Who was the first British woman pharmacist?

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We’ve had the first British female bus driver, motorist and gas fitter. Today’s first British woman is Fanny Deacon (1838 – 1930): pharmacist.

In 1868 the government decided that all pharmacists had to register with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The first register compiled a year later included the names of 223 practicing women pharmacists about 2% of the total number of pharmacists. These women qualified for inclusion in the register because they were already in practice probably having taken over their business from a father or husband.

After 1868 women were allowed to take the Society’s examinations and register as qualified pharmacists. The first woman to pass a so called “modified” exam was Fanny Deacon.

Fanny’s father, William Potter, was a pharmacist who had a chemist and druggist shop in Kibworth, Leicestershire.

Once she was qualified Fanny registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society from the same address as her father until 1875. She married Abraham Deacon and moved with her husband and father to Fleckney in Leicestershire. Here Fanny and her father had a shop next to the chapel where Fanny’s husband was the minister.

Their son Gus combined pharmacy with watch making and Fanny remained at Fleckney long after the deaths of both her father and her husband. She was still on the register of the RPS when she died in 1930 aged ninety two.

Alice Vickery
By unspecified (Schwimmer-Lloyd collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1873, Alice Vickery was the first woman to qualify as a chemist and druggist by passing the Society’s ‘Minor’ exam.

In 1873, Alice had qualified as a midwife. In 1880 she also became one of the first women in Britain to qualify as a medical practitioner.

Alice was also a prominent early feminist, and an active promoter (and practitioner) of free love, contraception and women’s rights.

Meanwhile, Isabella Clarke and Rose Minshull had passed the Society’s Preliminary, Minor and Major exams.

From 1875 they both made repeated applications for membership of the Society and were rejected.

The Annual General Meeting of 1878 approved a motion, albeit by just two votes, that it was undesirable for women to be admitted to the Society.

The following year, however, the Society’s Council grudgingly finally agreed that Isabella and Rose should become members.

Yet the change turned out to be largely symbolic. In the following decades, the number of women on the statutory register actually declined. By 1905, there were only 195 female pharmacists on the register, just 1.2 per cent of the 16,000 total.

It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that things began to change.

In 1947, Jean Kennedy Irvine became the first of many female presidents of the Pharmaceutical Society. By then, one in 10 pharmacists were female.

This had grown to 18 per cent by 1959, and by the mid-1980s over a third of pharmacists were women. And nowadays, there are more women pharmacists on the register than men.

There’s an interesting account of the 175 year history of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society here.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

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