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Podcast: What female pharmacists of the past can teach the industry today

Pharmacy historian Briony Hudson discusses the importance of women in pharmacy dating back centuries for breaking down doors for the female pharmacists of today in the latest episode of A Coffee With…podcast series

To mark the beginning of Women’s History Month, C+D talked to Briony Hudson, a pharmacy historian who specialises in female history in the profession. 

It is vital to know about women over history, because they have been much less visible than men, says Ms Hudson, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t making a valuable contribution to developing the industry.

“If we talk about community pharmacy or community pharmacy businesses, whether that is in medieval times or the 19th century, we might think the man was the pharmacist because he’s the one that was in the records, but so often they were a family business and the woman was right there beside him,” she tells C+D.

It was not until the turn of the century that the first meeting of the Association of Women Pharmacists was held. It was covered by C+D almost 120 years ago in 1905, as "a meeting both historical and novel".

The inaugural meeting focused on the problems of women trying to find pharmacy employment, the “furtherance of social intercourse” and on establishing rotas for locums. Essentially, discussing flexible working, networking, and access to employment – all topics that are highly relevant to women working within pharmacy today.

Isabella Clarke-Keer was the first president of the AWP and a pioneer of women’s pharmacy that deserves to be recognised for her efforts, said Ms Hudson. Clarke-Keer was also one of the two first women to be elected to the Pharmaceutical Society during the 1870s, alongside Rose Minshull.

“A movement coalesced around her, whether she liked it or not. In terms of pioneers, she was really important,” Hudson explains. Clarke-Keer had a pharmacy business with her husband and became a tutor in pharmacy at the London School of Medicine for Women. 



What threads from history still have a bearing on women in pharmacy today? The importance of mentorship, finding role models, and being brave enough to put yourself forward despite opposition, may all be familiar considerations for female pharmacists working in 2024. 

While women currently outnumber men in actual number of pharmacists, in leadership that is a different picture. According to GPhC data from 2022, 62.3% of pharmacists are female, but only 36% of senior pharmacy leaders are women.

This “perennial” issue dates back to the history of pharmaceutical associations, said Ms Hudson, emphasising the hard work women put in to break into different areas of pharmacy. “In the final council meeting [of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society] that allowed women in, in 1879, the male council members basically said ‘We’re fed up with the hassle’. There was no ethics involved in the conversation, they wanted to ‘avoid further agitation’. They had been worn down,” she says.


Listen to the podcast to learn about: 

  • The beginnings of women in pharmacy

  • What the significant step changes were to women’s official role in pharmacy

  • What women working in pharmacy today can learn from their predecessors


You can listen to the podcast above. Alternatively, follow C+D’s podcasts by searching “Chemist+Druggist podcast” on your preferred app or on Soundcloud.


Join C+D's Women in Pharmacy group for free by registering for free on the C+D Community


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