Person: Bouchet, Edward
Edward Bouchet was an American physicist and educator and was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from an American university.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- William Bouchet was born in South Carolina, but moved to New Haven where he worked as a slave for a plantation owner.
- At this time there was total segregation in school education and Edward Bouchet attended the first school in New Haven for African Americans, the Artisan Street Colored School.
- Bouchet attended this school until 1866 when he entered New Haven High School.
- Sarah Wilson played an important role in Bouchet's career since she encouraged him to learn and to make the most of his obviously exceptional academic abilities.
- Edward Bouchet was not the first African American student at Yale, the first being Richard Henry Green who graduated in 1857.
- Edward Bouchet entered Yale College in September 1870 and graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in 1874.
- The Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa had been inactive for a few years so Bouchet was not elected Phi Beta Kappa until 1884.
- George Washington Henderson (1850-1936) of the University of Vermont was elected Phi Beta Kappa in 1877 so the delay at Yale meant that Bouchet was denied the honour of being the first African American Phi Beta Kappa.
- Cope wanted to build up the science program there, and hoped to bring Bouchet onto the staff.
- But before recruiting him as a teacher, Cope encouraged Bouchet to continue his studies, and paid for his graduate education at Yale.
- Bouchet's dissertation was on geometrical optics and it had the title "Measuring Refractive Indices." This achievement made him the first African American to be awarded a Ph.D. To measure this achievement, we note that he was only the sixth person to be awarded a Ph.D. in physics by Yale.
- Sadly Bouchet's race meant that he had a very different career than he deserved with his qualifications.
- When Bouchet was appointed to the Institute, its Principal was Fanny Jackson Coppin (1837 - 1913), the first black woman in the United States to be the head of an institution of higher learning.
- In addition to physics and chemistry, Bouchet taught classes in astronomy, physical geography, and physiology.
- An advocate for improving science education, Bouchet repeatedly asked the school's board of managers to provide laboratory space for students to perform individual experiments.
- In addition to his regular teaching, Bouchet gave lectures on various scientific topics for students and staff, and even reached out to the wider community by giving public lectures on science.
- Bouchet joined the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas in Philadelphia, taking an active role on the vestry and as church secretary for many years.
- Bouchet maintained his ties with Yale through the local chapter of the Yale Alumni Association, attending all meetings and annual dinners.
- The immediate consequence in this change of direction for the Institute for Colored Youth was that the skilled academic Bouchet was no longer needed and he lost his job in 1902, fired by the all-white board.
- From September 1902 to November 1903, Bouchet taught mathematics and physics at the Charles H Sumner High School in St Louis, Missouri, the only black public high school in the city.
- Bouchet was employed as U.S. Inspector of Customs at Ceylon Court, the exhibition site for Ceylon.
- In October 1906 Bouchet became manager of the St Paul's Normal and Industrial School at Lawrenceville, Brunswick County, Virginia.
- In September 1908, Bouchet became principal of the Lincoln High School at Gallipolis, Ohio.
- Bouchet left Lincoln High School in 1913 when his health deteriorated with an attack of arteriosclerosis.
- Despite being founded to educate African Americans, most of the staff up to the time of Bouchet's appointment were European Americans.
- Only ten years after Bouchet's death did the College appoint an African American as president.
- In 1916 ill health again forced Bouchet to resign and, once again, he returned to his home in New Haven.
- We know surprisingly little about Bouchet as a person since he left no writings with his thoughts on education or any other topic.
- In recent years many honours have been given to Bouchet.
- The Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society (Bouchet Society) was named for the first African American doctoral recipient in the United States.
- The Bouchet Society is a network of preeminent scholars who exemplify academic and personal excellence, foster environments of support and serve as examples of scholarship, leadership, character, service, and advocacy for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the academies.
- The Edward A Bouchet Award promotes the participation of underrepresented minorities in physics by identifying and recognizing a distinguished minority physicist who has made significant contributions to physics research and the advancement of underrepresented minority scientists.
Born 15 September 1852, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Died 28 October 1918, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
African American, Origin Usa
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive