10 per cent of pharmacists were female, rising to 18 per cent by 1959, and doubling to 36 per cent in 1984. 

 Despite a general lack of representation, women began to take on senior roles within the RPS in the 20th Century. Jean Irvine became the first female president of the RPS, and others soon followed in her footsteps. 

Agnes Borrowman

Agnes Borrowman  Portrait of Agnes Borrowman c1920s

Agnes Borrowman was the first woman to serve on the Society's Board of Examiners. Beginning her career in her native Scotland, she soon discovered that many customers would prefer to leave the shop than be served by a woman. 

In 1914, she moved to 17 The Pavement, which remained her registered address for the rest of her life. At first, she worked alongside Margaret Buchanan, but after the First World War, Agnes became the sole proprietor. 

By 1923, of the 15 girls trained at The Pavement who studied at the Pharmaceutical Society's School of Pharmacy, 14 had taken prizes and scholarships. Under her leadership, the business was staffed entirely by women. She believed firmly that if women were given the opportunity, they would achieve just as much as male pharmacists.  

In 1923 Agnes became the first female member of the Society's Board of Examiners, thus displaying her commitment to education and training. 

In January 1945, the pharmacy was badly damaged by a V2 bomb that fell nearby. Agnes was severely shaken and left London for some time to recover. It was at this point that she converted the business into a limited company, called Deane and Co. Chemists Ltd, with Miss Hilda Francis Wells as Director.  

Agnes died in 1955, aged 74.

Jean Kennedy Irvine 

The first female President

LDRPS: PBI2 Oil Portrait of Mrs Jean Kennedy Irvine, M.B.E., M.P.S. Painted in 1957

Jean Kennedy was born in Hawick, Roxburghshire, and served her apprenticeship in the town.  She qualified in 1900, and her first post was as assistant pharmacist to the Glasgow Apothecaries Company.  She subsequently became chief pharmacist.

After her marriage to Peter Irvine, Jean helped to manage his two Glasgow pharmacies. During World War One, she moved to London to be nearer to her husband, who had joined the army at the outbreak of the war.  In 1916, she was appointed superintendent of the Joint Committee for Pricing Prescriptions, South-Eastern Division, and remained there for more than 30 years both under the National Health Insurance Act, and the National Health Service Act.  She was the first woman president of the staff side of the Whitley Council for the National Insurance administrative, technical and clerical services.  She was also the first woman elected to the presidency of the Insurance Committee Officers Association for England and Wales.

 Jean was elected to the Society's council in 1937, only the third woman to have achieved this, and became its first woman President in 1947, aged 70. Well known for her strength of character, she once described the Council as ‘crazy’ in a public session. However, Jean was well respected for her support and encouragement of younger colleagues.  She retired in 1952and died in 1962, aged 85.

Mary Agnes Burr 

Portrait of Mary Agnes Burr, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, 1962-1963

Mary Burr entered into community pharmacy when she took over the Park Pharmacy in Nottingham in 1936. It was a family business, and she worked with her brother and sister.  

Agnes became the second woman to serve as president of the RPS from 1962-1963. Later she was awarded a Charter Gold Medal in 1973 for her outstanding pharmacy work, and in 1975 was awarded an OBE for services to pharmacy. 

In 1985 she ensured that the décor of her former pharmacy was preserved by transferring it to the Cookworthy Museum, in Kingsbridge Devon, saving it from demolition. 

She was renowned for her tireless energy and died in 1997 at the age of 90. 

Estelle Josephine Mary Leigh

LDRPS:2004.7.5  Estelle Leigh, President of the Pharmaceutical Society, 1977-1978 Estelle Feeney registered as a chemist and druggist in 1940. During her career she worked in both community and hospital pharmacy moving throughout England. She married in 1957, becoming Estelle Leigh, and she settled in Ormskirk in Lancashire in 1969. 

Estelle was an active member of the Pharmacy community in Liverpool and ran for the Society Council 1963.

She became President of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1977. In 1981 she was awarded an OBE for services to pharmacy and was later awarded the Society’s Charter Gold Medal in 1983. Estelle died in 1999. 

Marion Rawlings

LDRPS:2004.7.13 Marion Rawlings, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, 1989-1990

Marion Rawlings was President of the RPS from 1989-1990 and was a member of the society’s council from 1983 until 1995. She was awarded an OBE for services to pharmacy and won the Society Charter Gold Medal in 1990, the year of her retirement. 

Marion began her career in community pharmacy. She set up her own pharmacy in Cardiff in 1957 that she ran for the rest of her career. She also took on roles to promote pharmacy in Wales as chairman of the Welsh Central Contractors Committee as well as the secretary of the South Glamorgan Local Pharmaceutical Committee.  

Marion Rawlings died in 2013. 


Linda Stone

LDRPS:2004.7.14 Linda Stone, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, 1990-1991

Linda Stone became President of the RPS from 1990 to 1991, after establishing her career in community pharmacy.

In 1997 she became Chairman of the International Pharmaceutical Federation Working Group on GPP in Developing countries. Linda later became the Chairman of the British Sjögren’s Syndrome Association in 2002 and continues to represent the charity today. 

On 4 November 2004 Linda was awarded an OBE for services to the NHS in the West Midlands. She is an RPS Fellow and still works in community pharmacy as a locum in addition to continuing her work in pharmacy regulation. 


Ann Lewis

LDRPS:2004.7.17 Ann Lewis, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, 1994-1996

Ann Lewis was President of the RPS for two terms from 1994 until 1996. She registered as a pharmacist in 1965, but also had an interest in law for which she earned a degree in 1973. These two areas of expertise made her well suited to her later work with the RPS.

 After her term as President, Ann continued with the society as secretary and registrar from 1998 until her retirement in 2007. She was a key force behind much of the RPS’s work during that time, but most notably the Pharmacy in a New Age initiative, which looked to forge a new future for the pharmacy profession. 

Ann was awarded an OBE in 1997 for services to the pharmacy profession but earned many other awards in recognition of her tireless work, including the Evan Gold Medal from the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists and the Schering award from the College of Pharmacy Practice. Ann was also recognised academically earning an honorary doctorate from the University of Sunderland and an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moore’s University. She was awarded the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Gold Medal in 2009.

Not only was Ann accomplished in the pharmacy profession, she was also well respected for her outgoing and adventurous nature. She died in 2013 at the age of 71. 


Christine Glover

LDRPS:2004.7.21 Christine Glover, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, 1999-2001 Christine Glover served as president of the RPS for two terms from 1999 until 2001. 

Christine gave much of her time to working with the RPS having previously held a term of vice president in 1997-1998. Later she was a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Council until 2005. 

She still supports the RPS as a Fellow.