Pharmacy in the 1940’s: The Unsung Story of True American Heroes

“I remember the 1940s as a time when we were united in a way known only to that generation. We belonged to a common cause-the war.”1 Pharmacy was no exception to the effects of World War II. Out of necessity, pharmacies adapted, for the better. Dennis B. Worthen’s Pharmacy in World War II illustrated the drastic effects the life-changing war had on the medical field. Worthen covers several key issues such as education and pharmaceutical necessities as a result of the war. He primarily wishes to shed light on the subject of pharmacy, “[recognize] that pharmacists were an integral part of American Society,”2 and display how drastically time changed the profession from a timid drugstore to a fighting force in the war effort.
Pharmacy in World War II begins with Worthen talking about Prewar Pharmacy Practices from 1939-1941. In the early stages of the 1940’s, “approximately 79 percent of the stores were independents,” and on average, one or two pharmacists ran each store.3 That one person, however, was integral to the community; he was a person of counsel, a leader, and the pharmacist’s store was often used as a common meeting place. Educating these leaders of society was difficult, due to the low funding for colleges. As a direct result of the hardships of educating an aspiring pharmacist, a manpower shortage occurred. This led to less communication and support between government agencies and the profession, continuing the cycle of shortage. With what little pharmacists existed, governments made rigorous attempts to keep all activities inside of the pharmacies up to standards. Medicine was essential to public health. The momentous occasion for change came in the medical world on December 7, 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor drastically transformed the issues faced by pharmacists to the global view as America put their feet into World War II. Suddenly, students left their schools to go into the war or into war industries with higher salaries. One of the most important problems colleges faced due to the war was low enrollment because colleges relied on student tuition. To partially combat the shortage of students as well as get pharmacists into the war effort, colleges began accelerating their classes. Although less effective, it would now take a pharmacy student three years to obtain their degree and begin work. Women were also affected heavily by the war. Previously, pharmaceutical schools taught, “estimates of 3.1 to 5.6 percent,” women, but with the decrease in students, recruitment of women was necessary.4 Schools of pharmacy insisted that the job would assist women in household duties. Fortunately for colleges, women enrollment shot up 50%. America entering World War II muddled affairs somewhat, but there was no time for deliberation. Americans needed to speed up their lives to get in on the war effort.
Worthen then focused on the selective service and pharmacy war efforts. The selective service act of 1940, also known as the Burke-Wadsworth Bill, drafted men ages twenty-one to thirty-six, and forced them to serve for at least one year. Pharmacy students began leaving school midway through their education, losing valuable time and credits. To avoid the draft, people asked to be deferred from service, meaning that, “any man whose employment was necessary for the maintenance of the national health, safety, or interest,”5 would be passed over because of their importance to that person’s community. Necessary men were considered people who, “[were] for a seasonal interruption, [could not] be replaced satisfactorily, [and] his removal would cause a material loss of effectiveness.”6 One of the biggest reasons for deferment was due to army placement. A pharmacist, who would best serve as a medic, could be placed anywhere in the army as a soldier, a pilot, or a naval personnel. Even though the home front contained a shortage of pharmacists, drug stores continued to contribute to the war effort. By turning into emergency first aid stations, pharmacies could tend to the wounded or the sick people that were close to their location. Additionally, civilian health became an issue of the utmost importance, “the health of the production workers was as critical as the health of the armed forces.”7 Combined with bond drives, fundraisers that raised money for the war and the growing health concerns, pharmacies gained a massive economic boost and they raised over a hundred million dollars. Other issues such as tin and quinine shortages also affected the pharmaceutical war effort. Tin was used to construct materials in war, and was found in toothpaste tubes. Pharmacies organized recycle bins in their stores to collect the tin filled tubes. Quinine, which cured malaria and other illnesses, also fell below the levels Americans needed due to the Japanese taking the supply. This led to pharmacies organizing a similar ordeal for quinine. Drives at the pharmacies for the powdery drug were organized and in a few short weeks, the crisis was averted. Americans had donated their quinine, tin, and money to pharmacies showing their heavy support of America in the war.
Worthen then investigates pharmacy operations and the corps. Domestic production of ingredients for the medicines was low. This led to a conflict between army needs and citizen needs. To combat this, the National Formulary Committee, “devised substitutes and formulation changes,” to the medicines, alleviating the problem for now.8 In addition to the shortage of ingredients, a shortage of drug stores had arisen. Due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive order 9066, Japanese Americans, also known as Nisei, were sent to internment camps. As a result, twenty-five Japanese-owned drug stores closed and the Japanese properties were taken away. Pharmacy, however, did well financially. People were spending more and more money in drug stores. The, “a [basic] focus on health was perhaps greater than ever before,” and it was unpatriotic to be sick.9 One of the ideas to boost up health safety was the pharmacy corps, whose professional duty was to, “receive, prepare, and deliver medicine to the hospital and army.” Reluctantly, the Pharmacy Corp was shunned as a result of monetary restrictions. It was becoming quite apparent, however, that the Corp was necessary. Many inexperienced pharmacists stole lives from their patients, often filling out completely incorrect prescriptions. Only when Evert Kendig was chair of the committee of the Pharmacy Corp did the Pharmacy Corp bill pass.
The military and the returning veterans became the final emphasis of Worthen’s history of pharmacy during World War II. Before Pearl Harbor, the army’s pharmacy was a clone of the drugstores open to the public. After December 7, 1941, “real pharmacy” came into effect, which was technical/professional knowledge of the profession. This meant that the soldiers acting as pharmacists in the army would be taught, in a ninety day crash course, with an increased skill level without formal training. Although seemingly better, pharmacists in the army were also delegated to other duties unrelated to their work making the “real pharmacy” a small upgrade to the past. In the army, pharmacists who fought on the frontlines were called combat medics, who would rush into harm’s way and provide first-aid as soon as possible. Unfortunately, however, “at least 131 men died during their time in the service.”10 For these brave warriors, the dangerous fight was over. On the other hand, the returning veterans were forced to adapt to normal life. Soldiers that worked as pharmacists desired their military credit to transfer over to their college credit in order to finish pharmaceutical college faster. The Accreditation Council for pharmacy education committee instead, “recommended, that the colleges provide no educational credit for military pharmacy experience.”11 Veterans returning to their pharmacy also faced many other challenges such as competition for consumers, loss of products to supermarkets, and gaps in knowledge. As a direct result, people began leaving the retail practice and grew into hospital pharmacy. In light of these obstacles, pharmacy practice in general remained consistently strong and the GI bill enabled many veterans to pursue their dreams.
Worthen attempts to delineate on the subject of pharmacy in World War II and wants to demonstrate how the war effectively shaped the profession for the future. He demonstrates this, for example, with women; initially, the ratio of men to women was heavily in favor of men and, “before World War II … the 1940 census reported 4 percent of pharmacists were women.”12 Over time, the ratio shifted to a sort of equilibrium as a result of the war effort. The change due to the war could also be seen with the education aspect of Pharmacies. Most colleges installed a three-year course for pharmacists during wartime so that new graduates could be put on the field. This paved the path for higher standards significantly in schools of pharmacy to ensure the people’s safety. One final example can be seen when Worthen goes into the use of the pharmacies themselves. They all started off as retail pharmacies, each manned by mostly one person. Throughout the war, pharmacies adapted to become first-aid stations or bond drive places. Evidently, the 1940’s were a time of radical change, especially for pharmacies.
Dennis B. Worthen attended universities where obtained his MS and PhD in Pharmacology. Worthen also gained twenty-three years of experience at Procter and Gamble Health Care and was the Director of Pharmacy affairs before he retired. With Worthen’s education and experience in the pharmaceutical field, he evidently knows the subject well and at a high level due to his positions at work. Worthen authored many books on Pharmaceutical subjects such as Dictionary of Pharmacy and Heroes of Pharmacy: Professional Leadership in Times of Change. His experience, education, and written books show Worthen’s connection with the profession, as well as his dedication to the facts. Simply put, Worthen is, “devoted to publishing books covering [the] historical aspects of pharmacy.”13
Worthen published Pharmacy in World War II in 2004, a time when the complexities of pharmacy weren’t well known. This reason is precisely why Worthen decided to write this book. He wanted to inform the masses about Pharmacy in World War II. “The stories of pharmacists working in the wartime agencies… are also yet to be fully explored.”14
Lucinda L. Maine, the Vice President of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, commends Worthen, saying that he, “has captured the critical elements of our professional roots.” She also writes that his recount of the history of pharmacy tells of the, “strategic nature,” of the 1940’s and it is a, “building block… upon which our profession stands firm today.”15
Lee Anderson PhD states that due to Pharmacy’s skimpy historiography, Dennis B. Worthen’s book is a, “remarkable accomplishment.” He correctly includes that the author, “has compiled useful information in tables, callouts, and appendices,” while also bad-mouthing other authors who refuse to do the same. These charts give the reader a visceral view of Pharmacy, allowing people to see both the horrific and beneficial aspects of the war. Anderson rightfully calls Pharmacy in World War II a, “descriptive narrative, demographic analysis, and [insightful thoughts] that [are] innovative and … entertaining.”16
Pharmacy in the 1940’s faced harsh challenges as a result of the World War. Colleges were hit hard due to the Selective Service Act, and were coerced into reforming to meet the needs of the war effort. One of the biggest instances of this was accelerating pharmaceutical school education. Although it made the process faster for scholars, acceleration was not efficient. When accelerated (3-year) students were tested against four-year students, “the students in the accelerated program did not score as well as their predecessors.”17 It appeared that less time at college was costing students some vital information. The pharmacies also needed a regulation Pharmacy Corp to better ensure the safety of other people. Although it would end up passing unanimously, the Pharmacy Corp was not enforced strongly and was disliked in general by the army. Unnecessary opposition to the Corp stalled pharmacy efforts to help out the needy.
At the same time, pharmacy thrived during the Second World War. Health was one of the most important factors during this time period because sick production workers led to less munitions made, “[keep] the worker sickness and accidents to a minimum, thus [avoid] lost production time.”18 In an effort to combat the illnesses, workers spent their hard-earned dollars at the drug store. Additionally, since drug stores stocked almost everything needed for daily life, the general population went to pharmacies to get their supplies. Realizing the potential of this trend, pharmacists began war drives which not only helped the war efforts, but it also boosted sales for the pharmacies. Evidently, pharmacies were reaping the economic advantages that sprung from World War II.
Overall, Worthen recreates the history of pharmacies in the 1940’s in an intelligent manner. His little focus on the actual combat of the medics causes Pharmacy in World War II to be a great read in terms of informational value. Worthen sometimes can be repetitious with the topics that are sometimes chosen such as manpower. He is, however, showing pharmacy’s progress which in turn excuses this minor detail. The author’s approach to pharmacy enlightens readers to the far-reaching effects of World War II. Taken as a whole, Worthen has done a phenomenal job in documenting pharmacy, “during this critical period in our nation’s history.”19
In terms of pharmacy, Worthen argues, for the most part, that the 1940’s was a watershed in American history. Worthen attacks the issue similar to the way he supplements his thesis. Women are a clear cut example in this case due to the fact that they increased in outside circulation. More women enrolled in colleges during the 1940’s thus showing the dominance of men wearing down slightly. The GI bill, “allowed those whose education had been impeded, delayed, interrupted, or interfered with to receive educational benefits,”20 also was a critical part in the 1940’s being a watershed decade because of the opportunities veterans had when they returned from the war. This decade also came with the rise of practicality over theory. Veterans that needed the relearn the standard practices for their pharmaceutical careers often opted for short ninety day classes. Americans in general turned to this ideal of speed over thoroughness due to the upcoming surge of materialism. People had an innate desire to recover from the war and “return to normalcy.” Increased women in different fields, the GI bill, and materialism all occurred and were watershed events during the 1940’s.
Pharmacy in World War II also goes into the plight of the Japanese American pharmacists. Here, Worthen is saying the 1940’s was not a watershed year, due to the continual racism some Nisei faced. F.D.R’s Executive Order 9066 that he passed in 1942 caused many Japanese students to pull out of pharmacy schools. The order also had twenty-five pharmaceutical stores shut down, and the Japanese had their property taken from them. People estimate that the, “property that had to be left behind was at least $200 million.”21 Unfairly, Japanese Americans had to put their education on pause and abandon their establishments to satisfy the needs of an unchanged racist country. Thus, the 1940’s was not a complete watershed in American history, due to the constant surge of racism that was rampant against the Japanese.
Pharmacy in the 1940’s was shaped heavily by World War II. “Old myths and institutions were tested, new ones were created.”22 In the post-war era, people would live longer, vaccines would be created, and new diseases would be eradicated as a result of the forever changed pharmacy.
2. Worthen, Dennis. Pharmacy in World War II. New York: The Haworth Press, Inc., 2004. Xviii.
3. Worthen, Dennis. 2.
4. Worthen, Dennis. 5.
5. Worthen, Dennis. 44.
6. Worthen, Dennis. 57.
7. Worthen, Dennis. 73.
8. Worthen, Dennis. 94.
9. Worthen, Dennis. 106.
10. Worthen, Dennis. 172.
11. Worthen, Dennis. 185.
12. Worthen, Dennis. 30.
13. Worthen, Dennis. About the author page.
14. Worthen, Dennis. Xix.
15. Worthen, Dennis. Reviews page 1.
16. Anderson, Lee. “AIHP Kremers Reference Files,” pg. 33
17. Worthen, Dennis. 28.
18. Worthen, Dennis. 73.
19. Worthen, Dennis. Reviews page 3.
20. Worthen, Dennis. 181.
21. Worthen, Dennis. 101.
22. Worthen, Dennis. 192.
Author Biography
Dennis B. Worthen PhD. is an instructor at James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy where he teaches Pharmacy history. Worthen shows his dedication to the history of pharmacy in the numerous books he has written, such as Pharmacy in World War II, Heroes of Pharmacy, and Diction of Pharmacy. For his work, Worthen has received awards and commendations from pharmacy associations around the world.