Anna Louise James was born on January 19, 1886, in Hartford. She was the ninth child of a Virginia plantation slave who escaped to Connecticut. The name on Anna Louise James birth certificate identifies her name as being Louise Clegget James. James grew up in Old Saybrook, and dedicated her early life to education. In 1908 James became the first African-American woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in New York.
James later operated a drugstore in Hartford until 1911, when she went to work for her brother-in-law at his pharmacy, making her the first female African American pharmacist in the state. The pharmacy where James worked started out as a general store for the Humphry Pratt Tavern in 1790. The store moved to its current location at the corner of Pennywise Lane in 1877, where it became Lane Pharmacy.
Peter Lane, one of only two black pharmacists in early Connecticut, added a soda fountain to his establishment in 1896. When Peter got called away to fight in World War I, he left the pharmacy in the care of his sister-in-law, Anna Louise James. In 1917, Anna took over the operations and renamed her business James Pharmacy. Anna, known to local residents as “Miss James,” operated the business until 1967.
After her retirement, Anna Louise James kept residence in an apartment in the back of the pharmacy until her death in 1977. The store itself remained vacant from 1967 until 1980, when it was renovated and reopened in 1984.