Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Bessie Olive Cole (1883-1971)
MSA SC 3520-14381


The pharmaceutical field has become an exciting and appealing career-path open to and chosen by many women.However, this has not always been the case.Thanks to the pioneering study and work of Dr. B. Olive Cole, women have been increasingly able to move into various arenas of healthcare previously unavailable to their sex.

A native of Maryland, Bessie Olive Cole was born on November 14, 1883, to Jordan B. Cole and his wife, Nancy Ellen Wheeler.The family resided in Mount Carmel, Baltimore County, a rural town north of bustling Baltimore city.1After graduating in 1902 from Franklin High School, in Reisterstown, Maryland, Cole fed her desire for higher education by enrolling in the Baltimore Business College, graduating in 1903.2During this time Cole also worked at Sharpe and Dohme, a prominent pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Baltimore.Although she did not work directly with pharmaceuticals at this time, her tenure as a stenographer and quotation clerk undoubtedly sparked her interest in the pharmacology field.3

Determined to continue her education and embark on a career centered in pharmaceuticals, Cole applied to the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and began her studies.Though Olive Cole became known as the “First Lady of Maryland Pharmacy” in later years, she earned this reputation early on by, as David Knapp, PhD, current dean, School of Pharmacy explained, “She succeeded, and excelled, in two arenas overwhelmingly populated at that time by men: the profession of pharmacy and the profession of higher education.4
As reported in the May 8, 1913, issue of The Star, Cole was one of the approximately 35 students who had successfully completed the necessary examinations in April that were necessary for graduation on May 31, 1913.5She received the Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the school and was awarded the gold medal in the department of pharmacy, given to the student with the year’s highest average.6

Upon graduation, Cole quickly established herself as a licensed pharmacist in Maryland.In 1916 she became licensed in Washington D.C. as well.7From 1916 to 1920 Cole actively pursued her career in pharmacology and worked to further the profession, which can be seen in her life-long active membership in the American Pharmaceutical Association from 1915 until her death.8Between 1916 and 1920 Dr. Cole worked for the Solway-Annan Company, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Washington D.C.In addition, she also worked part-time in the War Risk Department of the Federal Government.9Her career took a dramatic turn in 1920 when the University of Maryland offered Cole an associate professorship at the School of Pharmacy, a position she eagerly accepted.Teaching enabled Cole to expand upon her opportunities and pass on her experiences and knowledge to future generations of pharmacists, especially women.10She taught botany and material medica at the school between 1920 and 1928.Soon after beginning in this position she became the secretary of the faculty at the School of Pharmacy, a distinction she held until her retirement in 1953.11

Education was always of utmost importance to Dr. B. Olive Cole, so it is not surprising that in 1920 she became one of the first women to enroll in the School of Law at the University of Maryland, which had only recently opened to females.She completed her studies successfully, even becoming the first woman, along with another female student, to win the practice court case of 1923.12She received her Bachelor of Laws degree in 1923 and became the first female graduate of the School of Law.Although she never formally practiced law, Cole was a member of the Baltimore City and Maryland State Bar.13Always one who desired to further her own education, Cole enrolled intermittently in various courses in english, history, and economics at the Johns Hopkins University between the years 1915 and 1935.14She utilized both her law degree and extra course work to her advantage in the classroom to enrich the learning experiences of her students and provide endless sources of inspiration for them. The law degree Dr. Cole earned influenced the path her career took after 1923.At that time she combined her pharmacology background with her legal studies to become an expert in pharmaceutical law.She was a lecturer on this topic at the School of Pharmacy and became Associate Professor of Business Methods and Pharmaceutical Law in 1928.15Beginning in 1932 she also became Associate Professor of Economics at the School of Pharmacy.16A major highlight of her long career came in 1949 when she was appointed Professor of Economics and Pharmaceutical Law, the first woman to hold a full professorship at the school, and quite possibly, at any similar school in the country.17

Over the course of her career, Dr. Cole was involved in many other organizations that factored significantly into her life-long career as a pharmacologist and educator.These include: charter member of the Epsilon Chapter of Lambda Kappa Sigma Sorority at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, 1929; president of the Baltimore Branch of the American Pharmaceutical Association in 1934; secretary of the Alumni Association of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy from 1926 until 1953; charter member and past president of the Quota Club International; the only woman member of the Baltimore Veteran Druggists Association; and a charter member of the University of Maryland chapter of Rho Chi Society, an honorary society of pharmacists.18In addition, Cole was the recipient of many honors and awards, such as: the Honored Alumnus Award of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, awarded in 1953; Professor Emerita of Pharmacy Administration in 1953, and the first woman named Emeritus Professor in the University of Maryland. In 1966 the B. Olive Cole Pharmacy Museum was established near the School of Pharmacy in Baltimore to pay tribute to her work.19

After an extended illness, Dr. B. Olive Cole passed away on June 5, 1971, in Baltimore.Although she is gone, her legacy to future pharmacists endures.She worked tirelessly to broaden her own and other’s educational horizons.She especially encouraged women to enter the pharmaceutical profession.Just after World War II, when educational and job preferences were geared towards men, Cole nevertheless remained optimistic about the future opportunities open to women.Jeanne Hackley Stevenson states, “She [Cole] argued that out of the 214 students at the School of Pharmacy, twenty-one were women, and she thought that a ten percent average was ‘not too disproportionate.”20Cole paved the way for female students to embrace and pursue the pharmacology field, and would undoubtedly feel proud to know that, as David Knapp states, “Today, 65 percent of the pharmacy students attending her school are women, as are 35 percent of its faculty, a third of its department chairs, and half of its associate deans.Her work helped shatter the glass ceiling for generations of pharmacists that followed her."21

1.  Stevenson, Jeanne Hackley. "Dr. B. Olive Cole, 1883-1971: Pioneer Phamacist and Lawyer," in Notable Maryland Women, ed. Winifred G. Helmes (Cambridge, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 1977) 75.  return to text

2.  “Funeral Set for Dr. Cole, Pharmacy School Figure.” The Baltimore Sun, 8 June 1971.   return to text
3.  Stevenson, 75.   return to text

4. University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. “Dr. Cole Honored by Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.”School of Pharmacy News, 10 March 2005.   return to text

5.“Many New Pharmacists.” The Star, 8 May 1913.   return to text

6. “To Install Dr. Fell Today, Will be Part of University of Maryland Commencement Exercises.” The Baltimore Sun, 31 May 1913.   return to text

7. Stevenson, 75.   return to text

8.“Funeral Set for Dr. Cole, Pharmacy School Figure.” The Baltimore Sun, 8 June 1971.   return to text

9. Stevenson, 75.   return to text

10.Stegman, Carolyn B. Women of Achievement in Maryland History. (Maryland: Anaconda Press, 2002), 205.   return to text

11.  Ibid.   return to text

12.Stevenson, 76.   return to text

13. "About our Women in Maryland: Dr. B. Olive Cole, Phar. D., LL.B." The Mercury, June 1936.   return to text

14.  Ibid.   return to text

15.Stegman.  return to text

16. Stevenson, 76.   return to text

17.  Ibid.  return to text

18.  "Funeral Set for Dr. Cole, Pharmacy School Figure.” The Baltimore Sun, 8 June 1971.   return to text

19. Stevenson, 77.   return to text

20. Ibid.  return to text

21. University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. “Dr. Cole Honored by Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.”School of Pharmacy News, 10 March 2005.   return to text

Biography written by 2005 summer intern Lauren Morton.

Return to Bessie Olive Cole's Introductory Page

Wednesday, 16-May-2012 13:24:39 EDT© Copyright  Maryland State Archives

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