was the first female registered pharmacist in Blount County, a significant
achievement, but in her words, she was simply ‘the pharmacist’...”
She was the first female registered pharmacist in Blount County, a significant achievement, but in her words, she was simply “the pharmacist.” Marie NeSmith Fowler set her aspirations where most women of her time couldn’t reach, but didn't dwell on the challenges she faced or wait for others to make her professional dream a reality. Instead, she sat attentively in a Howard College classroom as one of eight female pharmacy students, graduated, and consulted with a patient as the first female registered pharmacist in Blount County. Later, she took time away from her career to focus on caring for her children. Always, she served through her church and community.
For these reasons, Fowler is being honored by her husband, Howard, through the establishment of the Marie NeSmith Fowler Lectureship Fund, the first lectureship funded for the Christian Women’s Leadership Center [CWLC] at her alma mater, Samford University. The fund will support a program of visiting speakers who bring to Samford unique expertise in areas related to Christianity, Women and Leadership Studies.
Growing up, Fowler worked in her local drug store, starting out behind the soda fountain. The pharmacist at the store later asked her to work with him, typing labels for prescriptions. She thoroughly enjoyed the work and knew, "This is what I want to do.”
She entered pharmacy school at then-Howard College in 1945. With many men entering military service at the time, the school needed students and offered her a $1,000 scholarship that covered her tuition, board and books all three years. Her four brothers were in the service, and she chose Howard in part because it would allow her to be near her parents during that difficult time.
When Fowler arrived on campus, “the V-12 boys were in the big dorm [Renfroe Hall],” she said, so she first lived in Smith Hall. At one point, she had three roommates with only one closet. In such close quarters, she said, "You knew everybody on campus."
Of her Howard College experience, Fowler notes Phi Mu, influential people and life-changing classes, and said, "I loved every minute of it."
Graduating after three years, Fowler went almost immediately into pharmacy practice, becoming the first female registered pharmacist in Blount County. Looking back, she’s surprised she didn’t encounter many who looked askance at a woman practicing in a traditionally male field. “After I was there awhile and people realized I was the pharmacist, there was no problem.”
She married Howard Fowler in 1951 and stayed home with two children for a time before returning to practice. The couple bought a store in Marie’s hometown of Blountsville, Ala., in 1954 and bought another in 1958 in Hartselle, Ala., where they live now.
A member at First Baptist Church of Hartselle, Fowler has held the chair’s position at some point for every committee at the church. However, her strongest impact was in quiet, unassuming ways. She was known for the desserts and notes of encouragement she took to people in need throughout the community. Her longtime pastor and friend, Ron Wilson, also recalls her serving as a mentor for many young and middle-aged women.
"Throughout her life, Marie NeSmith Fowler has lived every value and holds every character trait of a Christian leader. These values and character qualities have been reflected in her roles as a wife and mother, in her leadership and service in her church, and in her profession as a pharmacist," said Wilson.
In true reflection of Fowler's character, the lectureship will consist of speakers chosen not for their popularity or flashiness, but for their ability to challenge, inspire and expand the thinking of Samford students and the general public.
Dr. Carol Ann Vaughn, director of the CWLC, sees the lectureship as part of the center's mission to provide learning opportunities and resources by enhancing the CWLS curriculum and offering public access to substantive material and thought-provoking speakers. "Many of our constituents would not otherwise have an opportunity to meet or hear individuals who will be Fowler lecturers, and that is one of the lectureship's most significant contributions to the work of the CWLC," said Vaughn.
For Fowler, the lectureship is an extension of the legacy she began in her own family: her daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters attended Samford. She hopes that the lectureship will benefit a lot of young women, and said, "I just wish I had something like this when I was in school."
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