Pharmacy Historian Glenn Sonnedecker Dies at 103 Years

Kate Traynor Senior Writer, ASHP News Center Published: August 16, 2021

Glenn Allen Sonnedecker, former director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP), died June 25, 2021. He was 103 years old.

“From our first meeting in 1978, Glenn Sonnedecker has been my role model as a pharmacist–historian,” said Gregory J. Higby, past executive director of AIHP and former graduate student of Sonnedecker.

Higby said Sonnedecker “exemplified thorough historical method combined with pharmaceutical knowledge and professionalism.”

“It was a privilege to work with him and experience his wisdom and good humor. No other individual did more for the pharmaco-historical movement in the United States during a career that spanned seven decades,” Higby added.

AIHP Past President William A. Zellmer met Sonnedecker in the mid-1960s as a University of Wisconsin student pharmacist.

“I had the good fortune of taking Dr. Sonnedecker’s seminar course on the several reform-oriented surveys of American pharmacy, including the Audit of Pharmaceutical Service in Hospitals, the results of which were published in the Mirror to Hospital Pharmacy,” Zellmer said.

He said Sonnedecker’s academic writings and lectures “offered historical perspective on the development of hospital pharmacy in the United States, contrasting the audacious leadership in this specialty area with the timidity in other sectors of pharmacy.”

“In his day, Dr. Sonnedecker stimulated many to think deeply about the moral imperative to break from the status quo in pharmacy and march toward a higher level of professionalism,” Zellmer added.

Sonnedecker was born Dec. 11, 1917, to Ira and Leta (Linter) Sonnedecker of Creston, Ohio. He was president of the Creston High School senior class and went on to attend the Ohio State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1942.

After graduating, Sonnedecker moved to Washington, D.C., where he joined the editorial staff of the Science Service, an organization to promote public understanding of science. He was soon hired as editor of the Practical Pharmacy Edition of the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association.

While in Washington, Sonnedecker met Cleo La Verne Bell. The two were married April 3, 1943, and remained together nearly 70 years until her death in 2012.

In 1948, the Sonnedeckers came to Wisconsin, where Glenn studied at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy under George Urdang, AIHP’s inaugural director. Sonnedecker, the first person to enroll in the graduate program, earned a Ph.D. in the history of pharmacy and science in 1952.

Sonnedecker joined the university faculty that year as assistant professor. In 1956, he was promoted to associate professor with joint appointments in the pharmacy and history of science departments. That year, the Sonnedecker family — including son Stuart, who was born in 1945 — traveled to England and Germany while Glenn undertook a year of study abroad as a Fulbright Scholar and Guggenheim Fellow.

Sonnedecker became a full professor at the University of Wisconsin in 1960. During his time on the faculty, Sonnedecker developed and taught a required course on the history of pharmacy and also mentored and advised graduate students in the field of pharmacy history. He was an early adopter of multimedia lectures and other technological innovations in teaching.

He retired from the university in 1986 but remained active in his field for many years.



Sonnedecker’s 1948 move to Wisconsin solidified his involvement with AIHP, which was founded in 1941 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy. He joined AIHP in 1948, served as the organization’s secretary in 1949, and became director in 1957.

He stepped down from the position of director in 1973 but returned in 1981, filling the gap left by his successor and former student, John Parascandola, who had been selected to lead the National Library of Medicine’s historical division. Sonnedecker remained as director until 1985 and was then named AIHP honorary director for life.

In 1959, Sonnedecker founded AIHP’s academic journal, Pharmacy in History (now known as History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals). He authored many publications and also revised multiple editions of the classic book History of Pharmacy, originally written by Urdang and Edward Kremers.

Sonnedecker’s scholarship and leadership were recognized worldwide. He was inducted into the International Academy of the History of Pharmacy in 1954 and served as president of the organization from 1983 to 1991. He also held leadership positions in the International Society for the History of Pharmacy and traveled internationally to attend the society’s educational meetings. He was honorary chair of the 1983 International Congress for the History of Pharmacy, which was hosted by AIHP.

AIHP honored Sonnedecker with the organization’s Edward Kremers Award in 1964 and the George Urdang Medal in 1976. In 2015, AIHP established the Glenn Sonnedecker Prize, which recognizes an outstanding unpublished manuscript on the field of the history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals.

Sonnedecker was the 1971 recipient of Schelenz Plaquette from the International Society for the History of Pharmacy. He was the 1972 recipient of the American Pharmacists Association’s Remington Honor Medal and was named honorary president of the organization in 1985.

He was awarded honorary degrees from the Ohio State University (1964), the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy (1974), and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (1989).

[This news story will appear in an upcoming issue of AJHP.]

Posted August 16, 2021

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