President William Theodore Wenzell

William T. Wenzell

President, 1872-1878

Among those who have done much to shape the course of pharmaceutical affairs in this country, and whose influence has been exerted chiefly as a teacher of pharmacy, is William T. Wenzell, professor of chemistry in the California College of Pharmacy. In this institution he has for many years expounded to the young men who have been his hearers the principles of the science of chemistry, the groundwork of pharmacy, and inculcated those sound concepts of thoroughness and integrity which later prove of highest value and influence. The pharmaceutical profession of the Pacific slope owes much to his ministrations.

So enthused the Pharmaceutical Era on August 1, 1894.

The first president and co-founder of the California College of Pharmacy, the forebear of UCSF, was born in Mühldorf, Germany, January 19, 1829. When he was eleven, the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. At eighteen, he worked in a drug store as a student of pharmacy. After sojourns in New Orleans and Panama, 24-year-old Wenzell presented himself at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, graduating in 1855 with high commendations from the faculty.

Moving on to La Crosse, Wisconsin, he managed a drug store there for six years. From 1861 to 1867 he ran a business of his own, concurrently receiving a doctor of medicine degree in 1864 from the La Crosse Medical College. The Medical College of the Pacific conferred an additional medical degree on him in 1876 before closing its doors in 1887. His alma mater graced him with an honorary master of pharmacy degree in 1890. By 1868 he was ready to move west. Until 1883, he worked actively in the drug business he established in San Francisco.

In 1868, he was part of a historic group of pharmacists who gathered in the Court Room at the San Francisco City Hall to establish the California Pharmaceutical Society.

A pivotal moment in his career—and that of west coast pharmacy education—occurred in 1870. Early that year he went to the Pharmacopeia Convention in Philadelphia as a delegate; later in the year he attended the meeting of the American Pharmacist Association in Baltimore, where he joined the organization. During the time he was in the East, he was struck by the physical distance between the Eastern colleges of pharmacy and the west coast and therefore the inability of these colleges to train California’s embryo pharmacists. He became convinced that California needed its own college. He propounded his ideas to the California Pharmaceutical Society.

In 1872, with strong support from the society, a small group comprised of Wenzell, William M. Searby, J. Winchell Forbes, William Simpson, John Calvert, and James G. Steele founded the California College of Pharmacy based on articles of incorporation drawn up by Calvert and Steele.

From 1872 to 1878—with a short break from teaching in the academic year 1873-1874, because of illness—Wenzell served a triple role: as president of the California Pharmaceutical Society, as administrative head of the California College of Pharmacy, and as one of the five professors of the College, teaching chemistry. Additionally, he taught chemistry and toxicology at the Medical College of the Pacific—where he was also chair—and at the Cooper Medical College, retiring from teaching completely in 1902.

Having passed the required examination, after retiring from teaching he worked exclusively as a chemist at the United States Appraiser’s stores until his final illness. He died at Lane Hospital in San Francisco on July 31, 1913, at the age of eighty-four. Despite having retired from active teaching in the College of Pharmacy under pressure, he left his extensive library to the institution.

He excelled as a writer. In 1883, he presented an engrossing paper based on his earlier work as an analyst in the San Francisco Coroner’s Office. Entitled “Cadaver Alkaloids,” it describes his analysis of a death by mince pie. The oldest pharmacy award in the United States, the Ebert Prize—for best work containing original investigation of a medicinal substance—was awarded him in 1890 for his paper “On the Coloring Matter of Flowers.”

Organizer, administrator, teacher, and scientist, he was greatly respected by the pharmacy community. In 1884, graduate H.A. Ball said to Wenzell in his valedictory address, “We will always cherish pleasant recollections of your kindly face and voice as you explained some complicated chemical calculation. We will not only remember you as a teacher and friend, but as one … in the front rank of the chemists and pharmacists of the present day.”

Source: Original historical publications