A Life of Firsts

The story of Doris Bullard Hawkins, the first woman to earn a PhD from the School

Story by Ryan McDaniel | Published March 14, 2023

Doris Bullard Hawkins headshot on the left, image of researchers in a wet lab on the right

Doris Bullard Hawkins, PhD arrived at the University of Arizona School of Pharmacy in September, 1951 as an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy. Upon her arrival, Doris became the first woman on the faculty there. As one 1952 alumna of Arizona recalls, “Our class started with three women . . . We had no mentors. There were no women on the faculty. Finally, Dr. Doris Hawkins came in our senior year.”

Just a month earlier, Doris had accomplished another first: She was the first woman to earn a PhD from the UNC School of Pharmacy. She was also the second person ever to do so, as the School began offering the doctorate program only four years prior, in 1947. Doris’ dissertation was in the field of enteric coatings in the lab of faculty member, Dr. Herman O. Thompson.

Doris was born in 1925 and grew up in Roseboro, North Carolina. It seems her family placed a great value on education. Her father, Thomas Perry Bullard, was a dentist and osteopath. “The family of four sons and three daughters were all educated, most of them graduating from colleges or universities,” states an article in the Carolina Journal of Pharmacy. One of Doris’ brothers was a pharmacist, another a physician, and one sister was an osteopath.

Doris enrolled at the School of Pharmacy in 1942, at just 17 years old. In addition to her studies, she was active in co-curriculars; she was a member of Kappa Epsilon, Student Senate, and Rho Chi. It was at the School that Doris also met her husband, Reeves Hawkins, BSPhar ’48.

Doris graduated with her BS in Pharmacy in 1945 and immediately began work on her Master’s Degree with Dr. H. M. Burlage as her advisor. She completed her Master’s thesis and received her degree in June, 1947. In November of the same year, she and Reeves welcomed into the world their daughter, Beverly.

With the path of a PhD in Pharmacy at UNC now available to her, Doris took on the dual challenges of a rigorous educational program and being a new mother. During her doctorate work, Doris continued to be highly involved in co-curricular activities with the School and mentored students in the BS in Pharmacy Program. In August, 1951, she successfully defended her dissertation and earned her PhD.

Doris blazed the trail for women to pursue advanced degrees in pharmaceutical sciences. Seventy-two years later, 57% of the current PhD candidates at the School are female. They are also more likely to have female advisors and dissertation committee members, as 49% of the School’s current faculty are female, including the School’s dean and many associate and assistant deans. Things have changed greatly since Doris attained her PhD, but she will always be celebrated as the first woman to have done so at this great institution.