Celebrating Black History: Leo Vinton Butts (1898-1956)

LBSpecial Note: During the Month of February, Black History Month, will be highlighting African Americans who have contributed significantly during the profession.

Born in July of 1898, Leo Vinton Butts was someone who would pave the way for many individuals. Butts was one of the first African Americans to prevail in both the fields of athletics and academics. In 1913, he enrolled in Madison High School in Wisconsin. While attending high school, he was very active participating in sports, namely basketball, track, and football. While Butts was a great athlete of each, he excelled in football, starting two full seasons on the offensive line. This feat would be far from the peak of his athletic career.

The following year in 1918, Butts joined the University of Wisconsin to play football. In only the second game of the season, he was entered into the game as a right guard. This event made him the first African American to play in a game for Wisconsin. While data is limited as to how much he played the remained of the season, it is noted that Butts’ presence was significant enough to where he travelled with the team to away games.

Aside from prevailing and exceeding in athletics, Butts also led the way with the academic side of things. While at Wisconsin, Butts also sought out a degree, that of pharmacy. In 1920, je was the first African American student to graduate from the Wisconsin School of Pharmacy. One of Butts’ most well known work is ‘The Negro in Pharmacy,” his thesis work examining the conditions and state of African American pharmacists during the early-to-mid 20th Century.

After schooling, Butts worked several years as a postman before he was finally able to purchase his own drug store. Butts personally operated the drug store for the remained of his lifetime up until his death.

Leo Vinton Butts played a major role in paving the way for both African American athletes and scholars, notably in the field of pharmacy. In his thesis, he explained the stature and greatness of the pharmacy school at Wisconsin, and how the profession has limited, if any ties to the African American culture. Being the first African American to graduate in the program, it is easily understood how Leo created a path for other students as well as bringing diversity into the program.

I personally am interested in Leo’s feats with regards to doubling as a scholar and an athlete. To play football and to earn a pharmacy degree are highly impressive when accomplished separately. Doing both at the same time is truly impressive.. Having competitive sports in my earlier years, and currently being in pharmacy school, I understand the amount of dedication required for each. I have copious amounts admiration and respect for the each feat from Leo, all as while he broke new ground within the profession for many more to follow.


Bond, G. Leo Vinton Butts ’20. UW Health Sports Medicine.

 Black Histoy Month, African American Pharmacists. Pharmacy Practice News. Issue : February 2007 , Volume 34:02

Contributed by: Matt Montavan, P3, Class of 2017

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