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OCTOBER 11, 2022
The librarian, editor, and historian who literally wrote the book on the UNC School
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Before the days of Kerr Hall and Pharmacy Lane, a small school sat on the first floor of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s New West building. The laboratory – one that emitted foul odors and where students worked under poor lighting – would transform some 125 years later into one of the highest-ranked pharmaceutical schools in the nation: the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
Beneath the veil of a program that provided young men proper training to become licensed pharmacists, stood a woman who helped the school write its history. Best known for her role as the school’s librarian in the mid-20th century, Alice Noble was a force to be reckoned with. She helped advance the school and North Carolina’s pharmaceutical community to what it is today.
Noble was born in 1891 in Wilmington, NC to Marcus Cicero Stephens and Alice Jackson (Yarborough) Noble– nearly three decades before the 19th Amendment passed. While Noble grew up around academia, with her father holding various positions from superintendent of the public schools of Wilmington to dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Education, America at the time was not cut out for women like Noble.
A high achiever, Noble graduated fifth in her high school class with honors. She first became affiliated with the university as a secretary at the School of Engineering from 1918 until 1921. The same year her work concluded at the School of Engineering, she began her long tenure at the School of Pharmacy.
In addition to serving as librarian, Noble was secretary to Dean Edward Brecht. One might look back at Noble’s contemporaries and assume her contributions to the School of Pharmacy lay to rest in the shadow of her male counterparts. However, students of Noble’s time found the contrary to be the case.
Darle Shouse, a School of Pharmacy alumnus, recounted Brecht’s frequent visits to the library to meet with Noble.
“He was coming in every morning to get his orders for the day,” said Shouse.
While Noble’s demeanor was far from warm, it seemed to keep the school in check. Shouse and his old roommate, Ralph Ashworth ’55, both underscored that “Miss Noble was in charge,” Ashworth adding, “with a capital C.”
Noble was known for her strict demeanor, being “possessive” of the library said Ashworth. She kept it quiet and was quick to reprimand those who weren’t. No one knew much about her, though she was always a Miss and never a Mrs.
During her tenure at the school, she pioneered initiatives that would advance the pharmaceutical community in North Carolina and beyond. Most notably, Noble authored The School of Pharmacy of the University of North Carolina, providing an extensive history of pharmaceutical education at UNC-Chapel Hill and its advances throughout the years.
Her knowledge and dedication to the subject extended beyond campus. Noble helped establish Chapel Hill’s American Red Cross chapter; served as assistant secretary of the North Carolina Pharmaceutical Association alongside associate editor of the Carolina Journal of Pharmacy; and eventually was elected research historian for the North Carolina Pharmaceutical Research Foundation.
The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy has Noble, and many others alongside her, to thank for the school’s foundational years. The tight ship she ran provided many, like Shouse, an education that transformed into life-long careers.
“I didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time in there. I would go sometimes, such as if I had an hour break between two classes. You know, that was a good place to study. Because it was quiet. No problem about that.”
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