By 1930, Marie Piesinger had been a licensed pharmacist for 29 years, owned drugstores in New Prague and Northfield, and become the first woman to serve as president of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy.
Never mind all that. Neither vendors nor customers took her seriously.
"Salesmen would demand to see the manager of the store," she told the Minneapolis Journal. "They never would get used to the idea that it was me they had to see. ... A man just had to be connected with a store to make it a success, in their opinion."
Born in 1884, Piesinger was one of 10 siblings and "spent an especially active and spirited girlhood at New Prague," according to a 1965 biography written when she was named one of Minnesota's outstanding senior citizens. Her interest in pharmacology was sparked when her brother Hubert invited her to work at his drugstore in nearby Montgomery, at a time when few women entered the field.
Never married, she considered her drugstore her offspring.
"It's just like a child to me," she said. "It's grown up with me; I've petted and fondled it till it almost seems human to me."
But while she had no children of her own, Piesinger served as a mentor for another young female pharmacist: Rose Holec, who grew up in Le Sueur County not far from New Prague and visited Piesinger's pharmacy as a kid.
"That's where she got the idea," said Virginia Mahowald, 95, Rose's daughter and a lifelong resident of New Prague. "Who could imagine a women druggist way back then?"
Rose graduated from the University of Minnesota's College of Pharmacy in the early 1920s and married fellow pharmacy student George Layne. On a visit to his bride's hometown, George mentioned to Piesinger that if she ever wanted to sell her drugstore, they'd be interested in taking over.
Piesinger did just that, selling her New Prague business to the Laynes and opening a drug and gift shop in Northfield in 1925 with her sister Barbara.
Rose's 63-year pharmacy career almost didn't get off the ground, her daughter said. When Rose's mother died in 1920 at 43, her father called her at the U and said she must return home to New Prague to care for her 6-year-old brother, Henry.
"She hung up the phone and a pharmacy professor asked her why she was crying," Mahowald said. When Rose told her teacher she had to quit school to tend to her family, the professor shook his head.
"He said she was one of the best students in her class, and he called my grandfather and talked him into letting her stay in school," Mahowald recalled.
Mahowald was born in 1927, two years after Piesinger sold the New Prague drugstore to her parents.
"I never met Marie, but my mother described her as very organized and capable with great energy," Mahowald said. "And she was diplomatic enough to get elected to the state pharmacy board."
Unlike Marie, "Rose was not a people person" and stayed in the back room mixing concoctions, while husband George "interacted with customers at the register," according to New Prague history buff Dennis Dvorak, who introduced me to their stories.
There are photographs of Rose transplanting seedlings at the U's medicinal plant lab in 1918, and with George in their pharmacy in 1925, on the Minnesota Digital Library website, courtesy of the New Prague Area Historical Society (tinyurl.com/LaynesPharmacy and tinyurl.com/RoseHodecPhoto).
Mahowald has another photo of her mother posing with four fellow female pharmacy students in the early 1920s. In the picture, the others are sporting large fur hand muffs and fur hats popular in the era, while Rose has a coat with no sweater and a rose pinned to her hat.
"The other four were all from wealthy families in Minneapolis and none of them wound up becoming pharmacists," she said. "My mother was a poor farm kid from New Prague, only 5 foot, but forceful and capable."
Rose "was supposed to marry the farmer next door near New Prague, and her father didn't put a penny toward her schooling," said Mahowald, a retired dietician who has lived in New Prague for most of her 95 years. Without Piesinger setting an example for her, Mahowald said, Rose never would have pursued pharmacology.
When George Layne died from emphysema at 59 in 1953, Rose sold the pharmacy in New Prague but continued working as a fill-in pharmacist well into her 80s. When she died in 1993 at 95, Rose Layne was buried in New Prague's St. Wenceslaus Cemetery — just like her pioneering mentor, Marie Piesinger, who had been laid to rest there 27 years earlier.
Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear every other Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at email@example.com. His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: strib.mn/MN1918.