In honor of Black History Month, Mylyfe would like to recognize Anna Louise James, a true pioneer and beloved member of her community.
Anna Louise James will forever hold her place in history as the first African American, female pharmacist in the state of Connecticut, the first black woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy, and one of the first women and African Americans to register to vote in her town of Old Saybrook.
Born January 19, 1886, Anna was the daughter of a Virginia plantation slave who escaped to Connecticut. An early and committed learner, Anna focused on her education and in 1902, James graduated from Hartford’s Arsenal Elementary School. Her family then moved to Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where she attended the local high school. Only one of a few black students, she graduated in 1905. James then went on to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1908, as the first black woman graduate and the first black women to be licensed as a pharmacist in Connecticut.
James ran her own drug store in Hartford from 1909 until 1911, when she moved to Old Saybrook to join her brother-in-law, Peter Lane, at the pharmacy he had opened there. As one of the first black pharmacists in the state, established in 1895, his store was a popular destination with its soda fountain.
Anna James was also known as being very altruistic, known to always assist the underserved with filling prescriptions during financially challenging times like the Great Depression years of the 1930s. With the passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, legalizing women’s suffrage, James was one of the first women in Old Saybrook to register to vote. Following her interests in education and community, James often held literary salons in her apartment home above the drugstore building.
In 1917, the Lane Pharmacy became known as the James Pharmacy when Anna took ownership. There are some discrepancies as to whether or not James bought the pharmacy from her brother-in-law or he left it to her when he left for World War I in 1917. Either way, “Miss James” who was known to locals to give sage advice as well as prescriptions, served until her retirement in 1967. She continued to live upstairs in the drugstore until her passing in 1977.
If you are ever in the area, know that her pharmacy is now a Bed and Breakfast where you can stay in the “Anna Room” and enjoy Old Saybrook.
Anna’s accomplishments as one of the first female African-American pharmacists in the country, her passion for life and for others, and her leadership inspire us at Mylyfe every day.