This post was authored by Denise Dempsey, Science Reference & Research Specialist, in the Science, Technology, and Business Division of the Library of Congress. She is also author of the blog post “Hidden Figures No More: African American Women in Space Exploration.”
One of the items in the Picture This blog post, Portraits of Nineteenth Century African American Women Activists Newly Available Online, is quite interesting because not only is it a picture of an African American woman activist, it is also a photograph of a family of African American pharmacists. On the cover of the promotional leaflet, Emergency medical directory showing leading physicians, dental surgeons and trained nurses of Washington, D.C., compliments of The Fountain Pharmacy, Gray & Gray, proprietors … is a group portrait of the proprietors and staff of the Fountain Pharmacy (also known as simply Gray & Gray) in Washington, D.C.: A. V. (Amanda Victoria Brown) Gray (later Hilyer), A. S. (Arthur Smith) Gray, and S. N. (Spurgeon Nathaniel) Gray. Amanda and Arthur were husband and wife, and Spurgeon was Arthur’s brother.
Amanda Victoria Brown was born in Linneus, Missouri, on March 24, 1870 to Rice and Maria Brown. She attended the local schools of Atchison, Kansas, and worked there as a schoolteacher for several years before relocating to Washington, D.C. around 1893 when she and Arthur married.
Arthur and Spurgeon were both born in Lawrence, Kansas; two of the six sons of the Reverend Gabriel and Caroline Gray. Arthur was born on January 28, 1869 and Spurgeon on May 10, in 1875 or 1877. Arthur started out as a school principal in Lawrence in the 1880s before entering the civil service in Washington where he worked as first as a clerk in the Treasury Department, then as a stenographer and private secretary to the Chief of the Bureau of Statistics, and later became a statistical correspondent for the Bureau.
Spurgeon was the first pharmacist in the family, obtaining his degree from the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy in 1897. After graduating from a kindergarten training school in Washington, D.C. in 1899, Amanda received her pharmaceutical graduate degree from the Howard University School of Pharmacy in 1903.
After attending the University of Kansas for two years, Arthur graduated from Howard with an LL.B. degree (as president of his class and valedictorian) in 1893 and a pharmacy degree in 1910.
Unlike his brother Arthur, Spurgeon relocated several times and passed the Board of Pharmacy examinations of several states including Kentucky in 1898, Louisiana in 1900, and the District of Columbia in 1905. He was a pharmacist in Louisville, Kentucky, Shreveport, Louisiana, was practicing in Beaumont, Texas by 1904, and traveled to Washington, D.C. to help his brother Arthur around 1905.
Dr. Amanda Gray was a pharmacist for the Woman’s Clinic in Washington before partnering with Arthur and opening the Fountain Pharmacy in 1905. According to an article in the Afro-American, Amanda Gray was the first African American woman to own and operate a pharmacy in Washington, D.C. Their drug store was at 12th and U Streets, NW in the True Reformer Building. In addition to managing their business, Amanda and Arthur were members of the African American elite of Washington, and were active in several professional, civic, and social organizations, including the National Medical Association, the NAACP, the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society, and the Mu-So-Lit Club.
After Arthur passed away at the age of 48 on March 1, 1917, Amanda closed the pharmacy and joined the World War I war effort, becoming a director of YWCA camp hostesses for African American soldiers at Camps Upton, Dix, and Taylor. The War Work Council sent her to Camp Sherman in Ohio as her last assignment. As one of the organizers and board members of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA in Washington, after the war Amanda went to St. Louis and was president of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA there for 3 years.
Amanda returned to Washington, and in 1922 married Andrew Franklin Hilyer, a lawyer, author, and civil rights leader. Arthur and Amanda Gray moved in the same social and civic circles as Andrew and his wife Mamie, before Mamie’s death on December 14, 1916. Andrew, born a slave in Monroe, Georgia, Aug. 14, 1858 or 1859, later moved to Omaha, Nebraska and Minneapolis, Minnesota, attending the local schools. He graduated from the University of Minnesota as the first African American graduate in 1882, moved to Washington, D.C., and obtained an LL.B. in 1884 and LL.M. in 1885 from Howard University. Mamie Elizabeth Nichols, from a long established family in the Washington area, married Andrew in 1886, and the couple had two or three children. Like Arthur Gray, Andrew Hilyer was a civil servant, working as first as a clerk at the Treasury Department, then at the Interior Department, Division of the General Accounting Office. Andrew was also an inventor, patenting a water-vapor attachment for hot air registers and an evaporator for hot air registers in 1890.
Andrew passed away on January 13, 1925, and Amanda continued her civic and social activities, as a member of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, president and member of the board of the Ionia R. Whipper Home, and serving on the advisory council of National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. She died at the age of 87 on June 29, 1957 at her home in Washington.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Spurgeon Gray opened the first African American owned pharmacy, Gray’s Pharmacy, in southeast Texas in 1903. He married Fannie E. Charlton of Beaumont, Texas that same year and couple had four daughters. Fannie passed away in Beaumont on November 3, 1924. Dr. Gray was influential in organizing local African American medical professionals, and was a member of the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, the Southeast Texas Medical Association, and like his brother Arthur, the Masons. Dr. Spurgeon Nathaniel Gray passed away on January 14, 1960 in Beaumont, Texas. The Spurgeon N. Gray Hall, College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences at Texas Southern University is named in his honor.
Read more about African American pioneers in health and medicine with some of these titles:
African American doctors of World War I: the lives of 104 volunteers, by W. Douglas Fisher and Joann H. Buckley.
African-American medical pioneers, by Charles H. Epps, Jr., Davis G. Johnson, and Audrey L. Vaughan.
The book of presidents: leaders of organized dentistry, by Harvey Webb, Jr. and Lloyd Cecil Rhodes.
The history of the Negro in medicine, by Herbert M. Morais.
Howard University Medical Department, Washington, D. C. A historical, biographical and statistical souvenir, compiled and edited by Daniel Smith Lamb.
The path we tread: Blacks in nursing, 1854-1990, by Mary Elizabeth Carnegie.
Pathfinders, a history of the progress of colored graduate nurses, compiled by Adah B. Thoms, with biographies of many prominent nurses, by Adah B. Thoms.
Prologue to change: African Americans in medicine in the Civil War era, by Robert G. Slawson.