Accepted by a penny postcard: reflections of a class of 1941 graduate

It is a rare opportunity to hear stories from the past, during a time when email and cell phone cameras didn’t exist. Today we bring you a first-person account from an amazing woman, Kathryn Hammarstedt (formerly Church), and her memories of attending pharmacy school at WSU just before the start of World War II. Hammarstedt began her career in the 40s when a woman in science was far from common. After taking a hiatus to raise four children, she transitioned back to her lifelong practice. Hammarstedt turns 100 years-old on June 16 and we would like to celebrate her many years of wisdom with our Cougar family.

Kathryn Hammarstedt at the time of her 1941 WSU School of Pharmacy (now known as the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences) graduation.

I started my education in a one room school before moving to Port Angeles at age 7. While attending Port Angeles High School, I met a woman who worked in a private inpatient/outpatient hospital. At the time I was considering studying chemistry. She asked me to come and assist her in certain tasks. Both my parents were very pleased that I was interested in going to college, and Franklin D. Roosevelt had great programs at that time. I had been to Pullman as a youngster while in the 4-H club, and I was very excited when the penny postcard arrived stating that I had been accepted into the class of 1937.

I began my freshman year at age 17. I arrived by train with my trunk mostly full of clothes my mother had made. So many of my classmates had married right after graduation, so attending college was a bit unusual at the time. I lived in Stevens Hall (the original woman’s dorm on campus), and started my job as a waitress in the dining hall to help with my room and board. I made many life long friends during my fun and busy four years at WSU. I find myself sharing my many fond memories of my time in Pullman with family and friends.

My pharmacy course work and labs kept me very busy. I especially like the therapeutics courses. My Stevens Hall dorm mates jokingly sought my counsel on their maladies. I fondly remember one professor saying that it “was kind to be cruel.” He was preparing us for the Boards that were coming quickly!

My summers I spent back in Port Angeles working with my early mentor. I was a member of the on campus pharmacy sorority that met once a month with the wife of a dean. She encouraged us that if we were to be pharmacists, we were going to be leaders in many ways in small towns or large cities, and we were going to be relied on in many ways. My junior year I was elected president of the sorority, and attended the annual Lambda Kappa Sigma convention in Detroit. We toured large pharmaceutical companies where we saw the manufacture of tinctures, tablets, etc. I was very impressed and in awe of what we were shown. I was crowned queen of the ball-quite something for a kid from the country!

After moving our olive green tassels during the graduation ceremony at the end of May 1941, all the pharmacy grads immediately shifted their attention to passing the State Board of Pharmacy Exam that began the next day. For two days the Dean strode up and down the aisles between his students willing us to use what we had spent our four years learning.

My first job out of pharmacy school was in a small pharmacy in Sequim , then I returned to Port Angeles to work before I headed to San Francisco in 1943 where I was hired by Bowerman’s Pharmacy in the heart downtown San Francisco, right on Union Square. While working I met my husband, Bernard Hammarstedt, a pharmacist, recently returned to SF from the Navy. Bernie owned and operated Russell Richards Drugstore in San Francisco while I stayed home as we raised our four young children. As the children got older, I returned to part time work at a neighborhood pharmacy. The part time soon became full time as my career led me back to hospital pharmacy in one of the large city facilities until I retired. I enjoyed my lifelong work as a pharmacist, collaborating with medical staff and patients to ensure the proper drug dosage, administration, and understanding of medications.

I returned to WSU Pullman for our Golden Grad 50th, and 60th reunions. I so enjoyed being back on campus and seeing the few of our classmates in attendance. I still wear my Cougar sweatshirt during football season-especially when I can tease my youngest granddaughter, who is a UW grad!

I am still living in the Bay Area with most of my children and my five grandchildren nearby. I have been blessed to have had parents, teachers, family, and friends who have helped me along the way these 100 years!

A recent photo of Kathryn Hammarstedt.