archival photo of Ella P. Stewart

BIPOC in STEM: Ella Nora Phillips Stewart

By Maggy Alarcon and Alexia Maceda

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Black and white photo of Ella Nora Phillips Stewart

Ella Nora Phillips Stewart was one of the first African-American female pharmacists in the United States. Ella Nora was born on March 6, 1893 in Stringtown, West Virginia. When she was younger, she wished to attend the University of Pittsburgh but was declined because of racial discrimination. However, she was determined to attend this school and graduated from the School of Pharmacy as the first black woman in 1916. Stewart not only graduated with high marks passing her state exam, but she also became the first pharmacist of her race and gender in the state of Pennsylvania and one of the earliest practicing African-American female pharmacists in the country. In 1922, she opened her own pharmacy with her husband in Toledo, Ohio. Stewart was the change for her community, where she permitted civil rights leaders to meet and made sure that the city enforced civil rights. Furthermore, she accommodated Black people when they visited Toledo since many hotels did not allow Black guests. In Toledo, she was part of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and The Enterprise Charity Club, and after retirement, she was the president of the Ohio Association of Colored Women. When she sold her pharmacy in 1948, she became the president of the National Association for Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. Then in 1952, she traveled to Athens, Greece, to delegate at the International Council of Women of the World. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Stewart was also appointed membership to many national and international organizations such as the National Advisory Committee on the White House Committee on Aging, the Women’s Advisory Committee on U.S. Defense Manpower by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Executive Board of the U.S. Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) and Goodwill Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. During her time as an ambassador, she visited more than twenty nations in Asia, and then became the vice-president of the Pacific and Southeast Asian Women’s Association. Through exemplary work as a pharmacist, professional, activist, and leader, she is an amazing example that people of color can achieve their goals despite discrimination, segregation, and racism.To learn more, visit: