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Kaua‘i’s First Female Pharmacist

Betty Bell is making sure Kaua‘i women can forge ahead on their own careers

Betty BellBetty Bell working as the first pharmacist on the Garden Isle at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in the 1960s.
Courtesy of Betty Bell.
Betty BellBetty Bell today.
Courtesy of Betty Bell.

For a woman who has shattered multiple glass ceilings, Betty J. Bell remains humble. When asked about her accomplishments, she’ll laugh and say, “It’s been a good life.”

In 1948, Bell was one of eight women in her graduating class at Purdue University College Pharmacy in Indiana. She was working part-time in a drug store assisting the pharmacist, who would create custom medical preparations based on a patient’s unique needs. She found this fascinating and decided to apply to pharmacy school herself.

Once graduated and working at a pharmacy store in her home state of Indiana, she realized her male counterparts were making more than her. One day, she opened the newspaper, saw an ad for a pharmacist position at a new clinic on Kaua‘i and took the plunge, despite never having been to Hawai‘i. In 1966, she became the first pharmacist on the Garden Isle, working at Wilcox Memorial Hospital (back when its clinic was just “a house in the middle of a field”).

After living on Kaua‘i for over 50 years, Bell realized she wanted to support more women on the island to achieve their own career dreams. Realizing how expensive higher education is, last year, Bell created the Betty J. Bell Scholarship for Kaua‘i Women. The scholarship is currently reviewing applications to choose the first set of three recipients.

"[It's] the scholarship for women of the future."

- Betty J. Bell, creator of the Betty J. Bell Scholarship for Kaua‘i Women

“The scholarship for women of the future,” as she calls it, aims to financially support women attending any accredited college or university as well as trade school. Most notably, the scholarship prioritizes working mothers or women returning to school after taking time off to parent—a crucial but often forgotten population.

Historically, invisible, unpaid labor and career sacrifices due to childcare demands have fallen on women. The COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse, disproportionately impacting working mothers who must simultaneously be a teacher, parent and employed worker.

“Achieving career success through higher education is still much more difficult [for women] than for our male counterparts but it’s not impossible,” she says. “It’s been done before and if I have anything to do with it, it’ll be done again and again.”

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