Edward Alexander Bouchet, born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1852, was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. and the sixth person to do so in physics from an American university. Unable to obtain a research position at a white college, he served as a mentor for African-American youth during the late 1800s at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY, now Cheney State College) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ICY taught a classical curriculum to African-American teachers who in turn educated freedmen throughout the nation. Bouchet headed the science program, teaching chemistry and physics there for 26 years.
Bouchet's love of learning began early at The Artisan Street Colored School in New Haven. He later became the valedictorian at Hopkins Grammar School, which prepared young men to enter classical and scientific departments at Yale College (now Yale University). In 1874, Bouchet graduated sixth in his class with highest honors. This feat made Bouchet Yale's first African-American graduate and also the first African American to be nominated to join Phi Beta Kappa. Unfortunately, Bouchet was not elected at the time, so he was not the first person of color to be accepted into this prestigious group.
During his years at Yale, Bouchet received emotional and financial support from Philadelphia philanthropist Alfred Cope. Cope was heavily involved in civil rights and wanted to help Bouchet as much as he could. Because Cope sat on ICY's board of trustees, he encouraged Bouchet to join the faculty there.
During the early 1900s, polarizing debates between W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington over how best to educate African Americans--industrially or classically--forced ICY to end its college-preparation program in 1902. Bouchet left and took posts throughout the nation as a high school teacher, business manager, customs inspector, principal, and professor. After retiring due to illness in 1916, he returned to his childhood home in New Haven, where he died in 1918.
1. M. Brown, " Profile of Edward Alexander Bouchet." Retrieved from the World Wide Web, The Faces of Sciences: African Americans in the Sciences Web site on 12 July 2004.
2. S. Williams, " Profile of Edward Alexander Bouchet." Retrieved from the World Wide Web, SUNY Buffalo, Department of Mathematics Web site on 12 July 2004.
3. " Yale to honor life of Edward Bouchet." Yale Bulletin and Calendar. (September 2002). Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Yale University Web site on 28 July 2004.