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From the archives: CU Pharmacy’s all-female class of 1920 makes history

Pharmacy students and faculty make history through the years

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Written by Sara Knuth on August 18, 2020

As the country reflects on the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights in the U.S., the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is reflecting on a milestone of its own. In 1920, the school awarded degrees to an all-female class, a rare feat in a time when women were still fighting for their rights.

After completing the “prescribed work in the School of Pharmacy,” including courses in chemistry, botany, pharmacognosy and more, seven women made school history.

According to archival documents, the women earned their degrees on June 11, 1920 — just more than a month before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing American women the right to vote. (As a testament to the state, however, Colorado women secured their right to vote in 1893.)

The class of 1920 consisted of the following students:

Pharmaceutical Graduate

Estel Bacon

Charlotte Burgess

Helen Myers

Helen Simpson

Pharmaceutical Chemist

Hazel Jaquiss

Faye O’Brien

Margaret Swisher


SOP 1920 graduatesA historic School of Pharmacy meeting document lists the Class of 1920.


According to a University of Colorado course catalogue from the time, Pharmaceutical Chemist students completed their coursework in three years, setting themselves up for careers as store managers, manufacturers and dispensers of medical products in retail stores, public hospitals, mining companies and the U.S. Army and Navy.

Pharmaceutical graduates continued their schooling for a fourth year, preparing themselves for careers ranging from food and drug chemists to professors in colleges of pharmacy to directors of public health service laboratories.

In the years that followed, women continued to make groundbreaking advancements in the field of pharmacy and at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy.

Here are just a few of the school’s trailblazing moments for women:

Milestones for women continue through the years

  • A decade after the first all-female class graduated, the school’s female pharmacists banded together by establishing the Theta Chapter of Kappa Epsilon, a national pharmaceutical fraternity for women.
  • Legendary CU Pharmacy alumna Katherine “Kay” Keating was born in 1922, just two years after the school’s historic all-female class graduated. A 1948 pharmacy graduate, Keating was the first woman in the Navy to rise from Seaman Recruit to Captain, the highest rank in the Medical Service Corps. Through her career, she served in three wars and became the second female pharmacy officer, the first female pharmacist to attain the rank of captain, the first woman in the Medical Service Corps to go to sea and the first woman office to replace a male officer at sea. Keating was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
  • Decades later, in 1971, the first female faculty member was appointed.
  • In 2019, Professor Sunny Linnebur, PharmD, became the first female pharmacist to serve as president of the American Geriatrics Society, an interprofessional society for geriatrics healthcare professionals dedicated to improving the health, independence and quality of life of older people.

More than a century later, women in pharmacy continue to break barriers. And from 1920 to today, CU Pharmacy has been a place where women make history.