Ella P. Stewart was born on March 6, 1893 in Stringtown, West Virginia. As a child, she was very ambitious, showing great interest in education and furthering her knowledge. Stewart always felt she had many obstacles to overcome being from a segregated community. She went to Storer College in West Virginia, the only school in the region that accepted African American students.
During this time, she married and began her family. Unfortunately, her only child died at a young age due to whooping cough. Trying to focus on better things, she began to work as a bookkeeper in a local pharmacy. It was here where her interest for pharmacy began. She applied to the University of Pittsburgh but was denied acceptance due to segregation and discrimination. Even though she was turned down multiple times, she kept persistent and was finally accepted at University of Pittsburgh but was forced to be separate from the other students. She graduated from University of Pittsburgh with the highest marks passing her state licensure exam in 1916. She became the first African American female to be a licensed pharmacist in Pennsylvania and one of the earliest African American female pharmacists in the country.
Stewart moved to Braddock, PA where she managed a drug store, which she later purchased. The stress of the store forced her to divorce her husband and years later step down from owning the drug store entirely. She turned the business over to a fellow graduate, William Stewart, who she married in 1920. Together they moved to Ohio, where she was the first African American employee in an all white hospital. She overcame discrimination and helped desegregate the hospital.
Years later she moved to Toledo, Ohio where she was active in the community and was elected president of the Ohio Association of Colored Women in 1944 and later became president of the same organization on a national level. Stewart was on the forefront of promoting civil rights in her community and frequently went to Washington D.C. to do the same. With the money earned from her pharmacy, she endorsed scholarships to assist young black women in attending school.
With all her knowledge and leadership qualities, she was appointed to be a delegate to the International Conference of Women of the World. There she helped to strengthen peace efforts by promoting understanding and friendship among women all over the world. In 1963, Stewart was appointed commissioner of the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Stewart never stopped fighting to overcome racism even when she faced adversity. She passed away in 1987 but we still remember her motto “fight for human dignity and world peace.” She has paved the way for both African Americans and females across the country.
Ella P. Stewart Collection. Center for Archival Collections. BGSU Libraries. https://lib.bgsu.edu/finding_aids/items/show/795
Contributed by: Samatha Farrah, P2, Class of 2018