To be a Member or not to be a Member?

LDRPS: SZ715, 1900. By the time this photograph was taken, women could become full members of the Society, but chemists’ assistants could not, as the associate category had been discontinued

As with any profession, there were many different opinions about membership of the Society. Some were happy to join, while others were reluctant, seeing other chemists and druggists as competition. The attitudes towards members and non-members reflected the social dynamics of the time: for example, masters could be members while employees could not.

In 1841 chemist’s assistants could take the minor exam and become associates but were prohibited from becoming full members. Associates were not able to attend general meetings, vote or hold office.

The associate category was discontinued in 1898, although after 2005 technicians could, for a time, join as associate members. Today, technicians must register with General Pharmaceutical Council in order to practice.

After the Jenkins Case of 1920 the Society was not allowed to take on the responsibilities of a trade union, such as regulating hours of business or fixing prices. Instead the Retail Pharmacists Union was formed.

In 1953 the Chemist and Druggist qualification was phased out, and all Society members were given the title of pharmacist. All full members of the society were given the title of Fellow, but since then this has been an honorary award. 

A Growing Reputation

LDRPS: SZ2045 This photograph shows international pharmacists L. Jaques, F. Komplé, and L. Marie from Mauritius. They are sitting in a group portrait, at the British Pharmaceutical Conference at Kilin, Scotland, 1892

When the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain was first founded Jacob Bell was concerned at the lack of focus on pharmacists outside London. Local branches were set up in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Norwich. Part of their work was supporting pharmacy students unable to attend lectures at the Headquarters in Bloomsbury.

Founded in 1841, the North British Branch supported members in Scotland and North England. In 1884 the branch moved to York Place in Edinburgh and the local committee later became the Executive body for the Society in Scotland. In 1948 the North British Branch became the Scottish Department.

The Welsh Executive was founded in 1976 replacing Rhanbarth Cymru, the Society’s Welsh Committee.

Before the founding of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1841, the French standard for pharmacy education was the international benchmark. As the Society’s reputation grew, more and more overseas pharmacists joined, such as L. Marie, who registered with the Society in 1892 and joined the British Pharmaceutical Conference that year. This saw the start of the inclusive and diverse profession that continues today, and the Society continues to welcome international members.

Women in the Society

LDRPS: PBI2 This portrait shows Jean Kennedy Irvine who was elected as the first woman president in 1947. She was known for her strength of character and support of younger pharmacists

Women had a strong role in pharmacy long before the foundation of the Pharmaceutical Society. They would mix home remedies or sell medicinal herbs, and in the 19th century could also take over a chemist and druggist premises after the death of their husband or father.

The 1868 Pharmacy Act required all practicing pharmacists to register with the Society, but, for the first time, women members became an issue. The first compulsory register included 223 women eligible as established pharmacists, and although women could own their own business and sit the Society’s exam, they were banned from becoming full members. Not until 1879, after years of campaigning, did women win the right to full membership.

Throughout the 20th century women took on more roles within the Society.Margaret Buchanan was the first female member of the Council in 1918; Agnes Borrowman joined the Society’s Board of Examiners in 1924, and in 1947 Jean Irvine became the first woman President.

A majority of pharmacists working today are women, and they are represented on the National Pharmacy Boards of England, Scotland and Wales. However, there is still a gender pay gap and they are underrepresented in senior roles in the profession, particularly women from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.