Local History: Dr. Henry R. Peters and Professional Pharmacy

Henry R. Peters ca. 1963.

Henry R. Peters ca. 1963.

While 2917 Georgia Avenue, NW, has had a difficult time in supporting an active business in recent years, it is part of an interesting history through its connection to pharmacist Dr. Henry R. Peters and his Professional Pharmacy.

Henry R. Peters (1916-1999) was the first African American appointed to the Washington Pharmacy Board, the first African American to be nominated to the American Pharmaceutical Association, and the first Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Pharmacies of the District of Columbia. The property he is most closely association with is 2917 Georgia Avenue, the location of Professional Pharmacy, which he owned and operated from 1948 to 1970. Known residences of Peters include 2737 6th St, NE, from 1951 to 1960, and 4214 Argyle Terrace, NW, from 1960 to 1965.

Dr. Peters was born in East Falmouth, Mass. He graduated from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences in Boston. During World War II, he was a pharmacist in the Merchant Marine.

In 1946, Dr. Peters moved to Washington. He taught at the Howard University College of Pharmacy from 1946 through 1948. He resigned in 1948 to found his own business. Along with Dr. Herman Morton, he opened Professional Pharmacy at 2917 Georgia Avenue, at the intersection of Hobart Street, and became the sole owner two years later. Peters continued to operate the business with his wife, Theresa Eric Peters.

2917 Georgia Avenue today, once the location of Professional Pharmacy.

2917 Georgia Avenue today, once the location of Professional Pharmacy.

In addition to operating the pharmacy, Peters was active in civic and social affairs. At the 1958 annual National Pharmaceutical Association convention, Peters was elected as 2nd Vice President. The following year, he delivered the principal address at the annual dinner of the District Whole Sale-Lowry Company. In this capacity, Peters was the first African American to speak before representatives of the drug industry.

In June 1960, the District Commissioners named Peters to the District Board of Pharmacy to replace Irving Sacks who was removed as a result of his efforts to enlist pharmacists in the AFL-CIO Retail Clerks International Association. This made Peters the first African American member of the five-member Board. The role of the D.C. Pharmacy Board was to determine standards, administer examinations for licenses, promote legislation, and regulate the profession of Pharmacy in Washington.

In 1962, when he was elected President of the Pharmacy Board, Dr. Peters was still the sole African American in the United States to hold a position on a pharmaceutical board. While on the Board, he engaged in championing a thorough revision of the 1906 pharmacy laws, still in force in the District of Columbia. He urgently recommended more stringent controls and severe penalties for violations and was especially concerned about legislation to curb unethical practices among some pharmacists involving counterfeit drugs, mail order prescriptions, and abuse of physician samples. His goal was to make it almost impossible for a person to obtain drugs and medicines unless they were intended for legitimate medical uses.

Professional Pharmacy display, October 1963, Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.


Professional Pharmacy display, October 1963, Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

While Dr. Peters achieved another landmark when he was the first African American to be nominated to the American Pharmaceutical Association in June 1963, his nomination was not successful. Yet, he was successful in securing another three-year term on the D.C. Pharmacy Board. By February 1964 Peters was appointed to the newly created position of Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Pharmacies. In this capacity, he supervised all pharmacy operations of the D.C. Department of Health, including those at D.C. General and at Glenn Dale Hospital in Maryland.

An investigation in 1962 revealed that some $40,000 worth of prescription drugs had disappeared from the D.C. General Hospital. In addition, an inventory unearthed what Dr. Peters called a “dangerous situation from a public health point of view”: that out-dated drugs were being used in some hospitals. These discoveries, brought to light during a period when Dr. Peters was serving as Chairman of the D.C. Pharmacy Board, convinced Health Department officials of the need for better supervision of the distribution of prescription drugs, and the need for new legislation to curb unethical practices among some pharmacists.

Dr. Peters recommended that the D.C. Pharmacy Board regulate the practice of pharmacy and the sale of poisonous and dangerous drugs: control the character and standard of all drugs and medicines dispensed in the District and investigate all complaints as to the quality and strength of all sales and distribution of such drugs and medicines that did not conform to the requirements of the law.

As the new Chief, Dr. Peters was devoted to the operation of the pharmacies, and retained his position as Secretary of the D.C. Pharmacy Board on a non-salary basis. The combination of these two positions gave him a strong voice in all matters pertaining to pharmacy in Washington.

In 1970 Dr. Peters retired and returned to Falmouth, Mass. In 1975 he moved back to Washington and again returned to Falmouth in 1986.

Interior of Professional Pharmacy, January 1955. Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Interior of Professional Pharmacy, January 1955. Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Bibliography (chronological order):

“Brick Through Pane Brings Police Inquiry,” The Washington Post, June 22, 1951, p. B1.

“Hubby-Wife Team Operates Pharmacy,” The Baltimore Afro-American, July 5, 1952, p. 22.

“Pharmacy Entered, 400-Lb. Safe Taken,” The Washington Post, Sept. 8, 1954, p. 24.

“Pharmacists End Pittsburg Meet,” Atlanta Daily World, Aug. 19, 1958, p. 3.

“Dr. Peters Speaks At Drug Confab,” Atlanta Daily World, Jan. 6, 1959, p. 2.

“Sacks Ousted From Board Of Pharmacy,” The Washington Post, June 17, 1960, p. B2.

“First Negro Appointed to Washington Pharmacy Board,” Atlanta Daily World, June 23, 1960, p. 3.

“Name 1st Negro To Pharmacy Unit.” Daily Defender (Chicago), July 7, 1960, p. 23.

“Peters Heads Pharmacy Association,” The Chicago Defender, Aug. 27, 1960, p. 2.

“Negro Named D.C. Pharmacy Board President,” Chicago Daily Defender, Sept. 5, 1962, p. 9.

“Negro Head Of Pharmacy Board,” New York Amsterdam News, Sept. 8, 1962, p. 4.

“Name 1st Negro To Head D.C. Pharmacy Board,” Jet, Oct. 4, 1962, p. 46.

“National Pharmacy Association Nominates First Negro For Office,” Chicago Daily Defender, June 20, 1963, p. 4.

“Making Progress,” New York Amsterdam News, June 29, 1963, p. 8.

“Elwyn Added To Drug Board,” The Washington Post, Oct. 2, 1963, p. A23.

“Peters re-appointed to pharmacy board,” Baltimore Afro-American, Oct. 12, 1963, p. 14.

Haseltine, Nate. “City to Launch Birth Control Plan in Spring,” The Washington Post, Jan. 23, 1964, p. B1.

“New Bureau Chief,” Chicago Daily Defender, Feb. 13, 1964, p. 32.

“Dr. Henry Peters, First of Race, To Head Bureau.” The Carolina Times (Durham, N.C.), Feb. 22, 1964, p. 1, 6.

“Suspect Slain in Holdup Crossfire,” The Washington Post, Aug. 8, 1968, p. B3.

Obituary, Cape Cod Times, Apr. 4, 1999.

Obituary, The Washington Post, Apr. 16, 1999, p. B06.

Share

Explore posts in the same categories: History

Tags: , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

2 Comments on “Local History: Dr. Henry R. Peters and Professional Pharmacy”


  1. […] The  current owner of the building — located at 2917 Georgia and the former location of Henry R. Peters Professional Pharmacy — has been attempting to find a way to make a go of it since he first proposed to operate a […]


  2. […] Local History: Dr. Henry R. Peters and Professional Pharmacy […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: