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Zada, Gloria, and the Sisters: Excerpts from A Conversation with Dr. Metta Lou Henderson

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of Points posts during March in honor of Women’s History Month. Today’s article comes from American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Board Member Melissa Murer Corrigan, BPharm, FAPhA, FASHP. Murer Corrigan is the founding Executive Director/CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Passionate about leadership and encouraging more women leaders, she also is host of the MelisRxScripts podcast.

Sister Pharmacist Mercy Hospital Chicago 1898

Sister Mary Ignatius Feeney in the Drug Room at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital in 1898. Sister Pharmacists helped to pioneer the specialty of hospital pharmacy. Image Courtesy of Metta Lou Henderson.

During March 2021, we celebrate Women’s History Month and recognize the significant contributions of women in history and society. I think it’s also a great time to learn more about the outstanding women who’ve played key leadership roles in pharmacy and health care. On my podcast MelisRxScripts, I strive to interview women leaders of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

I recently talked with Metta Lou Henderson, PhD, a research pioneer in the history of women in pharmacy. Women’s History Month is the perfect opportunity to share some highlights from our chat. In 2009, Metta Lou donated the Metta Lou Henderson Women in Pharmacy Collection to the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, and in 2015 she was elected the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) honorary president for her lifelong commitment as a scholar and advocate for the profession of pharmacy. Metta Lou also is the author of American Women Pharmacists: Contributions to the Profession.

Metta Lou is retired from Ohio Northern University and has had a long, accomplished and significant career in pharmacy. Here are some thoughts from Metta Lou on other women pioneers in pharmacy such as pharmacy educator Zada Cooper, pharmacy organization leader Gloria Francke, and Catholic nuns who helped pioneer hospital pharmacy.

This interview has been edited slightly for readability and space limitations. If you enjoy what you read please check out the full interview in Episode 17: “Take Risks and Make it Work” With Metta Lou Henderson at MelisRxScripts.

Melissa: As you know Metta Lou, I’ve been involved in organizing the Zada Cooper Leadership Symposium at the University of Iowa’s College of Pharmacy. Please share what you know about Zada.

Zada Cooper 1901

Zada Cooper in 1901. Image courtesy of Meta Lou Henderson.

Metta Lou: Well, Zada was really a woman so far ahead of her time considering that she became a faculty member in 1897 after graduation from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy and stayed there until she retired in 1942. She also believed in mentoring students, both male and female, and in doing things to get them involved in pharmacy organizations. In 1912, Zada went to her first APhA meeting, and… the American Conference on Pharmaceutical Faculties [ACPF]… met at the same time. As far as the pharmacy faculty group, she was the first woman to attend, and she never missed a meeting until she retired. She was very involved in APhA. She was one of the petitioners to seek recognition for a women’s section of APhA, and she served with them for many years.

Zada also became very, very active in AACP [American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy]; I mean ACPF [that] became AACP. She became active in the committee on the activities of students and alums. She worked there with Dean Rufus Lyman [of the University of Nebraska College of Pharmacy], and they became great pals. They took care of pharmacy education for many years working together.

Out of this committee, along with the women’s section of APhA, came the need for an organization for women students where they could get together and share ideas. That then became Kappa Epsilon [originally a professional pharmacy sorority], which was founded in 1921. Could have been founded earlier, but we had something known as the Spanish flu and World War I [going on]. 100 years ago, KE was delayed because of the Spanish flu.

A couple more things about a Zada Cooper and AACP. In 1922, she was elected secretary of AACP. Now, that is the only time she apparently ever ran for an office because she was secretary of AACP until she retired in 1942. She ran the organization out of her office at the college of pharmacy and she received $100 a year for her work. Also during this time is when she and Rufus Lyman really were able to make great strides with the organization. Zada worked [well] with everyone. The other thing with Zada is her inclusiveness. Yes, she promoted women, but Zada worked very, very well with men. And let’s face it, in her era in the colleges of pharmacy, it was a male [environment]. I never had the opportunity to meet Zada because she died in 1961.

Melissa: Tell me about Gloria Niemeyer Francke. I believe you knew Gloria well?

Metta Lou: I met Gloria in 1961 at the University of Michigan Hospital Pharmacy. So, immediately, I got involved in things via Gloria, and then as I went to meetings and so on, I began to spend more time with Gloria.

I spent a lot of time with Gloria. But most importantly, it was watching her and seeing how she did things and how well known she was. Gloria was known throughout the world as if somebody was a pharmacist, and they would say, “Did you know Gloria Francke?” She never forgot names. I would be in the lobby of the hotel during an APhA meeting and it might take us an hour to go 20 feet because everybody wanted to talk to Gloria.

Metta Lou Henderson and Gloria Francke

Gloria Francke (left) with Metta Lou Henderson. Image courtesy of Metta Lou Henderson.

One of the first things Gloria wanted to do after pharmacy graduation was go to work for Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. So, she applied for a job, and they told her “No.” They did not hire women. Gloria went on and did other things, but Gloria never forgot anything. Finally, I think it was in the seventies or early eighties, Lilly finally did write her a letter and apologized for not hiring her.

And of course, Gloria is the first woman to get the Remington Medal and so many other awards [including] Honorary President of APhA. She worked at APhA for a number of years in various capacities and was part of the founding group of the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists [ASHP] when it spun out from APhA. The other thing that we might want to mention about Gloria is she never was elected to an office. So just showing how you can be a great leader and great mentor without being the president of something.

Melissa: How about some of the Catholic nuns or “Sisters” you have researched during your pharmacy career?

Metta Lou: Gloria Francke told Sister Margaret Wright that it was her responsibility to document the role of the sister pharmacist and that I would help her. Sister Margaret and I, we had a lot of fun doing it. We searched out a lot of information. We did find 900 women Sisters who were pharmacists starting back in the 1800s. Sister pharmacists were part of hospital pharmacy early on because it was the Catholic religious orders that started many hospitals. Therefore, the pharmacy would be run by one of the Sisters.

Sisters Manufacturing Pharmacy

Two Sister pharmacists in the Manufacturing Pharmacy Department at St. Louis’s Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital about 1961. Image courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

The Sister pharmacists were phenomenal and advanced in pharmacy practice, especially into the 1920s and 1930s. Sister pharmacists also were very involved in the founding of the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists. There are estimates of 57 Sister pharmacists serving as charter members of ASHP. They were everywhere in the hospitals, probably up on the wards, because they were all wards then, probably writing orders. I bet many of the doctors would never say “No” to a Sister pharmacist.

Read More in Pharmacy in History!

  1. Metta Lou Henderson, “Zada Mary Cooper: Grand and Glorious Lady of Pharmacy,” Pharmacy in History 40, no. 2/3 (1998): 77–84.

  2. Metta Lou Henderson and Sister Margaret Wright, “Sister Pharmacists and Pharmacy Practice from the 1700s to the 1970s,” Pharmacy in History 50, no. 2 (2008): 70–81.

  3. Metta Lou Henderson and Sister Margaret Wright, “Sister Pharmacists and Pharmacy Organization, 1900 to 1980,” Pharmacy in History 50, no. 3 (2008): 87–96.


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