Anna James, the first woman pharmacist in Connecticut, hailed from a family of strong people. Her father was a Virginia plantation slave who escaped and made his way north where he married Anna Houston in 1874. Their daughter, Anna Louise James was born in Hartford in 1886. After she completed elementary school, her family moved to Saybrook, where they were one of the only black families in town. James completed her studies at the local high school in 1905.
She enrolled in the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy and was the only woman in her class. James graduated in 1908 and became the first black woman to be licensed as a pharmacist in Connecticut. Despite discrimination, including a rejection from the Connecticut Pharmaceutical Association, which advised her to join the women’s auxiliary instead, James persevered. She ran her own pharmacy in Hartford from 1909 to 1911, then she moved to join her brother-in-law’s pharmacy. In the late 1890s, Peter Lane had opened the first pharmacy in Saybrook.
James’s niece, the writer Ann Lane Petry, noted that she grew up surrounded by remarkable women. Her aunts, including James, were accomplished. Her mother, Bertha Lane, ran a business for embroidering linens and employed women from around the country.
James became the sole owner of the pharmacy in 1917, renaming it the James Pharmacy. Known to everyone as Miss James, she ran the pharmacy for 50 years until 1967 when she retired at the age of 81.
In 1920 she became one of the first women to register to vote in Old Saybrook and was politically active in supporting the Republican Party. James was a central figure in Saybrook, and her pharmacy was a community gathering place. When she died in 1977, she was the oldest member of the First Church of Christ in Old Saybrook.