Patriots around the world have already begun to tear the wraps off the 500th anniversary celebration of Columbus' voyage to the New World.
That doesn't mean that smaller anniversaries have to be slighted. Take the case of the University of Maryland's pharmacy school. It was started 150 years ago, way back in November 1841.
By that date, New York, Boston and Philadelphia had beaten Baltimore in setting up schools of pharmacy. But thanks to the pioneering efforts of a small group of Eastern Shore physicians -- and the school's first lecturers -- Baltimore was fourth in the nation with a college for druggists.
Just before the school was founded, there were already 77 drugstores doing business in Baltimore, but the feeling among many of the best druggists was that professional training was sorely lacking.
The college's first location was one room in a building on Gay Street. Six neophyte druggists registered for the first classes. (Today the student body numbers about 300. There are 75 pharmacy schools in the nation and about 160,000 pharmacists nationwide.)
Thomas G. Mackenzie, a druggist in a store at Gay and Baltimore streets, is credited with being "the great moving spirit" in the early years of Maryland's first pharmacy college, according to Dr. B. F. Allen, an associate professor at the school.
Though a late starter, the University of Maryland pharmacy school began pioneering shortly out of the gate. In 1844 it set up the first separate professorship of pharmacy in the United States. That same year, the university faculty made what must have then been a breathtaking move. It began allowing pharmacy candidates to attend medical school lectures and medical school students to attend pharmacy school lectures.
Unfortunately, a gradual loss of interest in the school and low student enrollment caused a nine-year shutdown of training.
It was restarted in 1856, operating at several downtown sites and later moving to a handsome Greek Revival-style building on Aisquith Street, a former school. In the late 1880s this building was razed and a new home for the college was organized on the site. Today the school is situated with the other buildings of the downtown campus of the University of Maryland.
The major milestones in the years after the school was revived included, in 1858, the start of one of the earliest quarterly publications on pharmacy and, in 1870, the sponsorship of the first convention of pharmacy college representatives in U.S. history. Two years later, the faculty set up the first mandatory course in analytical chemistry given by a pharmacy school.
In 1900, Dr. Henry P. Hynson, the college secretary, called for the national conference that resulted in the birth of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.
Over the years the number of course programs was vastly expanded, and the college began charting the achievements of its graduates. One, Dr. H. A. B. Dunning, went on to become president of the Baltimore firm of Hynson, Wescott & Dunning, known for being the first manufacturer of Mercurochrome.
Attention to the medical needs of elderly people has been a hallmark of the college in recent years. In 1980 the pharmacy school became the first of its kind to set up a center to study pharmacy and therapeutics for the elderly, and in 1990, the first chair for geriatric pharmacy was endowed at the school by the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical company.