To Sadie Gee, she was Aunt Ella, but to Toledoans, she was Ella P. Stewart, civic activist and the first black female pharmacist.
Last year, Ms. Gee found out how loved her aunt is in Toledo when she attended a reception for the opening of the museum in honor of her aunt at the new Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls.
"I was most impressed at what she had done and how the community felt about her," Mrs. Gee, 68, of Reedville, Va., said. "We loved her too, but it was on another level. She was our aunt when we were growing up."
Known internationally for breaking down race and gender barriers and for her humanitarian work, Mrs. Stewart made Toledo her home for 60 years.
She and her husband, William Stewart, owned Stewart's Pharmacy at City Park and Indiana avenues for more than 20 years.
Cecilia Ragans, a computer-lab teacher at Stewart Academy who has taught for Toledo Public Schools for 50 years, said she remembers it being the neighborhood hangout. And Mrs. Stewart was a strict woman, allowing only two children into the shop at a time, she said.
"Everyone remembers her telling them to pick their head up and be proud," Ms. Ragans said.
Mrs. Stewart would regularly go to the school that was dedicated to her in 1961, especially on March 6, her birthday. The school continues to celebrate Mrs. Stewart on her birthday.
"I never dreamed I'd have anything named after me," Mrs. Stewart told The Blade in 1985.
Mrs. Stewart was the first black woman to graduate from the
University of Pittsburgh school of pharmacy in 1916, becoming the first practicing black pharmacist in the country.
After working as a pharmacist in Braddock, Pa., Pittsburgh, and Youngstown, Toledo became her home and Stewart's Pharmacy opened in July, 1922.
Mrs. Gee said her family didn't have the means to travel from Arlington, Va., to visit her aunt in Toledo and see the pharmacy but often saw her when Mrs. Stewart traveled to Washington. Mrs. Gee's father, Bowles Phillips, was Mrs. Stewart's brother. Mrs. Gee said she was inspired to try her hand at pharmacy because of her aunt but switched to nursing.
"She was a kind and generous, but firm lady," Mrs. Gee said. "She was a stickler for protocol and decorum and all the things people did in those days. I wish it was that way now. I truly do."
Mrs. Stewart was a trailblazer for more than just being the first black female pharmacist.
She was very active in humanitarian issues. She served as president of the National Association of Colored Women and the Ohio Association of Colored Women.
She was a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in the first group inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame.
She was on U.N. committees, represented the United States at international conferences, and was named Woman of the World by the Pan-Pacific & Southeast Asia Women's Association. In Toledo, she was an original member of the Board of Community Relations.
Teachers at Stewart Academy said it's important to educate future generations about her and use her as inspiration for them to reach for the stars. "I don't think we have a choice but to do it," said Jackie Houston, a fifth-grade teacher at the school who attended Stewart when it opened in 1961. "It's important for the girls to know about her."
Ms. Ragans said the girls really can look up to Mrs. Stewart as a role model. "Especially since we've become an all-girls school, it's important to put her up and show you can do it too."
Growing up, Mrs. Gee said she didn't know about everything her aunt did and learned about a lot of her activities after Mrs. Stewart's death in 1987.
"I was surprised, but knowing her, not in awe because I knew the personality she had," Mrs. Gee said. "She earned respect from a lot of people, and that helped forge the change and achievements that she made."
Contact Meghan Gilbert-Cunningham
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