Ella Nora Phillips Stewart was born on March 6, 1893 in Stringtown, West Virginia. With a love of nature and an exceptional interest in learning, she attended high school at the age of twelve at the Storer College – the only school in the region that accepted black students. Rather than continue her training and education as a teacher, she chose to marry and begin a family. She had one child, a daughter, who unfortunately died at a young age from whooping-cough. After the death of her child, Stewart began working as a bookkeeper in a local pharmacy. It was at this time she developed an interest in becoming a pharmacist herself. 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 would remain persistent in her task and would desegregate the University of Pittsburgh by being the first black student admitted in 1914. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1916 earning her Ph.D and in the same year would go on to pass her state exam to become the first licensed African-American female pharmacist in Pennsylvania and one of the earliest practicing African-American female pharmacists in the country.
Stewart worked in Pittsburgh and then Braddock, Pennsylvania where she was employed at the General Hospital and managed a drugstore. Her hard work enabled her to eventually purchase this drugstore, and was later able to open several of her own pharmacies. She learned that there were no black-owned drugstores in Toledo, Ohio, so she traveled to Toledo, purchased a commercial building and in 1922 and opened the Stewart’s Pharmacy with her second husband. The business did well and was welcomed by the neighborhood. As Ella became more important in the community she became more and more interested in the problems that it faced. She became involved in the Enterprise Charity Club, a black women’s philanthropic club which provided assistance to Toledo families. Through her work with this club, Stewart developed a reputation of leadership that led to her eventual election in 1944 as President of the Ohio Association of Colored Women and from 1948 to 1952, as President of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).
For Ella, her most cherished achievement and honor was the naming of a Toledo elementary school after her; a school she visited often, serving as a role model to its young students. Despite Stewart’s extensive club work and numerous honors, she was continually met with the discrimination she had worked all her life to end. She never accepted the racism she found, instead, she succeeded in her own quiet way to overcome it.
– Supreme Soul