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Edward Bouchet

AKA Edward Alexander Bouchet

Born: 15-Sep-1852
Birthplace: New Haven, CT
Died: 28-Oct-1918
Location of death: New Haven, CT
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, CT

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Occupation: Physicist, Educator

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: First African-American PhD

American physicist Edward Bouchet was the first African American to earn an advanced academic doctorate (PhD) in any field at any college or university in the United States. He attended local schools in New Haven, Connecticut, and entered Yale in 1870, where his father — who had been born a slave — worked as a janitor. Bouchet earned his Bachelor's degree summa cum laude in 1874, ranking sixth in his class of 124, and became the first African-American to be nominated Phi Beta Kappa[1]. With financial support from Philadelphia philanthropist Alfred Cope (1806-1875), Bouchet continued his studies, and earned his PhD in the nascent field of physics from Yale in 1874. His field of research was geometrical optics, and his dissertation was titled “On Measuring Refractive Indices.”

A white man with Bouchet's academic credentials would have been welcomed virtually anywhere in academia, but in the 1870s no major or minor college or university in America would consider letting a "colored" man teach or conduct research, and none of the era's few all-Black colleges and universities offered advanced physics as part of the curriculum. Bouchet spent most of his career teaching chemistry, math, and introductory physics at the Institute for Colored Youth, a high school for black students in Philadelphia, and lost this job in 1902, when the school dropped its science curriculum to become a vocational training school. In 1913 he was named a professor at Bishop College, an all-Black college in Dallas, but his tenure there was brief, as he developed arteriosclerosis and died in 1918.

[1] Due to several years of inactivity by the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Bouchet was not elected Phi Beta Kappa until 1884. George Washington Henderson (c. 1850-1936) of the University of Vermont was the first African-American elected Phi Beta Kappa, in 1877.

Father: William Francis Bouchet (former slave; janitor at Yale)
Mother: Susan Cooley Bouchet (laundry worker at Yale, b. 1818, d. 1920)

    High School: New Haven High School, New Haven, CT (attended, 1866-68)
    High School: Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, CT (1870)
BS Physics, Yale University (1874)
    University: PhD Physics, Yale University (1876)
    Teacher: Institute for Colored Youth, Philadelphia, PA (1874-1902)
    Teacher: Sumner High School, St. Louis, MO (1902-03)
    Administrator: Business Mgr., Provident Hospital Training School for Nurses, St. Louis (1903-04)
    Teacher: St. Paul's College Virginia (1906-08)
    Administrator: Principal, Lincoln High School in Gallipolis, OH (1908-13)
    Professor: Physics, Bishop College (1913-16)

    US Customs Service Inspector, Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904-06)
    American Academy of Political and Social Science
    Franklin Institute
    Phi Beta Kappa Society Nominated 1874; Elected 1884

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