Dr Olivia Tucker — pioneering pharmacist denied the opportunity to work in her homeland

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  • Pharmacist Dr Olivia Tucker

    Pharmacist Dr Olivia Tucker


When Bermudian-born Dr Olivia Tucker graduated from New York’s Columbia University in 1925 with a PhD in Pharmacy, she made sensational history.

She became the first Black woman in the whole of the Americas and elsewhere to earn a doctorate in that discipline’

She had received her early education at Paget Glebe School; completed her senior secondary schooling in Baltimore, Maryland at the Colored High School, later known as Frederick Douglas High School, graduating with her Diploma in 1918.

A proven genius, she went on to Columbia University.

Her ambition was to open her own pharmacy in Bermuda.

But she was scarred for life and to Bermuda’s everlasting shame when became one of the early victims of a conspiracy of white racists in the land of her birth to systematically exclude blacks from taking their rightful places in the business and professional mainstream of the country

Confidently, the young doctor arrived in Hamilton aboard a steamship laden with all the necessary implements, books and supplies she would need to serve her people and the country.

Clearly more qualified than any of her contemporaries at home and abroad, especially those who for generations had monopolised the island’s pharmaceutical business; and despite her first-class doctorate from a renown university, the Examining Board failed her. She was flunked by the all white board.

A year or two earlier Dr EF Gordon, later known as Mazumbo, an experienced Edinburgh University-trained surgeon was brought to Bermuda by Sandys businessman William Robinson to fill a void caused by the death of black Dr Arnold Packwood.

The all white local medical board was embarrassed when Dr Gordon passed what he termed was an impossible examination which he contended was calculated to fail him.

Significantly, just this week alone, the current Minister of Health, Patricia Gordon Pamplin, a daughter of Mazumbo, was the media highlight as she dominated the roof-wetting ceremony for the at the mufti-million dollar expansion to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, wherein her father was barred by racist from practicing.

Subsequent to the flunking of Dr Tucker, Dr Charles Smith, having graduated in the 1930s from a prestigious black university in the mid-west United States, was flunked by the Bermuda board.

He was forced to go to Britain to ‘retrain’. Upon his return after several years in Britain, he had more degrees behind his name than any other physician practicing in Bermuda.

And in more times Dr Ewart Brown, a graduate of the famed Howard University in Washington, DC, outsmarted the Bermuda Medical Board when he first attempted to return home to practice.

Dr. Brown had become a national figure in the States, being the militant president of Howard University’s Student Council at the height of the Black Power demonstrations both in the US and Bermuda. He was elected to the Bermuda House of Assembly in the 1993 general election, and subsequently became his country’s Premier.

Upon being spurned by vested interests in Bermuda, Dr Olivia Tucker returned to the States, becoming Chief Pharmacist at Harlem Hospital; and operating her own pharmacy in New York.

During the Second World War she was engaged in highly secretive work in Albany, New York for the US Government, with one of the highest security clearances possible.

The celebrated Dr Olivia Tucker was aged 98 when she returned to spend the evening of her life in Warwick where she was born.

She was the youngest daughter in a family of achievers produced by Joseph Tucker, a fisherman and farmer, and his wife Isabella of Spring Hill.

She was in her early 100s when she died.

More on the traditions of Dr Tucker can be gleaned from the book by author Ira Philip, titled ‘Heroines in the Medical Field of Bermuda’, published by the Dale Butler Publishing House.

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Published Mar 9, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm)

Dr Olivia Tucker — pioneering pharmacist denied the opportunity to work in her homeland

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