Agatha Christie: A True Poison Expert

Agatha Christie has carved her place out in history by being the best selling mystery author of all time. In many of her books, she used poisons to kill her victims and this was no coincidence. A little known fact is a big part of her being able to paint an accurate portrayal of poisoning is because of her vast knowledge of chemicals from her training as a pharmacy dispenser.

Christie was originally named Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller at birth in the United Kingdom on September 15, 1890. She was born into a time when it was rare for a woman to receive a formal education. However, her mother insisted she learn how to read and even sent her to finishing school when she turned 16. (1)

During WWI, Agatha volunteered as a nurse in Britain. It was there that she first became interested in the science of medicine. After the end of the war she began training at a dispensary. The training involved practical and theoretical chemistry. At this time, many medications were compounded by hand at dispensaries, therefore giving her hands on experience on making medications.

She began to transition this hands on experience into her fictional books in 1920 when her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The victim in this book was poisoned when someone added bromide (precipitating agent) to her sleeping tonic. As a result of the addition of the bromide, the medicine settled in the bottom and formed a lethal dose. Agatha Christie’s accurate descriptions of poisons have even been said to be used while diagnosing a patient. In her novel, The Pale Horse, she described thallium poisoning symptoms so well that after reading the book, a nurse at a hospital recognized these symptoms in one of her patients. (3)

At the end of her career, Christie had written 82 detective novels and detailed overdose signs of over 28 unique chemical compounds. Her literary work earned her several awards and in 1971 she was even made a dame of Great Britain. It is clear that her pharmaceutical knowledge was part of the driving force of her literary career. (2)



  1. Agatha Christie. (2012). Retrieved 04:07, September 28, 2017 from
  2. Harkup, Kathryn. A Is for arsenic. New York, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.
  3. Sova, Dawn B. Agatha Christie a to Z: The Essential Reference to Her Life and Writings. New York: Facts on File, ©1996.

American Pharmacists Month–HeLa Cells: Impact on Modern Medicine & Vaccine Development

Contributed by Jovanny Gonzalez, Class of 2019, Fall 2016 History of Pharmacy 

helaHenrietta Lacks was born August 1920 to a family of farmers. Her upbringing was humble and with limited financial resources. Henrietta Lacks suffered from cervical cancer and while living in Maryland she visited John Hopkins University for treatment. A physician by the name of Howard Jones diagnosed and treated Henrietta and had samples of her cervix removed. Coincidently, at the same time research was being done on cell cultivation but scientist had a difficult time culturing cells for longer than a few days. Dr. George Otto Gey was the first person to come in contact with Mrs. Lacks cells and noticed that they proliferated and were durable. It was the first times in the scientific world were a group of cells replicated past a few days.


Read more about the importance of Henrietta Lacks in R. Sloot’s Book: The Immortal Life of Herietta Lacks

By 1955 Henrietta Lacks’ cells were known as HeLa cells. Scientist began to clone and mass-produce her cells for medical advancements. It is still unclear whether scientist received consent from Mrs. Lacks to use her cells for research but scientist state at that time there were no set regulations about patient consent it was considered natural to treat and use patient tissue to help the patient recover. One contribution HeLa cells brought to scientist was the ability to develop a vaccine for polio. Jonas Salk was the first to use HeLa cells and develop a vaccine for polio; and without HeLa cells that achievement may have been delayed.

The University of John Hopkins were it all began, acknowledged the impact and controversy HeLa cells brought to science by stating “Johns Hopkins Medicine sincerely acknowledges the contribution to advances in biomedical research made possible by Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells. It’s important to note that at the time the cells were taken from Mrs. Lacks’ tissue, the practice of obtaining informed consent from cell or tissue donors was essentially unknown among academic medical centers. Sixty years ago, there was no established practice of seeking permission to take tissue for scientific research purposes. The laboratory that received Mrs. Lacks’s cells had arranged many years earlier to obtain such cells from any patient diagnosed with cervical cancer as a way to learn more about a serious disease that took the lives of so many. Johns Hopkins never patented HeLa cells, nor did it sell them commercially or benefit in a direct financial way. Today, Johns Hopkins and other research-based medical centers consistently obtain consent from those asked to donate tissue or cells for scientific research.” HeLa cells were cultivated worldwide and many scientist gained recognition by using Henrietta Lacks’ cells but her family did not receive any recognition nor any monetary gain. 

Even today, HeLa cells are being used to study new disease such as HIV and other viruses. Scientist continue to use HeLA cells in research to find remedies, develop vaccines, cure disease. Through HeLa cells, many major medical advancements have been and continue to be made.



  1. Picture


Celebrating Women in Pharmacy: Elizabeth Marshall (1768-1826)

EMSpecial Note: During the Month of March, Women’s History Month, we will be highlighting women in pharmacy (past and present) who have contributed significantly to the profession.

One of the first female pharmacists in the United States, Elizabeth Marshall, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1768. Many people credit her with being the very first female pharmacist in the United States. In reality, that title actually belongs to Elizabeth Gooking Greenleaf. However, while she may not have been the first American female pharmacist, Elizabeth Marshall was most certainly the second and was no doubt a hugely important figure for both women in the Pharmacy profession and for Pharmacy history in general.

Elizabeth Marshall’s father, Charles Marshall, as well as his father Christopher Marshall before him were both well-known pharmacists in Philadelphia at the time. Christopher Marshall’s apothecary shop was said to be the most complete outside of New York City. This distinction led to him being commissioned to look after the needs of the sick and wounded in the hospitals of Philadelphia. Charles Marshall not only took over the business from his father after his retirement but also went on to become the first president of the Philadelphia College of Apothecaries after it was founded in 1821, despite his old age. He was 77 at the time.

With such important family ties to pharmacy and medicine, it should then come as no surprise that Elizabeth too would follow into the family business. Elizabeth Marshall first started her career as a pharmacist as an apprentice in her family’s drugstore, a position in which she worked until 1805 when she finally took ownership over the store that her grandfather had founded over seventy years earlier. Under Elizabeth’s new management, the store’s business increased greatly and she was able to bring the shop out of its recent bankruptcy and restore it back into a sound financial success. It is very likely that she was the first woman in Philadelphia to have a successful commercial career, especially one of such an extensive scale.

EMAElizabeth would continue to run the store for two decades where several of Philadelphia’s most famous pharmacists would begin their careers working as apprentices under her guidance and leadership. In 1825 she finally sold ownership of the business to two of the stores apprentices, Charles Ellis and Isaac P. Morris.

The Marshall family name, along with their drugstore, are very significant pieces of pharmacy history. Elizabeth’s grandfather, Christopher Marshall, is the subject of one of the paintings in the Great Moments in Pharmacy series by historical illustrator Robert Thom. In it, Christopher can be seen showing his to sons, Elizabeth’s father and uncle, the art of manufacturing pills. And in 2012 Elizabeth Marshall, along with 16 other women pharmacist pioneers, was pictured on the wall of the Women in Pharmacy Exhibit and Conference Room at the APhA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Today, women make up over half of all of the pharmacists in the United States. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for women like Elizabeth Marshall who will always be remembered for her contributions to the profession and advancement of women in pharmacy.


Achievements of women in pharmacy lauded at foundation dedication. (2012, November 1). Retrieved September 19, 2015, from:

Beringer, G.M. (Ed). (1921, Janurary). A record of the progress of pharmacy and the allied sciences. American Journal of Pharmacy, 93, 87-89. Retrieved from:

Thom, R. (n.d.) The marshall apothecary. [Picture]. Retrieved September 20, 2015, from:

Women in pharmacy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2015, from:

Contributed by: Ryan Nolan, P2, Class of 2018

Celebrating Women in Pharmacy: Zada Mary Cooper (1875-1961)

ZMCSpecial Note: During the Month of March, we will be highlighting women in pharmacy (past and present) who have contributed significantly during the profession.

In the midst of the early 20th century, one of two women graduating from the State University of Iowa would be embarking on a journey that not only would change the profession of pharmacy and associated organizations, but also would uplift the spirits and inspire many women to pursue a career in pharmacy; her name was Zada Mary Cooper.

Cooper taught as an associate professor in pharmaceutical arithmetic and laboratory courses and had an enormous impact on her students whom claimed that her availability, ability to sympathize and encourage every student to make their own decisions separated her from the other professors of her time. The real reason

behind her title “Grand and Glorious Lady of Pharmacy” stemmed from her life long desire to encourage young women to study pharmacy and become great pharmacist.

As an advocate for women within the profession, Cooper joined the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA) in 1909 and furthermore initiated the women’s section of APhA in which she was elected president for in 1917. Cooper also became secretary for American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) from 1922 to 1942. In addition to the roles within APhA and AACP, Cooper founded Kappa Epsilon and became the first president of Rho Chi Society. Her interest in advocating to women to join the profession of pharmacy was not specifically confined to APhA.  In the same year, the Women’s Section of APhA deliberated on providing a nationwide organization for women pharmacist and eventually a pharmaceutical sorority was being considered. On May 13th, 1921, Kappa Epsilon was formed at the University of Iowa and there would be no one more qualified than Cooper who would serve as the chairman. The impact that she would make while serving as chairman would sculpt the way women would practice within the profession for the next 80 years. She continued well after her retirement in 1942 to attend conventions and be involved with Kappa Epsilon until around 1947. In addition, Zada Cooper dedicated much of her time to help the American Association of University Women to approve a Bachelor of Science degree for alumni of pharmacy colleges that would be successfully implemented in 1942.

As a modest woman and heavy advocator for women in the profession of pharmacy, Zada Cooper demonstrated through her lifetime the importance of how neither a man nor woman can change the lives of others alone, and it is imperative that pharmacy professionals broaden their horizons and come together as one.

Reference: Henderson, M. (1998). Zada Mary Cooper: Grand and Glorious Lady of Pharmacy. Pharmacy in History, 40(2), 77-84. Retrieved September 19, 2015, from:

Contributed by: Chad Sims, P2, Class of 2018

Celebrating Black History: Mary Munson Runge (1928-2014)


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

Mary Munson Runge was raised in a small town in Louisiana, where her father was a physician that owned the town’s first pharmacy.  He was one of the most successful businessmen in the town, and used his wealth to help the poor.  Runge and her father would help by covering the costs of patients who couldn’t afford their medication; these fulfilled her and her father’s passion for helping the poor and giving back to those in need.

During the 1960s, Runge worked in Oakland, California, an economically depressed region. She chose to work there because it offered possibilities to help others. It allowed her to counsel patients, reach out and educate the populations who needed it the most.  She worked part-time which allowed time for political and leadership opportunities.  Through this work Runge received widespread recognition and awards, receiving honorary doctorates of pharmacy.  She was appointed on many federal programs, such as the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

In 1979, Runge became the first woman and African Amercian to serve as the President of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA).  As president, she sought out to increase membership among woman, minority, and employee pharmacists. She also wanted to strengthen the bond between the association and the state pharmacy associations.

“The reason I was the first black and the first woman [president of APhA] is that I was the first black and the first woman to have ever run for that office.” –Mary Munson Runge

Maine, during this time, was a hostile environment for new pharmacists due to fears that established pharmacists of Maine’s APhA would stomp them out if they made progress in the organization. At the first caucus of the year, Runge declared that the new pharmacists organization needed to rise from the underground because of the decision by Maine to welcome all pharmacists, because regardless of your family history, genetic makeup, or age they all have important work to do.

“She didn’t pull any punches, and she wasn’t afraid to take on the issues, but always with a sense of humor.” –Lawrence Brown, PharmD, PhD

During her time in office, many pharmacists felt like she welcomed them to the profession and motivated them to advance their careers and leaderships. She wanted to inspire the disenfranchised, which she did in her time during and before her presidency.


Collins, S. (2012, July 31). Runge devotes storied career to the disenfranchised. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from American Pharmacists Association:

Kappa Epsilon. (2014, January 8). Mary Munson Runge 1928-2014. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from Kappa Epsilon: Professional Pharmacy Fraternity:

Contributed by: Caleb Kennedy, P2, Class of 2018

UCSOP Student Receives SNPhA National Appointment

OJOjong Bate, a P3 at the UCSOP, was recently appointed as the Student National Pharmaceutical Association’s (SNPhA) Power to End Stroke Chair. Ojong’s history with SNPhA began her first year as a pharmacy student, when she was the Power to End Stroke Initiative Chair for UCSOP’s SNPhA chapter. She has continued as the chapter delegate for the past two years, and has a burning passion for SNPhA’s mission and its role in developing student pharmacists. Ojong is humbled to serve as the Power to End Stroke Chair, and her goal for the upcoming year is to challenge every SNPhA member to fulfill the 2015-2016 presidential theme of “G.O.A.L.S. | Globalization. Outreach. Advocacy. Leadership. Scholarship”. She plans to work together with various chapter committee chairs by assisting them in collaboration with the American Heart Association (AHA), encouraging regional chapter committee chairs and SNPhA members to become certified stroke ambassadors through the AHA, promoting medication adherence, stroke awareness, and the overall promotion of heart health.

ojBorn and raised in the country of Cameroon, Ojong has enjoyed being a college student in the USA since 2010. She attended Delaware Technical Community College (DELTECH) for her undergraduate career, where she later received two Associate degrees in Biotechnology and Chemistry. Her experience at DELTECH instilled in her the passion for community service and the spirit of leadership. In addition to SNPhA, Ojong is also an active member of the American Pharmacy Association (APhA-ASP), American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP), American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS), West Virginia Rural Health Association (WVRHA), Delaware Pharmacy Society (DPS), student member of the University of Charleston Quality Assurance Committee, proud brother of Phi Delta Chi Pharmaceutical fraternity (Gamma Chapter), Phi Lambda Sigma (PLS) treasurer, Delta Lambda Chapter of Rho Chi Society, and the immediate past vice president of the University of Charleston Class of 2017.

OJ1Founded in 1972, SNPhA is an organization for pharmacy students who are concerned about pharmacy and healthcare related issues. SNPhA members advocate for stronger minority representation in pharmacy and other health-care related professions. SNPhA’s official purpose “is to plan, organize, coordinate and execute programs geared toward the improvement for the health, educational, and social environment of the community”. SNPhA has 5 main objectives, which include: offering student members the opportunity to develop leadership and professional skills, educate students and promote active participation in national health care issues, develop the role of the minority health professional as a vital member of the health care team, develop within communities a positive image of minority health professionals, and educate communities on better health practices and to increase their awareness and understanding of diseases. There are many benefits to joining SNPhA, including over $130,000 in scholarships and awards, networking opportunities, a rotation at the SNPha National Office, and numerous membership discounts ranging from hotels to Apple products.

Celebrating Women in Pharmacy–Gertrude Elion

In honor of Women’s History Month, we will be posting a few short snippets about women in pharmacy periodically throughout March 2015. We start with Gertrude B. Elion, an American pharmacologist and biochemist.

download (3)Elion is most famous for her scientific discovery of the drugs needed to treat leukemia and herpes. She also discovered the drugs necessary to prevent the rejection of kidney transplants. Her worked earned her Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988 which she shared with George H. Hitchings, her long-time boss and collaborator at Burroughs-Wellcome, and also Sir James W. Black.

She is quoted as saying: “Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.” 

Contributed by: Dr. Susan M. Gardner, Assistant Professor & Assistant Dean for Professional and Student Affairs (Course Coordinator for PHAR 546: History of Pharmacy)

Honoring The Past: The First Female Pharmacists


Susan Hayhurst

March is Women’s History Month. At the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy we want to mark this month by recognizing and honoring the many women  that have contributed to the success and advancement of the pharmacy profession.

According to the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), Elizabeth Gooking Greenleaf is recognized as the first female pharmacists in America. She owned an apothecary shop in Boston in 1727.  She was married to Reverend Daniel Gooking, a Harvard graduate. He was a minister, physician, and apothecary. Elizabeth was the mother of 12 children. It is believed she assisted her husband in the preparation of medicines for his patients.

Other sources credit Susan Hayhurst as the first female pharmacist in the United States. After graduating from the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia in 1857, Susan Hayhurst served on the College’s staff and ran its pharmaceutical department for many years. In 1883, at the age of 63, Hayhurst became the first woman to graduate from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.

Archives at Bowling Green State University share the story of another notable female pharmacist, Ella Stewart (born in Stringtown, West Virginia). Stewart wished to attend the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy but was met with discrimination when she was told admissions were closed. She persisted however, and although segregated from other students, she graduated with high marks passing her state exam in 1916, to become the first licensed African-American female pharmacist in Pennsylvania and one of the earliest practicing African-American female pharmacists in the country.

Today women are well represented in the profession. “The position of pharmacist is probably the most egalitarian of all U.S. professions today,” Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz wrote in a paper published in September 2012(and quoted in CNN Money, February 11, 2013). In fact, women make up slightly more than 50% of all full-time pharmacists, according to 2011 Census data. Women make up approximately 55% of the profession (CNN Money, February 11, 2014).

The success of women pharmacists today can in many ways be credited to the women in our past. These women were instrumental in not only increasing female pharmacist representation but also with advancing the profession.

Have a story about a groundbreaking female pharmacist you’d like to share or see featured on our blog in the future? Email us at: